By Jason Keidel
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If you were born and raised in New York City and moved just five miles or so from the five boroughs, you become spellbound by the startling silence, the quiet, country hymn of a cricket or cat or the soft whimper of a dog or even a baby crying itself to sleep.
Hence when you return to the city, the first thing that hits you is the jarring anarchy of a million people hustling to and from their rush-hour hubs.
You need a moment to adjust your eyes and ears, your senses and synapses to the oceanic volume of commuters, banging like bumper cars, squeezing into a car as the bell rings and the door closes, another clanging into the turnstile as their train squeals into the station, while yet two more joust for the lone, empty seat.
Even if I live just eight miles from my original and only home, they know I’m not a regular. It’s as if nature exposes the weak and they pick up on the soft scent of the uninitiated. They know you can be pushed around, that you’ve become suburbia soft. So I pinball around Penn Station, shoved around the 3 Train, and hurled off at Times Square.
But not even the most calcified New Yorker can quickly adjust to the enormity of Super Bowl Boulevard. The NFL cut a swath of hype up Broadway that trumps V.E. Day. Forgive the cliché, but you have to go there to absorb its enormity.
But before I clasp my fingers on the carotid artery of commuters, I wanted a sense of the police presence on my old island for this monstrosity they call Super Bowl Week.
You’d think that’s a rather facile endeavor.
Yesterday, around 4 p.m. I was told by the Midtown South Precinct — the closest to Super Bowl BLVD — I should return today after 7 a.m., at which point all my questions vis-a-vis police presence during Super Bowl Week would be addressed.
Show up at 7:05 a.m., only to be told they don’t provide said information. I was told to call some entity called D.C.P.I., which would gladly answer my easy inquiries.
I was then told I must email my questions to another entity, which would happily respond to my lust for knowledge.
I have much respect for the police; not so much the bureaucracy.
Two tall, menacing men in full fatigues, strapped with enough weaponry to stop Earl Campbell, stood stiffly by the Seventh Avenue side of Penn Station. But, as with most soldiers, they create the persona out of necessity, not naturally. They were very nice dudes.
But I happened to find the only two soldiers in America who didn’t like football. They even admitted they didn’t like the game.
These two swell chaps, Quinones and Rodriguez stitched above their breast, respectively, stood sentinel over Penn Station, while the waves of flesh surged and receded like jellyfish on the Jersey Shore. “Denver,” each stated meekly. “I guess.”
Sadly, Quinones is a Knicks fan. The irony, of course, was not only my desire to discuss football, but also the physical reality that we camped right under the very hardwood the Knicks have desecrated for the last 40 years.
Mr. Quinones, a tall, tan soldier with a dusting of black hair on his head, sidearm bulging from his right hip, offered his two cents on the personnel moves that would right the Good Ship Knickerbocker. In light of his service to my country, I gave him only a sip of my Melo Haterade. I agreed that if the Knicks had Chris Paul and a better big man they’d win it all, even if I knew that weren’t true.
Mr. Rodriguez had no opinion on either matter, though he chuckled when a rank homeless man mumbled at Quinones, some garbled salutation for his service. “Thank you, sir,” said Quinones. “Now I need you to step back. Please, sir.”
The man, who dressed much like Bill Belichick, inched closer, then saw the soldier’s frown far more pronounced, and stepped back, and then walked away.
“You didn’t have my back,” Quinones barked at Rodriguez.
“Lone Survivor,” Rodriguez replied.
I saw the fine film but didn’t get the reference. Concluding that their task of protecting me from terrorists was exponentially more important than answering my idiotic questions, I thanked both for their service and strolled off.
Cops don’t particularly like it when you approach them quickly. But I marched toward these two fine fellas with the stern expression of a hardened reporter. I moved in on them like I was Geraldo Rivera.
Two robust chaps named Burgarelli and Circosta. (can’t make those up) camped by the dank Amtrak atrium looking at things as only cops do, without flexing a finger, their eyes rolling around the room, doing all the work. You wouldn’t think the day were different if not for the round walls lathered with powder-blue propaganda for the Super Bowl, stamped with a Pepsi logo and the following…
—- Super Bowl
New Jersey can’t even come out on top of that random fraction.
They spoke vaguely about their work, for security purposes, and told me that an entire division is devoted to … fraud, of all things. Undercover cops roam Broadway, trolling for shady merchants who sell bogus Super Bowl merchandise as authentic. Once they make the most regretful sale of their careers, they are cuffed and whisked away.
The cherubic Burgarelli, thick gray mane sprouting up like grass, likes Denver. 24-21. Officer Circosta, who sports a suspiciously black moustache that may have been darkened a bit with some help from Aisle 5 of the pharmacy, picked Seattle, 31-24.
They picked Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson, not surprisingly, as the game’s MVP. “I got 20-17,” chirped Officer Fortunato — a tall, thin comrade who hovered around us and then jumped in late on the chat.
“No idea,” he quipped. “But the score will be 20-17.”
Despite the volume of life that whisks through every day, Penn Station has a forlorn feeling to it, a funereal sadness that comes with armies of people stumbling head-down to keep appointments they loathe, an almost universal dread that seeps from those who reluctantly keep their rounds with mediocrity. We’ve all been there. You look at the roaming, random masses and wonder whom among the million will actually do something about their somber career arc.
Even with all the fluff, the sidebars and sycophants and celebrity wannabes, this game, this event, seems to lack a little sizzle. Ironic that Broadway Joe never got to play his best and biggest game on the Avenue that so aptly bears his name (or is it the reverse?). Manning needs no introduction and Wilson is a most worthy heir apparent.
But the game hasn’t grabbed America’s five-second attention span as it normally does. Whispers of unsold tickets. Hauntingly unsold hotel rooms. Working stiffs who planned to haul a small fortune renting out their cribs can’t give away their living rooms. For lack of a more creative characterization, this game, up to now, has been boring.
So once a soldier or policeman realizes that I’ve showered in the last 72 hours, that I’m not drunk, and I’m not going to ask for spare change, they actually embrace the break in their hourly monotony. It sounds sexy to patrol and protect 10 million people, like a Die Hard movie wrought with bullets and explosions and iconic battle cries (“Hasta La Vista, Baby!”)
Tomorrow we tackle the commuter, the aorta of the island, and then hike up Super Bowl Boulevard. It’s a behemoth befitting all American excess, an amalgam of Manhattan and Las Vegas, the vivid visual brainchild of a Hunter Thompson acid trip. It’s our job to take you down the Boulevard as if you were there, with the special, semantic effect of good reportage.
But some things just have to been seen to be believed.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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