04 April 2007

The Death of Peripheral Vision

I usually do not go anywhere near 42nd Street and Broadway on a Saturday afternoon, because I am not a fool, and don't wish to enjoy the sensation of being in a packed, rush-hour Lexington Avenue subway car while remaining above ground. But a Theatre Row matinee compelled me to traverse this gauntlet the other day, and it was an object lesson in the myopic, monstrous selfishness that now possesses the average tourist.

Tourists no long move slowly in Time Square. They don't move at all! They stand stock still and stare up, like they're at a museum. The Museum of the Working City. They approach the lip of the curb on the southeast corner of 42nd and Seventh, with a walk sign beckoning, and halt. Dozens of them, happily at stasis. No cow in a pasture was ever so unmovable.

So, let me add this to the endless list of modern societal maladies that blight our thoughtless and rude culture: the death of peripheral vision. Due to the overuse of cell phones and i-pods and whatever other gadgets that help us created our own little, self-sustaining personal environment, your average citizen has no idea there are other people in his or her vicinity. Not even if they're standing at the busiest intersection in the busiest city in the Western world. There's no glancing about, no tension in the shoulders that tells you they're alert to the world around them, and that they know errands may be in progress in front, in back and to the side of them. Folks stand lax, slumped, staring forward and slightly up. You can root yourself directly behind them and slightly to the right and they won't notice your presence; or, if they do, it won't occur to them to budge or make way. We are merely extras in the home movie starring themselves. We will fluidly move around them, like streaming water around a rock.

I was brought up to be constantly aware of others around me, to keep a sharp eye out to see if I was blocking someone's way, holding someone up. For the simplest way a civilized human being can show their respect for a fellow person is to register and acknowledge their presence, and recognize they have as much right to the surrounding air and ground as you do. Also, being alert a good way to make sure you don't get mugged or sandbagged.

The only way to combat the ossifying oafs of Times Square is to make end runs around their bulking mass (the polite thing to do) or charge through them, all elbows and shoulders (the tempting thing to do). Police would help. You know, the kind that say "keep movin'." But they seem to be a thing of the past.

30 comments:

j$ said...

making the sidewalks wider in times square would help too...although that may just facilitate more standing tourists instead of the stated goal.

Sally Tomato said...

I had a similar experience last week trying to get from point A to the American Airlines theatre. NIGHT. MARE. I would rather drink a razorblade milkshake than have to be anywhere near there. Fortunately, my ire at the touristas was immediately negated by staring at Alan Tudyk from Row C for the next two hours. Yum.

Anonymous said...

Ho hum. Yet another tourist-bashing article, this one from Lost City.

I've been a New Yorker for 49 years, or at least a New Yorker in name only, because I do not tend to rush about on my way to make more money, as most New Yorkers seem to want to do. I carry my camera around town taking pictures, and sometimes, yes, I do stand on the sidewalk to get a better look at the marvels surrounding me.

In short, I'm a tourist in my own town, and won't be made to hustle along like the rest of the wolves.

Anonymous said...

The well-described tourists are not only immune to what is happening AROUND them, they are also immune to what is happening TO them. Charging through, using elbows, shoulders, knees, head-butts, etc. not only gets them out of the way, but can also be cathartic. And they just seem to take it all in as part of the NY experience. Who am I to disappoint them?

MadPilot said...

Couldn't we just whip a bag of flour in the air and scream 'thrax! ???

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes. My favorite are the hordes who park their fat arses outside Applebees, blocking foot traffic on the narrow sidewalk near the 1 train on 50th near 8th. Applebees. Christ on a cracker. You're in New York City, people. At least go to the Heartland Brewery.

Anonymous said...

What we need are New Yorker lanes. Just like bike lanes, but painted with a hurried business person on them instead of a bicycle.

Next to that, you can have a tourist lane, with a logo of a fat midwesterner holding a camera in the air.

These chould be on every sidewalk in the midwown area.

erika said...

i do a combo of dancing around them and pushing them out of the way on the off chance that i'm forced into that little part of hell known as midtown.

funny enough, overheard in new york was feeling your pain yesterday: http://www.overheardinnewyork.com/archives/009670.html

copyranter said...

I liked Mchale's.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

In response to Anonymous, I'd like to say that I'm often a tourist in my own town as well, in that I appreciate it, take time to look around and take a picture now and again. But I do keep my head in gear to make sure my enjoyment isn't getting in the way of someone else's. That's all I'm saying. Also, I'd like to point out that I wasn't rushing on my way to making more money. I was going to see a show. I'm hardly a wolf. In fact, I barely make a living.

Anonymous said...

If you don't like crowds of people, maybe you shouldn't live in New York - ever think of that, wise guy?

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Dear Anonymous:
Moving crowds I can deal with. Moving crowds are what NYC is about. Stationary crowds are what I'm carping about. And thanks for commenting on my wisdom!

Mitch said...

Yes, there's a lot to look at in New York City, and I did live there for a little while to know that the tourists can be annoying. However, no tourist - or anyone for that matter - has the right to be unaware of their surroundings. My dad would "Let Me Know" when I was in someone's way as a child, and I've taken that lesson to heart as I've grown older. The simple act of being courteous to someone else is lost in the scads of mothers and fathers these days who do not care where they or their children roam in public places. Staring at Times Square is appropriate, as it is a world landmark and a sight to behold, but not at the expense of a fast-moving city. (Let them go to Planet Hollywood after...it frees up seats for the good food for those who know.)

Anonymous said...

I take pleasure in imagining that those in their personal bubbles would probably be eaten by lions were they to be left to their own devices on the African savanna.

hvyTK said...

