It was my first trip to New York. I had, many years before, passed through it while hitchhiking to and from the airport enroute to Europe and further destinations, but I had never gone into its heart to observe it for itself.
I was visiting my son, who teaches math and physics at a high school in New Jersey. As soon as we emerged from Penn Station after the train from Trenton I felt as if we were in
another world, an almost magical, fascinating world. New York is vast, and there are many filthy, unsavory parts, but upper Manhattan, which is the first of its many faces that
most visitors see, is dazzling, multifaceted, and enigmatic. Huge advertising videos erupt from the sides of buildings. Stores of famous brands with which we are all familiar from movies and TV appear on every block. There are theaters with marquis splashed with
the names of blockbuster musicals. There are restaurants, souvenir shops, sidewalk food stalls, and everywhere people, all kinds of people, from ultra-rich in spotless suits to homeless bums in rags, from orthodox Jews in skullcaps to rappers with their pants slung halfway down their asses, from brisk businesspeople to families of tourists with their
noses buried in guidebooks and maps.
When we reached Times Square part of it was cordoned off and surrounded by police on foot and on horse, along with police cars and ambulances. After looking around for the
cause of the uproar we realized that they were focused on a single individual who had climbed up and was sitting atop a lamppost. Some rescue workers rolled out and inflated a huge yellow mattress while three police on a flatbed truck tried to talk the man down. We watched for a while, but as the situation seemed to be at a stalemate we decided to move on, after remarking on the expense and trouble the NYPD was going to for one lamppost sitter. “I bet he’s doing it for the publicity,” I said. “He’s probably trying to promote his book or his music.” Later we read about it online, and it turned out that the guy, who was eventually arrested, was a rapper trying to drum up publicity for his CD.
Farther on, at the center of Times Square, we came across another cordoned area, but this for a different type of event. On a raised stage was an arc of broken cars and a huge model of the transformer Bumblebee. Security guards dressed in dark suits, whispering to each other on cell phones and suspiciously watching passers-by, stood behind the barriers. It turned out that later that afternoon at that very spot was to be the ceremony for the US premier of “Transformers 3”. My son, a great film buff, immediately determined that we had to change our plans in order not to miss the premier.
So it was that that afternoon, after having walked miles all over Upper and Lower Manhattan, we returned to the spot about forty-five minutes before the event was to take place. Already a crowd had formed, and we were soon in the midst of a huge throng of people, tightly pressed on every side. A tall, very wide overweight woman was
directly in front of me; my son had a slightly better view. The sweltering heat was oppressive, and the combined body heat of all those around us increased our discomfort
exponentially. “At least this is America, not Greece,” I told my son. “Surely they’ll start on time.” But it was not to be so. The starting time came and went, and still we and the many other people waited. And waited, and waited.
Now here comes the comparison. At any event to which important politicians are invited in Greece, it is taken for granted that they will be late. They are not expected to come on time; people would be shocked if they did. We are not talking about a matter of a few minutes either. Sometimes they are hours late, but at the least half an hour or forty-five minutes. The more important the speaker, the later he or she is. In the meantime everyone else, who had to come on time or they would not have obtained a seat or standing room or whatever, must sit or stand in discomfort whether it is hot or cold or overcrowded or whatever. Eventually, a minor politician will speak – though not, of course, the person everyone came to hear. Then another minor politician, and another. Everyone has to get up and have their say before the big shots. And finally, finally, after your muscles are cramped and you have to use the toilet and your kids are nagging you and you would give it all up and force your way through the crowd if you could and go home, finally, I say, the big shots will appear.
That’s what this premier at Times Square was like. My son didn’t care. He was elated to see and hear it all. I cared. I wondered who organized the thing and why it was all so
inefficient. It must have cost a hell of a lot of money for the props and the gigantic videos on the sides of the nearby buildings and the space itself, which you can bet the city of New York didn’t donate. All this expense, and nobody bothered to streamline the show. It made me want to boycott the film. They started almost an hour late, and introduced an executive producer that no one had ever heard of, which was followed by limited applause. I’m sure that the man was very important in the making of the film, but he was not who the people had come to see. Then fifteen or twenty minutes more passed, and then someone else was introduced, and on it went. The stage was full of photographers, news
announcers, and pretty starlets with handsome escorts, all of them sweating copiously and visibly wilting in the heat, but nothing would speed up the glacial pace of the presentation.
In the end the big shots showed up. We took some photos. My son was happy. As for me, it was an interesting experience, but I wondered what had happened to whoever was supposed to have organized the event. Were they on vacation? Or could this really be how it was planned, with such disdain for the comfort of the many fans who had assembled? Nothing could have been done about the weather, or that the crowd was so tightly packed, but surely it could have started on time, and could have carried on more briskly. We are supposed to believe that the film will hold our attention, even keep us at the edge of our seats; if the introductory festivities are any indication of what will follow it will not be so. Where was the publicity department, with whom so much money is entrusted, in the midst of all this?
We expect politicians to be boring, but not action film premiers. Wake up, folks.