Times Square is successful because people wait in huge hordes, in numbers the size of entire towns in North Dakota, for the light to change. By Robert Sullivan.
From the window of a plane at night, when everyone seems to be asleep and the movie is over and the cabin lights have been dimmed, when you’re exhausted and have been away from New York long enough to miss it (even though no sane person would miss your rent), when your captain heads to La Guardia by heading up the Hudson, then Times Square, that clearly discernible ribbony intersection, is a beacon, a canyon of brilliantness, an electrified message, a flashlight that makes it possible to read your magazine in your window seat without even turning on your overhead light. From the ground, Times Square does not seem so concentrated, though it is a canyon, and I love driving into Times Square at night, coming down Broadway into the chasm of absolute illumination. And if you climb out of the Times Square station, you are in a room in which you accidentally left the light on.
In Times Square, it is as if an entire city has woken up at 2 a.m. and found the TV blaring.
Maybe on the back roads of Ohio, in a beautiful small town that has yet to be Wal-Marted out of existence, there is an old country restaurant in which a steaming apple pie is being placed on a well-cleaned counter, and if so, that is a picture of the heart of America, the romantic postcard. Times Square, on the other hand, is the picture of America’s guts, the country’s capitalistic machinations exposed like the plumbing on the Pompidou Center in Paris. See the lights, the ads, the logos all blinking, flashing, shouting, hawking, selling. Sales is the protoplasm running through Times Square.
The birthday of Times Square is the birthday of its most recent naming, in 1904, when Adolph S. Ochs, the publisher of The New York Times, moved to the square, formerly known as Long Acre. Long Acre Square at the time was an exclusive residential neighborhood in decline, last known for what were referred to as silk-hat brothels, which just goes to show that the sale of sex predated Times Square. When the railroads and the subways built stations in Midtown, Midtown became the city’s commercial center. The theaters followed, along with their signs, and Times Square became the Crossroads of the World. Read the rest of this entry »