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Exploring a free tourist attraction in New York City
When I was 15 my mom brought me and my siblings on a trip from Minnesota to New York City. While there, we attempted to do all the usual tourist activities without spending money. Rather than go to the top of the Empire State Building, my mom brought us to the bottom of the Empire State Building, where we stood for a moment gazing upward. She later pointed out a postcard at one of those derelict Midtown gift shops depicting the view from the top. "See?" She reasoned. "Why pay to go up there? It just looks like this."
Rather than pay to go on a Statue of Liberty sight-seeing cruise, we instead boarded the Staten Island ferry where I caught distant glimpses of the statue between slick-haired commuters. But there was one tourist activity we were able to do because it doesn't cost a dime (and rightfully so): Times Square.
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Times Square is a place in Manhattan where you go to view advertisements. Nowhere else in the city can you see so many ads on such a grand scale; everywhere you turn is another bright, blinding billboard searing brand images into your eyes. Unfortunately the popularity of Times Square has been waning in recent years due to the rise of the internet, which made us realize that being inundated with advertisements may not be as novel of an experience as it once seemed.
Tourists still flock to Times Square, so you'll often have to push through a mob of confused families, costumed characters, and scammers trying to coerce you into buying drugs and shitty homemade rap CDs. It typically smells like urine and hot garbage.
I don't mean to make Times Square sound like an illuminated dystopian hellscape (even though it does look an awful lot like Bladerunner 2049). On the contrary, Times Square has lots to offer! For example, Times Square has all the comforts of a Middle America suburb. If you've come all the way to New York City and are sick of all the unique and delicious cuisines from around the world, Times Square is always serving up Midwestern strip mall fare like Olive Garden, TGI Friday's, and of course, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Overwhelmed by all the cool and trendy shopping options Manhattan has to offer? Come to Times Square for hometown favorites such as Old Navy, Forever 21, and Sunglass Hut. You thought your shitty mall back home was the only place with a Sunglass Hut? Think again!
Times Square is also home to a number of interesting characters in costume. You can get your photo taken with a minion or a Spider Man, just try not to think about the sweaty person stuffed inside the costume who has nothing to lose and will likely threaten you for a heftier tip.
Another famous character is the "Naked Cowboy," a man who stalks Times Square in his underpants with a guitar. If you've lived in New York long enough your instinct is to promptly walk in another direction when you see a freak in their underwear headed your way. But rather than flee the Naked Cowboy, tourists seek him out and will even pay money to take pictures with him! Yes, Times Square is a remarkable place indeed.
As I stood in Times Square on that fateful trip with my mom when I was 15, I looked around and struggled to understand. Why do people like this place? I asked myself. Maybe I'll understand when I'm older.
Now that I’m older and live in New York City, I sat down again to reflect on Times Square and came away from it with a newfound appreciation for the place: you don't have to like Times Square, I realized, but it makes you appreciate what you have. You see, I had always thought that my life growing up in suburban Minnesota was painfully dull. But sometimes you need a wakeup call to remind you to be thankful that you didn't grow up in a war-torn country or in a place like Times Square.
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