ho, ho, no!
new york - mark mcclusky
Out in front of the Time-Life Building on the corner of 50th Street and 6th Avenue, the crowds are milling about aimlessly. In front of me, a group of southern tourists stop dead and look across the street at the marquee of Radio City Music Hall.
"Look at that!" says one of the men with wonder in his voice. "Up above the marquee! They have a whole fireplace and Santa and stuff there!" They do, in fact. It's part of a show called "Santa's Symphony," and every half an hour, Christmas carols play and Santa moves forward on a track to conduct an unseen band. These decorations went up at Radio City in October.
Is it any wonder that I get sick of Christmas? I work at Rockefeller Center, at ground zero of the annual Christmas invasion of New York, where the tourists rubberneck and the "Christmas cheer" is gently shoved down your throat.
Each year, a million people descend on Rockefeller Center to see "The Radio City Christmas Spectacular," a tacky sprawl of a show featuring 54 dancing Santas, live animals, an orchestra on a hydraulic lift, and of course, the Rockettes kicking their little tushes off in over 170 shows in eight weeks.
It's a stunning scene, as tour buses pull up on 50th Street or on 6th Avenue, and disgorge their passengers, causing traffic to back up. The crescendo of horns grows, the theater-goers clog the sidewalks as they wait to be packed into the show, as they wait to find the holiday spirit in an old movie palace.
After the show, the next stop is usually in front of the GE Building at the heart of Rockefeller Center, to look at the tree. The Rockefeller Center tree is one of those cultural icons that looms large in the New York collective psyche, as the newspapers and broadcasters cover not only the lighting of the tree, but also its selection, the cutting-down of the tree, the transportation of the tree to New York on a specially built truck, and even the fate of the tree once the holidays are over (it is cut into logs and donated to the U.S. Equestrian team to make log fences). This is a famous tree.
It's also a lovely tree. I will admit that. Each year, a tall, straight pine looms over the skating rink, decorated in multicolored lights. If I could see the vista, looking down over the rink toward the GE Building at the tree, I might just fall in love with Christmas in the city.
But it's never possible to have that view, uninterrupted. Instead, you have the teaming masses creeping along the sidewalks, camera viewfinders permanently affixed to their eyes.
I could handle this, I really could. But I spend a lot of time in my office. It's a little like my second home. Imagine having a million people a month through your front door, all asking where McDonald's is, and you are getting at what the time between Thanksgiving and New Year's feels like at my office.
But the worst holiday experience I've had in New York came at the start of this month when I went for a holiday brunch at the Tavern on the Green in Central Park. I was there with my grandparents who had always wanted to visit the famed restaurant. We fought through the crush of people under the awning waiting for their cabs and into the dining room.
While the room was beautiful, the service and the ambiance wasn't. There was an open door next to us, with the wind howling in on us. Finally, we got up and shut it. Our food arrived before our drinks, and it took us about 20 minutes to get some water. Meanwhile, the wait staff was stinging behind us complaining loudly about how that particular dining room was supposed to be closed. The food was fine, nothing to write home about, but my overall impression was of a restaurant that knows that they don't have to try very hard, because they are always going to have the tourist trade.
Leaving the restaurant, we waited for our cab. An older couple stood under the awning, looking harried. "You know," the woman said, "it must be nice for all of these people who don't live here, but I can't wait for the holidays to end." I looked at her, and made eye contact, and the two of us smiled at one another.
I am once again a very small child exploring the paths through the Montana woods and find a place of total enchantment where there lived a very wise old man who taught me to talk to the fairies on their huge sunflower telephones and walk down a magic path to where the trout filled pond lay glistening in the sun. An old dead tree stump, carved with nitches here and there and a crow's nest sat atop it waiting for its owner to come cawing back, while I, in awe and wonder, saw a Fairy Post Office which held from time to time, a pack of Wrigleys Juicy Fruit gum, a string of pearls or a nail set to fix my nails. How I loved that gentle soul and often wished his tale be told. His name was Hawkins and the place was Absarokee, Montana
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