Destination: The annual Christmas tree lighting in Rockefeller Center.
Guide: Brian Van, shutterbug, commenter extraordinaire.
Is there a more iconic "New York in winter" scene than ice skating on the rink at Rockefeller Center? A lifetime of seasonal movie watching tells me no, which is why my one Survivor-like luxury item that I brought with me when I moved was my hockey skates. One way or another, I'd be on that ice before Christmas. Even before a magical first snowfall could arrive, however, I stumbled on the perfect way to celebrate the season at "30 Rock" — the official lighting of the Christmas tree. I canceled my TV plans for the night and begged my new friend Brian Van to meet me there. (He has a better camera than I do.) With the star-studded program scheduled to start at 7 p.m., I judiciously arrive 15 minutes early to secure a good spot for viewing. Sadly, it seems I've once again underestimated the New York definition of "crowded."
I walk down 49th Street and am still half an avenue away from anything resembling an ice rink when I reach the outer edge of the gathered masses, shoehorned onto the sidewalk by helpful metal barricades. Out of the 20,000 or so people crammed into this square block, maybe 2,000 can actually see the tree, and the rest, like me, have no hope of getting any closer. No one seems to mind though, as long as Taylor Hicks and the Soul Patrol are at work.
Brian shows up and like a true New Yorker, he immediately tries to buy his way to a better spot. The kindly police officers will have none of it. Even worse, when he informs the cops that we're with Gawker, they pretend they've never heard of it. Weird, huh?
I'm starting to question my decision to come down here. There's an 88-foot tall pine tree that I can't see, a giant screen with Ann Curry and Al Roker that I can't hear, and a mass of people ten rows across that's got me pinned in like ... HOLY SHIT, IT'S STING! Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod. Sting is singing Christmas carols right behind the corner of this building that's blocking my view! I mean, I can barely make out the mandolin, but I'm sure that's he kicking some ass on "O, Tannenbaum" or something.
"It's so crowded you can't even scratch your balls," Brian announces. Quiet. Nicole Richie's father is on next.
We're still more than an hour away from the flipping of the light switch when two older women in front us turn to leave.
"You're going now?" I ask.
"Eh," one of them shrugs. "We can say we were here."
"Yeah, if you're a liar," I think. The true tree fans will be here when the lights go on, thank you very much.
"You know," Brian chimes in, "the tree stays up until January. This is actually the only night you can't see it." Some people just don't understand holiday magic.
Finally, at two minutes before 9 p.m., someone starts counting down, and when they reach "one", the crowd goes wild. The tree is lit, or so we've been told, and those bulbs aren't only thing that's electric!
In the aftermath, the crowd disperses and we're able to move into the square. Patience pays off, as I can now see the tree in all its glory. I can also see the ice rink. And the VIPs gathered on it. Who aren't even skating! Why are they just standing there drinking beer? Is that any way to officially begin the holiday season, you ungrateful bastards?
Still, I have to agree with Stephanie Reyes of Queens, who I did not meet, but I consider a kindred spirit. "This was on my life to-do list. It should be for any New Yorker." Sweet! Score one for me!
Brian has his own final take. "It's like pro football. It's much better to just stay at home and watch it on TV."
Wait ... I could have watched this on TV? I kinda wish I'd known that.
Earlier: Macy's Thanksgiving Parade