It was anything but a bitterly cold, short-on-daylight, wintry kind of day in New York City yesterday. On the contrary, there were signs that the real change of seasons is near. It’s true that the calendar says that it is technically spring; so, that means that the sun is up more than an hour and 47 minutes a day and the temperature is allowed to rise above median February level of “why the hell do I live here”.
But since New York is pretty far north and that the city is notoriously short on soil and flora and long on concrete and humans, the more obvious and stereotypical signs of spring are a bit delayed compared with the rest of the country and generally have to do with behaviors of the people rather than the number of buds and birds on the trees. So this means that there are only a few crocuse and tulip leaves poking their heads out above ground and more men and women poking their legs out from underneath their shorts and skirts.
But since it can’t really be considered truly warm yet, there weren’t even that many people with their limbs fully exposed. It was warm and sunny enough yesterday though for people to open their coats and jackets a bit and take part in the great New Yorker tradition of walking a few extra blocks outside before crawling down into the entrance of the warren of subway stations that we use to get back and forth to our hutches.
It was in this spirt, and with a bit of bad luck, that I found myself walking around the Midtown/Times Square/Bryant Park area of Manhattan in the early evening before I burrowed back to my outer borough of Queens to be with more normal people and my stuff. This pre-commute ended up taking much longer than I’d planned, not really because walking is slower than the MTA (that’s only mostly true), but because my location and my tactical error in not recognizing what time of year it was.
During rush hour in most places in The States, the roads get packed with cars that are stuffed with people trying to get home. In Manhattan, since most people don’t drive, while the roads ARE packed, it’s the sidewalks that are most chock-filled with commuters trying to go back to where the live, be that an apartment, house, or bar since the sidewalks are this island’s equivalent of the highways on the mainland.
With the byways normally jammed for both groups of travelers because of the sheer volume of people, the last thing anyone wants is some fairly avoidable incident on the thoroughfare to muck up the works and slow things down.
Now by an incident I don’t mean an accident. Those just happen and can’t be helped. And people who get overly worked up about those and rage would be better off chilling out a bit. (Maybe at happy hour??) What I’m talking about are people or groups so into what they’re doing that they are totally oblivious to the mayhem they’re causing for all the people around them.
The examples of these rush-disturbers that I’m thinking of for most of the country would be weekday Sunday drivers and late afternoon, minor construction workers. If you live in a city or town that has a particularly pretty bit of scenery that tends to make people not from the area slow down to a crawl to catch a better look at your local beauty while grinding the flow of traffic behind them to a near standstill, then you know exactly what a blasted weekday Sunday driver is. And if you’ve spent an extra 30-40 minutes sitting all but still on a jammed highway and figured that there must have been some horrific accident ahead of you, only to find that some road crew’s management thought that 5:15 on a Thursday evening would be the ideal time to fix the 7 potholes you’ve finally learned to dodge in the last 3 months since you take the same road every day, then you know what I mean by minor construction workers being the bane of your existence.
With Spring Break upon us in NYC, the vehicle-less Manhattan commuter has an equivalent to these nuisances found in the rest of the country. Here, these roadblocks are called “the tourist” and “the film crew” respectively.
The temporary lull in tourism that started just after the New Year’s ball dropped in Times Square is usually over by the middle/end of March. Around this time Midtown is filled once again with global travelers, presumably from locales with low skylines, carrying big shopping bags, slinging cameras, and wearing shoes set on “stroll”.
(For people with New York addresses, the “stroll” setting on our shoes is automatically, electronically disabled until we enter the boundaries of a park. Otherwise, the lowest gear is “I’ve got somewhere to be in 15 minutes” and the highest gear is called something spelled with characters found only on the top row of a keyboard when the Shift key is pushed at the same time. This is the same blocking technology that’s used to keep our restaurants from being able to sell sodas larger than 16 ounces.)
New Yorkers know that Top Row Tourists are excellent for the city and the local economy, but we still grouse at nearly audible levels when confronted with a pack of skyward gazing guests that clearly don’t understand that these things called “sidewalks” that are rarely used in most places in the US are New York City’s major causeways. And we feel the same pain that weekend Sunday driver victims feel when we get stuck behind these groups of people. But since we’re New Yorkers and aren’t in cars with the windows rolled up, you might actually hear us complaining in a very New York fashion when we finally get by you.
