Details: Stay, eat and play in Times Square
The Times Square Alliance said au contraire. In September, the organization started offering two pavement-pounding tours: the Times Square Walking Tour, presented by Manhattan Walking Tour, and the Broadway Walking Tour, presented by Walkin’ Broadway. Neither requires combat boots and a bullhorn; tennis shoes and an outside voice will do. (Note: Midtown suffered relatively little damage from Hurricane Sandy. The neon was a beacon in the storm.)
The tours depart from the renovated Times Square Museum and Visitors Center, across the street from the TKTS box office, in the thick of the tourist jungle. Housed in the opulent Embassy Theater, the center’s mini-museum provides a brief preview of upcoming scenes, including exhibits on Broadway musicals, the dark years of peep shows, and the New Year’s Eve extravaganza. A special Waterford crystal orb with 9,576 LED lights blinks and flashes as though it were 2007, the centennial year of the ball drop. At the gift shop, visitors can pluck pieces of colored tissue paper from a bowl and scribble a note for the Wishing Wall. On Dec. 31, officials will release the rainbow confetti, creating a blizzard of such hopes and dreams as “good girlfriends for my boys,” “meet Justin Bieber” and “Alabama to win the national championship.”
Sometimes non-Bieber wishes do come true. Nancy, my guide, shared a Nora Ephron-esque story of a woman who was seeking a Prince Charming and wisely included her phone number on the scrap. A man found the wish (or maybe it found him?), called her and — cue Cupid’s bow — they fell in love. The couple married in the visitors center and honeymooned in the square.
“You either love Times Square or hate it,” said Nancy, who clearly heart-shapes New York. “Hopefully, people will love it.”
George M. Cohan clearly adored Times Square, and the square returned the affection. The father of American musical theater wrote the anthem “Give My Regards to Broadway,” among other toe-tapping hits. In his honor, the city erected a statue in Duffy Square, Times Square’s northern triangle, where he can oversee his Broadway babies.
As we glided along Broadway, Nancy fed me tidbits spiked with some kind of alluring potion. The more she piled on my plate, the more I began to appreciate and embrace Times Square. To wit, the square is not a square: It’s actually two triangles that kiss at a mutual point. The “Times” refers to the New York Times, which in 1904 relocated to what was then Longacre Square to draw business into the area. In return for this civic favor, it received naming rights, choosing a moniker that eventually transcended its parentage. The paper also masterminded another local legacy: the New Year’s Eve ball drop. The idea sprang from the maritime tradition of using a descending ball to tell time, although the sailors’ instrument probably didn’t sparkle like a disco ball.