Tag Archives: New York City

Times Square Tourist Tips

23 Apr

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It has taken a long, long time to get used to the animal that is New York City and its many qualities and quirks. I am sure I’ll never figure them all out, or understand the complete attraction people have to Times Square. That neon-electric area of town, perpetually on a junkie’s high.

I won’t be the first to admit it, but it is not my favorite part of NYC. My first time there years ago gave me that early impression. I’m not a fan of crushing crowds and in-your-face advertising. And after I spent a few months commuting to the St. James Theatre to bartend, I quickly began to dislike the area even more.

People kept asking me why I wasn’t in Times Square on New Year’s Eve last year. “You live there. You should experience it.” The reason? I have no desire to pee in a bag, I can’t stand the thought of being pushed by thousands of people to the various subway stops on the way home, and won’t stand in the freezing cold amidst the various aromas of the people you have to be be wedged next to (I’m not a scrooge, I swear!). Maybe this is still a hard concept to grasp, but if you live here for a few months, you would probably understand. You are always in the middle of a mass of people, and sometimes celebrating in another mind-numbing crowd just loses its appeal.

But if I ever want to go to Broadway, I go to Times Square. If people are visiting the city, more than likely they are going to want to visit it eventually. So here are just a few tips for meandering around that “fun” area.

Be smart. This is a crazy tourist area and most people know it. Many New Yorkers avoid it for that very reason. But other people who know it will exploit you for it. That is why you see so many beggars on the street. Don’t give them money, seriously. Many people are dressed in costumes, from Dora The Explorer to Woody from Toy Story. Don’t hug them. Don’t take their picture. Just don’t do it. They expect money from you and will be really upset when you try to get a freebie. Also, do you want to hug them, really? Have you seen how dirty their costumes are? These aren’t professional actors, people. Hustlers will try to get you to take their bus tour, go to their private dance club. If you want whatever they are serving, fine, but if not – let them know it. Ignore them completely or be a jerk and just say no. No need to let your Midwest niceness show through in these situations, seriously.

Be courteous. If you want to stop and take a picture, just make sure that you aren’t stopping in front of someone who is walking behind you. If you are lost and wanting to look at your phone or map, stop by a store wall. Don’t stand in the middle of the sidewalk as hundreds of people try to walk around you. If there is a long line at TKTS, don’t just complain and complain. Everyone else has to wait too. (FYI: Want cheaper Broadway or off-Broadway tickets? If you don’t mind not knowing exactly what play you are going to until a day ahead of time, go to the TKTS booth behind the bright red stairs in the middle of Times Square. You can get 50 percent off ticket prices. Pretty worth it.)

Be flexible. One place that is worth going in the Times Square area (or other places in NYC as it is a chain) is Shake Shack. Cheap shakes and concretes, hot dogs and burgers, just plain awesome. You want to hit that up instead of a McDonald’s for good grub. Unfortunately, there are very few spots to sit at. People will try to hoard seats, not share tables, but this is how it is in NYC. Many places are communal-style dining and people just eat where they can. So don’t get upset if you have to share a small table with a couple people you don’t know.

Be a tourist. Have a good time. Go to the NYC souvenir shops. They are awesome and super inexpensive. Tacky but fun. Do enjoy the weird sights of people hawking their various wares on the street. Eat a $2 hot dog or get some cheap Mediterranean food from a vendor. And do get those sweet cashews and almonds from those street corners. Totally worth it.

After being here for more than half a year now, I realize that I have some good advice for tourists (especially Midwesterners) in cities in general and NYC, but that’s another column for another day.

Blinders off

14 Jan

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About a year ago, I set foot on my own in New York City for the very first time. I had been there before with friends, but it felt more like stumbling through the dark than actually experiencing the city that never sleeps. With friends, I was a handheld child as we ventured the subway and to various stops around town. I had no concept of directions, streets – anything, really. So last January was an experience. I had come for a writing conference, and I was shaky and nervous ever since landing on the tarmac at LaGuardia. How do you hail for a cab? How much do you pay the driver? Can you just go in one subway station and go wherever you want? I was like a big ole doe with blinders on.

With a brand new smart phone, I tried to maneuver my way around with it’s GPS to the World Trade Center. Somehow I ended up in Hell’s Kitchen and still believed it was the actual location while sending out a prayer to those lost.

I ended up taking gypsy cabs (just because I felt sorry for them), then feared for my life during the drive. Not only did they charge exorbitant prices, but I overtipped – just because I was delivered to my location alive. While I promised myself that I wouldn’t look like a dumb tourist – that is exactly what happened. The doorman at the hotel I stayed at had to tell me more than once that my purse was unzipped. While trying to figure out where I was at in the city, each time I said “I’m from out of town.” Sometimes, I would even include that I was from Iowa – complete with a confused, wide-eyed expression. I might as well have worn a Hawaiian floral T-shirt and fanny pack.

Before I moved to the East Coast, one knowledgeable person warned me, saying “Carrie, you are an easy target.” But how? I had been to NYC a couple times, I was practically a New Yorker already. Boy, was I wrong. The first couple weeks were tough, but I had a travel partner who didn’t have problems with directions. The first time I took the subway alone, I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t want to sit in close quarters with people that I didn’t know, kept looking at my purse to make sure it wasn’t gaping open, and anxiously darted my head back to the train’s map, just to make sure I hadn’t missed my stop.

What has changed since being there for almost five months? Well, I still get lost pretty easily, but I have taken the blinders off. Some of the stories that I can tell people about my first travels in the big city, while funny, are actually pretty scary. Looking back, I shake my head and think, wow, I have come a long way.

As a woman, I have to make sure that I am approaching any situation eyes wide open. Even in the Midwest, I was a little too gullible and trustworthy to begin with. My phone is always charged, directions are always looked at beforehand, and my bags are always zipped and located in front of my body. If strangers talk to me on the subway or at a bus stop, I can be polite but I don’t have to engage in conversation each time. Sometimes though, you have to be downright rude. Don’t want to get in a cab with somebody? Just say no or ignore them and walk away. Don’t want to talk with someone who is trying to converse with you on the train? At the next stop, move to a different car. I may have my headphones on, but most likely there is no music playing. And my mace is pretty powerful, none of those cute pink lipstick-shaped pepper sprays for me.

NYC is supposedly one of safest large cities in the nation. Yet that doesn’t mean that a cop will always be there to assist you in a bad situation. While I grew up in farming country, trusting most everybody – that is not how it works everywhere.

I used to think that the city was just cold and impolite. There is truth in that statement, yet it is also called surviving. Although I haven’t completely assimilated to the area yet, the experience of living in this place is different than a week’s worth of vacation here. I can’t say I’m a “New Yorker” either, as there is still so much to learn.

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