Growing up on Riverside Drive in Washington Heights was an idyllic city childhood…not counting the 3 times our apartment got broken into. As a latch-key kid, I was the one that always found the place ransacked. The Heights was a bubble for a young girl in the 80’s. I lived, went to school, and played there. That bubble was all I needed. The first time I went to Harlem was as an adult. I had no business there as a kid, even though going above ground at 125th street on the 1 train was exciting because I could look out the window. My bubble was good enough for me. Nothing could lure me out of it (that and the fact that my mom didn’t let me go far). However, there was one place I loved visiting. The forbidden fruit, Times Square.
If you’ve been to NYC in the last 20 years, you don’t know what I know about TSQ. Times Square before 1995 was Broadway shows, crime, adult theaters, tip and play joints (I found out what that meant on a dare once), three card Monty scammers, sex toy shops, pick pockets, hookers and pimps (the last two are my favorite, the why is for another telling). There were a few legit movie theaters. I have vivid memories of seeing ET, Grease 2 (yuck) and Annie at the Victory on 42 and 7th. Those single screen theaters from the old Vaudeville days of NYC were huge and beautiful and there weren’t any theaters in the Heights back then. Ok, there is that ONE on 181 and Broadway but still. It’s too small to count.
My dad hadaguy – yes it’s one word in NY everyone’s gottaguy it just means hook up. I gottaguy that works at the Banana Republic in SoHo and I always get an extra discount, my guy is actually my friend Susie, she’s my guy doesn’t matter that she’s a woman, but I digress – that worked at Model’s Sporting Goods store and we’d go down to 42nd and 8th Avenue to get a backpack every school year. He would hold my hand, make sure I was on the inside of the street and told me to not make eye contact with anyone. In fact, I was to make my sneakers the most interesting thing I had ever seen while we were walking that strip. Of course, I looked. I loved seeing the marquees with titles like: “The Filthy 5”, “Sweet Cheeks” and “Secret Wet Dreams”. I also loved the scantily clad women looking for a ‘date’. I’m pretty sure that’s where my fascination with hookers was developed (again, I’ll tell ya later). Then later when I was older, any time I played hooky from school, I’d walk around TSQ. It was a lawless land back then so I easily walked into sex shops to get my first impression of male genitalia. Imagine my disappointment when I found out that they weren’t all that big.
Believe it or not, I miss those days…a little. Back when you could by a slice and a soda for 50 cents and Times Square was a giant petri dish of sex, sweat and soot. I moved to Times Square in 1996. A lot of the grit was gone but there were still a few XXX movie theaters and the “Live Girls” signs were still very much alive. It was a kinder, gentler version of itself. A lot cleaner, a little safer but STILL the red light district. So the tourists trickled back in, taking with them a little bit of grit when they left. Now Times Square is overly sanitized. I’m grateful that It’s safe enough for me to call it home but we went too far. The mid 90’s was the perfect formula of skankiness, safety and family friendly that I miss the most. It’s still the center of the universe because, as I like to say, all roads (or trains/cabs and buses) lead to TSQ. I mean, where did the pimp that used to walked behind me saying “hey girl, I love those little feet, you should come work for me” go? I had never been more flattered.