The first time I visited Times Square I was probably 22 years old. It was late January and absolutely bitter, freezing cold. It was the middle of the day. I thought it was the worst place I had ever been. I didn't venture within 10 blocks of Times Square again for probably ten years.
A few years ago my wife and I attended a conference at Javits Center in Hell's Kitchen in spring. I got a solid deal on a nice hotel room at the Staybridge Suites Times Square, which is a short walk from the convention center, but not, like, in Times Square. We spent our nights adventuring around the city while reflexively avoiding the immediate Times Square area as much as possible.
One night she surprised me with reservations at Le Bernardin, which is several blocks north of Times Square, costs a goddamn fortune, and is, in all ways, fucking amazing. The weather was beautiful and the meal would be stupid expensive, so she decided we'd walk from our hotel to the restaurant. The route we took didn't have us passing through Times Square, but it had us passing within a block of it, twice: once to our north, and once again to our west.
It was so bright! So incredibly goddamn bright. There came from it an incredible and constant blare of music and shouts and car horns, and it radiated so much light and noise and energy that I found myself looking over my shoulder to locate it at every intersection, until it was definitively out of sight.
The meal was wonderful, of course, but the wine pairing was the star of the evening, if for no other reason than I was so blitzed by the end of the meal I had already forgotten virtually everything I ate. It was much colder out when we left the restaurant than it had been when we entered—we should have taken a cab home, but I was plowed and happy and full of stupid confidence. Anyway, the route from the restaurant to the hotel was one easy right angle, as all routes in Manhattan are—it's a goddamn grid, for crying out loud—and I was confident we could make it, even while I was stumbling drunk.
And we would have made it, I'm sure, except that, as had been the case on the earlier walk, I was constantly distracted by the still-churning life of Times Square, or what I could glimpse and hear of it as we made our way south on 8th Avenue. Inevitably it all became too much, and I diverted us toward the light, inhibitions overwhelmed by alcohol and curiosity. It was fun! I was drunk, and it was fun.
I've been there a bunch of times since. In fact, whenever I'm in New York City, I make a specific point of visiting Times Square at least once, at night. I know it's stupid, I know I'm supposed to hate it, I suppose I do kind of hate it—it's a grotesque and desperate monument to consumerism, it's choked with tourists, and virtually every business in or around Times Square (with the possible and narrow exception of Broadway itself) is a gloomy, filthy, hellish trap for vacuuming money out of the pockets of the damned. They let Guy Fieri open a restaurant there, for chrissakes.
On the other hand, it's a grotesque and desperate monument to consumerism. In its own wild and wildly perverted way, Times Square is a spectacular achievement of human ingenuity, even if all that ingenuity has been in service of peddling various forms of corporate runoff at all costs. There's something charming, even flattering, about all the money and show and effort and precision being poured into sliding a dipshit box of M&Ms into my pocket, or getting me to watch ABC's newest primetime sitcom.
But let's not make it like this is some defensible moral or philosophical affection—it's not. Times Square is the purest distillation (outside of Orlando, Florida) of the power and wealth and ravenous hunger of the western world's corporate interests, and it's gross, and as a librul piece of shit I should (and do) want those interests thrown against the wall as much as anyone. No, my love of Times Square is actually much simpler and more lame than any flimsy intellectual defense I could muster.
It's bright! It's colorful! It's tall! There are big high-definition screens everywhere! They've got bright red illuminated steps that lead to a big platform in the middle of an intersection! There's a camera on the crowd and you can wave your arms in the air and see yourself on a big TV! They've got a guy dressed like Batman out there at all hours! All hours! It's bright! It's colorful! There are big high-definition screens everywhere!
It's cheesy as hell, yes, but so is the Grand Strand at Myrtle Beach, so is Las Vegas, so is La Rambla in Barcelona, so is Dave & Buster's, so is Kraft Mac & Cheese, so is a Cadbury Creme Egg, so is The Avengers movie. It's cool if you turn your nose up at all these things—I mean that, it really is, it's cool and I'm cool with it and I even admire you a little—but I try to give myself permission, here and there, to stand and gawk at things that light up and make noise and do things and in any number of ways grab and hold my attention. I'm a guy who likes fireworks. I figure the experience of standing in the middle of Times Square isn't so different from the experience of watching the fireworks. I don't have to be Mr. Rah Rah On-Message to appreciate things that light up the night sky.
Anyway, screw you, I dig Times Square. There, I said it.