The ossified oafs aren't just in Times Square, although you really do notice them at 7th and 42nd. The airports and grocery stores and book stores are teeming with them.

I, like you, was raised to be aware of the space I occupy and how it affects others' ability to navigate around me. It's a shame that minding one's non-obstructive manners is a thing of the past.

Laura Moncur said...

Sorry, but it's not my job to accomodate you. I watch out for other people, but that is strictly for my benefit, not yours. Assuming that the world should get out of your way isn't the answer.

Plus, those tourists bring a lot of money to your town. Be a little more respectful of them.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Actually, Laura, it is your job to accomodate other people. It's everybody's job. That's part of what being a human being means. Civilization is nothing more than a thousand daily, silently-agreed-upon accomodations toward your fellow beings. And has it occurred to you that your attitude of looking out for other people only when it benefits you only works if there are other people in the world willing to look out for not just themselves, but others—like you.

Anonymous said...

I say it's not ipods, etc., it's cars. When you go everywhere by car, you don't have to develop the habits of awareness of others you say these peoplel lack. Living in NYC it's easy to forget how different the rest of the country lives.

I.J. Hamilton said...

Well said Brooks...

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Good point, Anonymous, about the cars.

Chris said...

I think the argument (that people are less courteous/aware in general) is valid but the example here is terribly unsuited for it.

It's not wrong for anyone to have the expectation of courtesy from another human being, however you are asking people way out of their element to be aware of possibly more people/obstacles/dangers than they've ever resolved at one particular time.

Sure, if you dropped in to Cody, Wyoming you could be amazingly proper noticing the quaint buildings and occasional passerby in their ten-gallon hat... you're used to having a hundred people within a hundred yards of you pretty much 24/7.

Cut them some slack, and maybe think that if they were less overwhelmed, they would exhibit the behavior you expect. And if they are smart tourists, like myself, you never go to Times Square ever again.

Now those iPod-cocooned, self-absorbed shoppers in SoHo... (oh wait, they're tourists too...)

Matt said...

I live in Albuquerque, NM which is probably one of the most polar opposite places in the US from New York and I get the same thing here. I grew up in San Diego and learned to say 'Excuse me' when I wanted to get by someone. Here, people look at you like you just pissed on their shoe if you politely ask them to step aside with an 'Excuse me' or 'Pardon me'. People just stand in the aisle at the grocery store, in a group in the walkway at the mall, anywhere they can, blocking any traffic. And since nobody has learned to say 'Excuse me' people will just stand there with hopeful looks on their faces waiting for the offenders to move of their own accord. So it's not just tourists, they probably do the same thing at home as well. Not that that makes it any better.

B.C. said...

Anecdote and two (conflicting) points:

Last week I went to NYC for the first time - for me a big deal, as I grew up in a small town in Canada.

Arriving at the PA Bus Terminal after a 13 hour bus ride and no sleep, I stumbled out into Times Square lost and confused. For someone unused to a sight like that, and in that kind of condition, it was indescribably overwhelming and, more importantly, disorienting.

I admit to being one of those slack-jawed impediments just one week ago. A long bus trip and a blown mind tends to make one a bit less spatially conscious than normal, and I'm sure the majority of tourists are experiencing just that.

However, this comes with a caveat. As I said, I admit that I was certainly a nuisance to the people around me in that time. This was made clear to me very quickly, as I was kind of pushed out of the way in the rush of pedestrians. This quickly put me back in context, and I moved off against a wall to stand agape out of people's way.

I suppose the point of all this is to say that perhaps some empathy is called for in regards to these sidewalk-obstructions, as for me at least it wasn't selfish self-absorption - it was sheer disorientation. The vitriol towards these people is understandable, but kind of unwarranted.

However, at the same time, I fully support the pushing/shoving initiative, as it's the only way these people will learn to watch themselves - myself included!

Anonymous said...

how can you tell a new yorker from a tourist in times square? the new yorker is walking in the street.

anybody who actually tries to get anywhere on the sidewalks is a sadist. just walk in the street (not in the middle...near the sidewalk does just fine).

I am everyone said...

It's not just tourists who are oblivious. Sadly, my own fiancee is completely unaware of how he encroaches on other people's space. He is a very tall person, long legs, big shoulders, and he usually carries a really big bag. On the subway, I'm constantly trying to shove him out of the way of people trying to avoid his flailing elbows, his swinging bag, and his giant feet. On street corners, he is completely oblivious that he is just IN the way. I too was always taught to look around and keep to my own space. I have no idea how people can be so oblivious!

loops said...

Please don't come to Europe. We don't even know how to form lines properly. Instead we like to block up escalators to mess with anyone visiting from countries like the US.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Anonymous: Good point. Actually, I do often resort to walking in the street to avoid the sidewalk crowds.

n9 said...

I work in Times Square. Sure, it is like Disneyland, but what are you going to do? Get mad?

Me, I walk faster than anyone else on the street and I just keep moving. Same thing when I'm on my bike. I never have to stop and if I'm walking the fastest I don't have to mind my 6 either.

pashminky said...

So damned true. Particularly the slow moving blimps who walk 4 abreast in their spanking new walking shoes down the city pavement utterly disregarding the normal pace required of the city. Australians are eternally good natured while on foot and will apologise for the smallest physical contact. The most impatient and intolerant city walkers are surely the Venetians who refuse to give way on the narrow streets way and furiously tailgate the ambling, agog tourists.

Fran said...

I was born and raised in this city. As another has said, I too was taught 'manners', 'politeness', and the like etiquette that seems to have become all but none existent in our dear city. I have several theories: fear, indifference, youth raised on computers, which are non-personal communication. Anyway, just wanted to put in my two cents,for what it's worth. Not much!