i rarely have been right in the middle of a news story but last night my parents and my daughter and i managed to find ourselves exactly at the scene of the times square bomb scare – at exactly the same time it all happened!!! my parents are visiting for a week and as a bday gift, i wangled amazing house seats to ‘billy elliot’ – my husband subs in the pit and he was able to request house seats – it was worth it as it was a gift for my father’s 80th bday and my mother’s 79th – both bdays just having passed in the last month. mom isn’t the best walker in the world – although i think watching new yorkers of all ages negotiating the streets and the subways as a ‘i just do it daily’ thing may have inspired her to be up and about more. i planned the evening carefully. we did take the subway in from brooklyn and, though it isn’ t really my thing – the giant touristy restaurant, i picked virgil’s bbq with a 6pm reservation exactly because it was 1 block from the theater and right off times square. (i don’t like bbq or anything smoked but i had a burger and it was a pretty darned good burger.) we scored a lovely table upstairs by the window and we were all happy – especially mom and dad with a gooey rack of bbq’d baby back ribs.
Out the door again at 6:40pm we turned left to walk around on bway – my father was fascinated with the new walking section with no cars. we turned right to walk up a few blocks and, at first, it looked like we couldn’t walk in the middle due to some construction for a block. but, as a city girl, you hear and start picking up little odd signals that, even in such a huge crowd, something is a little ‘off’. one of the comedy club hawkers made a reference to ‘that explosion over there’ and i noticed that our uptown walk (of only 1/4 a block) suddenly felt intensely dense – denser than it should be. i wasn’t paying as much attention up and out because i was herding my particular group of cats – my dad strutting ahead and wanting to be first at anything that might be interesting; me in the middle looking forward toward him (who forgot his cell phone at home so i couldn’t lose him in the crowd); and back behind me to my teenage daughter who was kindly holding her mom-mom’s arm – my mother walking slower than most people. but i did look up and forced myself to focus and in a few moments, my brain formed the realization that there were a whole lot of emergency vehicles appearing around us and above us and i realized that, very quickly – really really really quickly, a lot of times square was being locked down…cordoned off with police tape and the metal rails they use to pen in new years eve revelers. and we couldn’t move forward – even as people were turning around to walk the other way. i got us turned around but trying to negotiate down a few streets and around toward our theater was difficult – we didn’t know quite what was happening. my father wanted to stay and watch and didn’t want to listen to my now-barked instructions to follow me. i, who had watched the 2nd plane hit the world trade center from a roof in park slope, brooklyn, simply had a singular instinct…get out of here as quickly as possible. (and i really hate crowds.) but it involved pulling him along to stay with us and keeping mom moving and not tripping over the many rail-feet and curbs and gabillion other people. i realize now that in moving back downtown, we actually went right past the original bomb/suv site.
i got us down to 43rd street where, miraculously, we were able to turn west and down to shubert alley – cut through and cut through and across 45th street to our theater. we arrived at 7:10pm and you could feel the tension. of course, it turned out that the car was right there or right near there but we didn’t really know. after a bit of gawking and counting ourselves lucky for slipping and sliding to get there, we went in. and sat. and sat. and sat. i saw that at least 1/4 of the seats were empty for this usually-sold-out show and figured that many people couldn’t get there due to the streets being closed off. an announcement came that the curtain was being held due to ‘the activity in times square’ and around 8:20 a number of people slid into their seats. the curtain finally went up at 8:25pm – the latest i’ve ever seen it held. in the middle of a quiet moment in the 1st act, a distinct blaring police megaphone barking some kind of universal instructions and then hidden again by the soaring orchestra in their next number. i think i’m not the only theater patron who quietly worried – unable to quite slip completely into the world of this northern england town of miners.
we left at an ungodly 11:25pm and a cheery announcement came from the stage that we were all to exit to 46th street (the back of the theater). the street was cordoned off – hundreds of people straining at a police barricade – perhaps many gawkers and some people hoping or needing to get down that block – but onlythe theather-goers were being allowed on the block and, then, only to be let off the block. we trekked to 8th avenue with my plan to walk to 42nd street and then back over to bway to catch the q home. it essentially worked – though we had to cross over two times to go around the ‘ground zero’ of the emergency. in true big city style..we passed loud vibrant restaurants and clubs with partying people having no idea nor any interest in what was happening just a block or two away. times square on it’s best day is one of my least favorite places in all of new york city and here i was finding myself in the middle of it on a looney saturday night in some surreal drama.
home by 12:45 – everyone passed out but me – not quite able to ramp down and watching what had now become big-time news. thankfully, a failed explosive. but – ohhhhh – my parents will have quite the story to tell their albuquerque friends and our relatives – out for a night of theater and they got a major incident as well and more walking than they thought possible! which, of course, weaves it together into the regular big night of theater that is new york city.