What I did on New Year’s Eve

Normally,  you couldn’t pay me to get within 5 blocks of Times Square on an average day.  On New Year’s Eve, the no-go zone stretches from Union Square to Columbus Circle. Normally, it’s bitterly cold, there are no bathrooms, you can’t bring anything with you, and you are packed in to the point where, if you wish to reel both your feet up off the pavement, you would not fall down.  You would just hang there, sandwiched between 6 or 7 other people, who would not notice that you have reeled in both your feet.  If 50 people standing together all reeled in their feet at once, perhaps a slight dimple would appear from an aerial view.

Then you watch a big ball drop while everyone counts.  After that, even if you want to go home, you can’t.  Instead,  you get to watch Mariah Carey screw up, and drunk people kissing.mariah

But this is not a normal year, and these are not normal times.  For starters, the temperature was a balmy 50 degrees.  And this year, I have become an activist.

I don’t do this kind of thing lightly.  In fact, in my youth I would rather have been almost anywhere than linking arms with fellow students while chanting “the people, united, will never be defeated!”  My idea of civil unrest was turning homework in late.  Now, however, I’m out there.

What’s the most important thing I can do? I thought to myself.  One news story in particular made my blood boil.  A young woman was harassed in the subway by thugs who tried to grab her headscarf.  The blood-boiling part came when she said that, on the number 6 train, her fellow New Yorkers looked away.

People.  This is New York!  Here’s the list of things you can look away from

  1. Rats
  2. Homeless people
  3. Crazy Ranters
  4. Noisy teenagers
  5. Naked cowboys
  6. Tourists eating pizza with a fork
cowboy
Feel free to look away.

Here is the list of things you can’t look away from:

  1. People who need your help.

It’s an easy list to remember.  And you failed.


This is the year I decided to do something about it.  I decided to leverage my superpower as a middle-aged white woman to hand out educational flyers to people on New Year’s Eve.  There was just one problem: my friends did not think this was a good idea.

rat
You can ignore this guy, too – especially if he’s also using a fork.

The first response I got was “that sounds dangerous”.  This is patently untrue.  For starters, there are police every 5 feet all over New York on New Year’s Eve.  Secondly, I went early in the evening, before anyone had time to get too drunk.  And last, but most importantly, I am a middle-aged white woman.  I’m practically invisible!  No one is going to mess with me.

The hub wanted to go too, but he would only have slowed me down.  I needed to leverage my superpower without worrying that he was going to be thrown to the ground and cuffed before you could say “is that middle-aged white woman with that Dominican?”  So, no.  As a sop to the worried, I did sport a lovely orange coach’s whistle that I could have deployed to fend off an attacker, but it was not needed.  As predicted, no one messed with me.


First stop was Penn Station.  I honed my technique and handed out a few flyers in the white-tiled maze under the LIRR’s central plaza.  When I got tired of the odor of “Auntie Anne’s Pretzels”, I head back uptown to Columbus Circle.  This was where I hit the jackpot.

giphy
…but you’d better do something about this.

I started out on the south side, moving clockwise around the circle as I was chased off by one bemused police officer after another.  “Ma’am, may I ask what you are doing?  Oh, an educational flyer?  I’m sorry, but I’ll have to ask you not to.”  Each time, I moved 20 feet down until the next policeman politely shooed me away.

Once I cross the street to the Central Park side, I hit pay dirt.  No one shooed me away, and by that time, I was a seasoned pro at leafleteering.

frontHere’s what I learned:

Smile.  I’m not exactly perky by nature, but I smiled big and spoke clearly as I said “Happy New Year!”

Act like you’re handing out free samples at Costco.  I appended “here you go!” in a happy voice to my spiel,  and believe it or not, it worked.

Be respectful.  Call people “Miss” and “Sir” even if they look like complete assholes.

Make it easier to take the flyer than to leave it.  Using my right hand, I’d snatch the top flyer from the stack on my left, wave it deftly in the air with a flourish, and then hand it firmly into their free hand.  (note: make sure your mark does have a free hand).

Keep moving.  Walk towards oncoming foot traffic for best effect.  To my surprise, the long line of people waiting to get south of the barricades into Times Square turned out to be sitting ducks….I scooted down the line and handed one to almost every other person before they knew what hit them.back

Here are the types of people you’ll meet:

Takers

British tourists.  They will take a flyer, say “thank you!” and sound like they mean it.

Male/female couples where the guy is burly and the woman is in heels:  hand it to the guy.  He doesn’t want to look mean or stupid in front of his date, so he will take it as the easiest course of action.

Groups of Asian women:  usually, one of them will take a flyer without too much fuss.

Leavers

Middle-aged white women like me.  We won’t take a flyer no matter what you do.

Well dressed gay men.  They won’t either, and they will smirk slightly as they don’t take it.

Party girls from New Jersey.  They have perfected the passive-aggressive technique of smiling, squeaking “Thank you!” while leaving their hands firmly at their side and not actually doing anything.  I pity their boyfriends.


Who knows if it will help?  I’m also signed up for a de-escalation  workshop in Brooklyn, so I’ll see what I can learn.  I promised to modify the flyer for my next session.  I’ve got at least 4 years to practice my technique.

nyeve
That’s me, in the middle.

 

 

 

 

 

4 comments

  1. It’s true… I’ve noticed it!!… you’re *not* exactly cheery by nature!!!!… but you sure are welcoming and fun!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    What’s with the leafle-littering??? Really??… what inspired you to try this?

    A few weeks ago, before we were completely encased in snow and ice up here where it’s a bog-awful -50… I was chased off the road and around a parking lot by some douche in a bmw. He was calling 911… I was calling for help over the sound of squealing tires and the smell of burning clutch…

    ALL of the half dozen onlookers simply bowed their heads as if they were in their respective back-home churches, shrines and monasteries and were muttering silent prayers to make ME go away.

    Not a single one amongst them rallied to my aid.

    None pulled out their cellphones to call the police on my behalf.

    They literally wished me away… I biked myself through the backyards and trails away from monster-boy instead of waiting for the fuzz this time.

    How is this campaign of yours going?

    It seems honorable, but is it making a dint in the laissez-faire stupid-stares, or is just adding pulp to the edges of the Circle?

    • Wow. Can you fill in the backstory here? I think it warrants a full expose. To answer your question, I am not sure if it is helping or not but every bit helps. Damn! A bmw? Next time, just key the paint off the bastard’s car.

  2. i”m so touched that you’re that socially conscious! While my sit-in and protest march days are behind me, it’s heartwarming to know that someone is fervid/crazy enough to stand in the streets on New Years Eve to try to get a message across. It’s really sad that people need to be told how to be decent, but hey I come from the more born-in-NYC verbally confrontational school. You go, MAWW [Middle-Aged White Woman]!!!!!

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