I ran into a pack tourists and regular ol’ New Yorkers on 6th Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets. There were the average number skyscraper gawkers and slow walkers in the way, but since I was technically on the edge of Bryant Park, I could feel the chip in my shoes kick in and the automatic downshift in my gait. As a result, this super slow walking situation that would have normally left me itching to walk in the middle of the street and possibly vocalize my displeasure at the impediment was tempered. (Plus it was totally my fault for walking anywhere near this area at 5 o’clock.)
However, this didn’t seem to be just tourist traffic that was tying things up. Everything had come to a complete halt for at least a minute. I don’t mean “a New York minute”, which is about 20 human seconds, but I mean a full blown, honest-to-goodness minute. No matter if I’m walking in the middle of Central Park or not, if I’m not waiting in/on line for something, I shouldn’t be standing still for 60 ticks of the clock. I have things to do. Now, I’ve been in The City for just about 11 years now, so I knew that something else must have been up. So instead of getting frustrated, I just dipped out of the pile of people into the street and walked toward what appeared to be the cause of the blockage on northbound I-6th Avenue…a dude with a headset and a clipboard.
Ahhh…the old film shoot. It WAS that time of year and that kind of day. There was very good light, a lack of any form of moisture falling from the sky, and enough warmth to not require every actor to give an Oscar worthy performance just to make it look like they weren’t in the middle of getting frostbite on camera. Having your path blocked by a production assistant on a film or TV shoot in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and parts of Queens is not that unusual. It’s not something that might happen all the time unless you live in certain neighborhoods, but if you’ve lived here long enough, you’ve certainly had it happen enough that you don’t get all gaga at the prospect of seeing an actor or actress you’ve seen before at work.
Now this pothole filling situation was a big operation. There were at least 5 cameras running and a ton of trucks and trailers around the area to support the large crew. The PA on my side of the shoot was having a tough time getting the New Yorkers to stop walking through the shot and was waving his production notes like a roadside flagman in an attempt to catch the attention of the self-absorbed natives determined to get to their destinations. (The equivalent of a driver careening onto the shoulder of the highway at full speed to get around a wreck or slow traffic…something that you’ll see all the time up in the northeast and almost never in the sane midwest.)
I actually felt pretty badly for the PAs and was happy for and proud of the tourists. The New Yorkers were being too selfish in a way that I have not and will never get used to, and the visitors were behaving and taking in the nice scene of the scene making that was unfolding in front of them since they couldn’t move anyway.
All that said, I understand needing and wanting to get a good shot in lovely Bryant Park and to use the hustle and bustle of Midtown as inspiration, but do you really have to do this in the middle of rush hour?!? Yes, by experience, I know that things run long on shoots by their very nature and that slightly better conditions may exist late in the day for the lighting; but plopping this roadblock in the middle of Manhattan in the middle of a Friday evening commute was just plain bad planning at best. It’s not just the inconvenience to the pedestrians, but it was visibly stressing out the cast and crew. In the picture above, I don’t know who the actor or crew people were, but I’ll tell you that they weren’t too happy after “cut” was called. I guess that I’ll have to see if I can find out who this person was and then see the production that was made to see if all the consternation was worth the effort.
Now all of this might sound like complaining. It really isn’t. At the end of the day, it’s just another story and another slice of life that one might find here in New York City and part of why I’m glad that I have been able to call this place home for more than a decade. The (rightfully) perceived grouchiness you’re picking up is the result my time here and my ability to be able to fairly accurately speak and translate New Yorker English and New Yorker Life. I am very fluent in New Yorker, but I’m not, and can never be, a native speaker. Being a New Yorker doesn’t mean that you have to ditch all of what you know from whence you came, you just need to know how to translate what you knew into the local patois and practices and adapt.
And as part of the bargain for living here, I know that means that I need to swap out in my mind the sights, smells and sounds of spring of my youth in less urban St. Louis to those of my latter day über urban home of New York City. This requires me to report and view things in this new context. So where a St. Louis late March / early April would usher in plenty of flowering and budding trees, the smell of all kinds of flowers, and the chirping of birds calling out to the opening and closing of the day, this time in New York leads me naturally to talk about the emerging bands of tourists, the aroma of warm urine wafting out of the subway stations, and the increasing calls of “cut” and “action” on the streets of many neighborhood. And since I don’t mind being an early bloomer, it’s about time for me to let my legs bloom from under my sweats-covered shorts. Just because I was more than capable of dealing with this past winter’s hurricane/Nor’Easter/wind-blown highlights, doesn’t mean that I’m not more than ready to get to the business of being out and about and more than ready to ditch the all black winter cover that the indigenous New Yorker wears for most of the winter months.