Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Wednesday, August 20, 2021

Thanks to a subway investigation further up the line, I was forced to abandon the 1 train last night and emerge into Times Square, to walk from there to the West 50s to meet a friend. Pretty much the worst-case scenario as far as traversing uptown.

As I dodged tourist after tourist on the jam-packed sidewalks while disdaining the overabundance of Vegas-style eye-sparkling signage, I vaguely wished for a reversion to the Times Square of old, i.e. the 1970s-80s version that was a crossroads of sleaze, crime, and deprivation. It’s a lament that all New Yorkers conjure up from time to time. The theory is that, as scuzzy and blighted as the district was back then, at least you didn’t have to put up with the out-of-town hassle that’s currently in your way and making you late.

It’s faulty logic, of course. Because for all the annoyances that the present “Crossroads of the World” holds, they’re nothing compared to what you’d used to get while walking along 8th Avenue:

That charming little scene of swarm-pickpocketing comes from Charlie Ahearn’s Doin’ Time In Times Square, a raw and unfiltered collection of video from the bygone days that sobered up at least one forlorn romantic:

…In 1986, the Wild Style director set up camp at an apartment on 8th Avenue and 43rd, where he lived with his wife and toddler son. He was so enthralled by the action on the street below that he’d film from his window. That’s basically all Doin’ Time is - a series of soulless encounters that were never supposed to make it to film and thus are all the more enthralling. It’s a plot-free parade of depraved humanity (intercut with actual home movies, like footage from his son’s birthday) with as little self-consciousness as possible. Because those who dance to hip-hop, rob, assualt and and wail for God’s help below had no idea they were being filmed, I’m more likely to trust Ahearn’s vision of Times Square (note that it was filmed after crack hit, so it could very well have been a nastier time than that which Stone and Friedman rhapsodize). But still! “People who are nostalgic about this crack-infested spot that was Times Square in the ’80s have to, you know, really examine their brains a little bit,” says Ahearn in a supplemental extra on the DVD. Consider me examined!

I suppose it’s a bit much to want a return to the nadir of twenty years ago, all for the sake of a less-impeded walk. But is it so wrong to hope for a magical reappearance of some skanky street hustler one night, whose mere presence would clear out a wide swath of Midwesterners clogging up the pavement?

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 08/20/2008 10:49:40 PM
Category: History, Movies, New Yorkin'
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