New York stinks. I mean that in the most endearing way. A concoction of fragrant fried food street vendors, pungent garbage bins (frying in the heat), toxic fumes from endless traffic and bad B.O. of frenzied tourists, New York undoubtedly has its own signature scent. I had been warned about this by my friend Sara, who journeyed with me. However, her statement was flourished with optimism. For her, these “sweet” smells represented her favourite city. For her, Paris—the city of dog poo and human pee—is held with equal esteem.
Times Square was an overload for the senses. Of course, the many New York fragrances were there. The air was thicker than the crowd; I struggled to breathe. I had thought that the noises of Times Square would take dominance over the five senses, but I was wrong. This tourist attraction was, as far as densely populated places go, quiet. So quiet that it was almost meditative, standing there amidst the hushed chattering of tourists and the distant hum of shops blasting their music 24/7.
As for the visual, Times Square certainly ticked that box. It had been a thirty-degree, intermittently sunny day, yet I hadn’t worn my sunglasses once. Arising from the subway I glanced the flashing lights and the blindingly bright billboards. Instantly, I felt compelled to reach for my tinted lenses. 10 o’clock at night.
I hadn’t expected to be impressed by Times Square. I had thought, when it came to sightseeing in New York, where was the intrigue in viewing a series of giant advertisements stamped across a street of sky-rise buildings? I philosophised on a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. Did the location originate as a tourist hot spot and then multi-billion dollar companies began fighting for their ads to be displayed there? Or was it the giant billboards themselves that drew in the people? I wondered what came first. As I gazed in awe at the paradoxically chaotic yet tranquil scene, I realised that I was, in fact, meditating in some roundabout way.
I asked Sara to take me to a shop worth seeing and she chose the M&M store. As I entered its doors I contemplated capitalism. How could a single brand of chocolate fill a three-storeyed building? Clearly, M&M profited off other merchandise: t-shirts, customised candy (that you could have your name printed on), Ms. Brown stuffed toys sporting a Statue of Liberty costume. I could have bought a token packet of M&Ms (and in absolutely any colour I desired), but I walked out with zero over-priced, over-hyped products in my hands. That task was saved for the next shop.
Being my last night in the United States, I was eager to spend my last 20 dollars (rather than wasting money converting it back to Canadian) and how could I possibly leave New York without a novelty souvenir? After browsing through the traditional snow globes, magnets, key rings and hoodies, I opted for a pair of pyjama shorts (with the “I heart NY” stamped on the butt, of course).
Times Square indulged my inner tourist. It was like nothing I’d seen before. I’ve witnessed the iconic Shinjuku lights of Japan (which feature in Lost in Translation) and experienced the swarms of people in their metro, but the vibe of New York’s main attraction was something else. I saw a partially naked cowboy, three people dressed as the Statue of Liberty (one playing guitar) and Elmo, who tried to hug me. Times Square was expectedly overtly tourist-centric, but it was for this precise reason that it made the perfect conclusion to my New York trip.