In 1961, my friend Harvey and I took a trip to New York. We were just a bunch of young kids, desperate to find a place that was not Montreal. We took the overnight Greyhound , endlessly starring out the window watching the blurred nighttime sky, anticipating my first trip on my own. We arrived early next morning at Penn Station and disembarked, in a sleep-deprived stupor onto 34th Street. A black kid about 10 years old ran by, followed by a white guy in an apron shouting “stop thief!” The street was full of guys selling anything from ballpoint pens to neck ties and the rumble of racks of clothes on push-carts, car horns, music, guys/girls yelling, the screams of bible-punchers trying to save my soul filled my ears. The street was packed with people and it scared the shit out of me. That was my first impression of the city—a real city and I never forgot it.
That afternoon we went to Times Square. It was a very sleazy Times Square in the 60’s, inhabited by street vendors, hookers, musicians moving on to their next gig, and bums—lots of bums. The street was lit by neon lights which flashed above the porn theaters, and nightclubs. For an 18-year-old kid from Montreal it was all very exciting—very American! I would return every year to this city and after one or two more visits I became very used to the streets and sounds. It no longer scared me when I walked out of Penn Station onto 34th street and hanging out in Times Square, the Village or the Jazz clubs became second nature to me. At that time I wasn’t taking pictures and even if I was, I lacked the confidence to walk around with a camera around my neck so all I can do is look at pictures taken by others. I was still an 18-20 year old schmuck who knew thought he knew everything but in fact knew very little
Over the years things began to change and eventually about 15 years ago it became a respectable place thanks to Disney et al. The slime was cleared out and it became a place to visit with the family. I was visiting now with a camera around my neck, but it wasn’t the Times Square that I knew as a snot-nosed kid. It was just boring. Mommy, daddy and the two kids, The Lion King, souvenirs from the Disney store—really disgusting. Now I just visited the area if we were going to a play, or walking uptown to a museum. The sidewalks were packed with people and the streets were stuffed with traffic.
I have noticed though that change continues to happen in Times Square. Now that cars have been banned there is more space for the people to walk and since the area is crawling with tourists, small time hustlers have been hanging around offering to pose for pictures with the family. The Naked Cowboy, Naked Cowgirl (there are actually two of them. One is an attractive 24-year-old with nice tits and the other was once an attractive 24-year-old who is now 60 with sagging tits), Minnie Mouse (not officially sanctioned by Disney) are all over the place and other characters. Maybe things are going back to the good old days. I am ready for it now. Now if they could only bring back neon.