have you ever been to the epicenter of NYC hell?

December 5, 2010 |  Category:   favorite posts holidays life nyc

If you would have asked me where that was 20 years ago, I would have said Times Square before the Disneyfication of the Guiliani years, though now it’s arguably a different kind of hell all its own. These days, however, I would have to say the Rockefeller Center area during the holidays is the epicenter of NYC hell. Don’t believe me? I dare you to go during any peak holiday weekend and disagree with me.

It’s a funny thing. You’re at home, sort of bored and itching to feel the holiday spirit, so you start imagining this festive afternoon with your family, visiting the tree, sipping hot cocoa while watching the ice skaters glide across the rink, popping into a shop or two.

What actually happens is this:

When you get off the train, which you waited 20 minutes for btw, you’re immediately swarmed by masses of people and then herded like cattle by traffic police across the street. If certain intersections are bad, the police will actually use yellow caution tape to guide the crowd along.

It suddenly feels like winter, so instead of standing around to admire the tree, you just point it out to the kids who don’t really seem that impressed anyway, despite that it’s HUGE and you wonder, dayum, that’s a big tree and how the hell do they get it here from wherever it came from, and is that thing stable anyway? How is it standing upright? And even though it’s huge, it’s slightly disappointing in real life though you have no idea why you feel let down. Maybe because you’re expecting to be totally wowed, but when you’re looking at it in daylight, the lights are not so twinkly and beautiful and it’s just…a big tree in the middle of the street.

You pop into the Real Simple Pop-Up shop and not even 5 minutes pass before your six year old is inquiring about goody bags. Like what? Does the kid have radar for free stuff? How does she even know? And so you spot your friend from Real Simple, Amy Feezor, who saids that there are indeed goody bags in the vicinity of the store. Um. ok. Oh, and you get there 5 minutes too late to see Tim Gunn.

You spot Santa at the Pop-Up shop and even though he’s clearly a little too young and a little too skinny (yo, what’s up with that?) you announce to the girls that “Santa’s here!” and they’re like “ok, so?” and you’re like “well, don’t you want to see him?” and they’re like “ok” and then you nudge them over to Santa who stands there really enthusiastically to greet your kids with open arms and your 4 year old decides that Santa is scary and runs away (maybe because he’s skinny).

For some reason, you have a total brain fart moment and decide that today will be the day you bring the girls to the American Girl flagship store across the street from Rock Center, even though in past years you did everything you could to distract them if you happen to be walking by the store. But this time you voluntarily decide that you’ll take the girls there as a very special treat since grandma has agreed to buy them American Girl dolls for Christmas as that is what they really want for the 2nd straight year, even though you don’t want to spend $100 on a *%!*!!@ doll.

And of course once you’re herded across the street by traffic cops, you’re herded into a line to get INSIDE THE *%!*!!@ STORE and this *should* make you come to your senses, but no, no, you made promises and you decide to be honorable this time, so you get in line which really does go by fast, but then you get inside and OMG. WHAT THE HELL IS THIS? Why is all of humanity inside this store?

So you let the girls look at the wall of dolls and ask them to pick out the tickets of the ones that they like so you can remember it for later when you’re ordering the *%!*!!@ doll, but Claudine doesn’t understand that we’re not here to buy a doll, we’re only here to look and pick. “But everyone else is buying a doll”, she whines, and you look around and you see that she is right as boxes of dolls and doll clothes and accessories (an American Girl wheelchair?) are piled high onto arms and strollers. You try and explain once again that we only came to look and you end up dragging a grumpy, whiny, weepy four year old out of the store empty handed.

Once outside, your 4 year old continues to whine, this time because she’s cold, so you try and fish around the 4 Real Simple goody bags that your friend Amy gave you, looking for her mittens, but you only find one and ARGH, it appears to be lost! Which totally sucks because they are new and they were already lost once at the Pop-Up shop, but miraculously Mark was able to find it and that happy dance you were doing earlier because he was able to find the missing mitten turns into *%!*!!@.

And that is why Rockefeller Center is the epicenter of NYC hell.

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  • Anna @ D16 December 5, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    This being my 13th Christmas working in Rock Center, I’ve developed a kind of immunity to the insanity. I almost don’t even see the people anymore. I think of them as being water…as I swim through them…coming up for air when I need to…

    But yes, it is absolutely crazy.

    You know what else is crazy? I *chose* to go clothes shopping (already my least-favorite activity) on 5th Avenue. Yes, today. Yes, in mid-afternoon. Talk about hell…

    The was a LINE outside of the Hollister store! A LINE! With velvet ropes! And a half-naked guy and girl standing inside the door for people to gawk at while they waited to get in.

  • Jenna December 5, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    Anna, oh but see, I didn’t finish the story. I went shopping too after I left the family (but didn’t end up buying anything). On 5th ave. I saw that Hollister line with the dude and girl. I don’t know what that store is all about. it is very weird. usually, I am like you, and I don’t mind so much the crowd, but when you have 2 kids, eh…a different story.

  • Your friend Amy December 5, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Oh, how this made me laugh.

    And I can’t believe she lost her glove again.

    (What would Tim Gunn say about a one-glove look, anyway?)

    Glad ya’ll made it out alive! Happy, happy holidays.

  • Ashley December 5, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    We tried to look at the Christmas lights along 5th over Thanksgiving weekend and gave up after, oh, about 1/2 a block. But I will say, we returned around 10:30pm after dinner uptown on the following Monday and all of the chaos was forgotten in the glow of Bergdorf’s windows…

    Can’t even imagine the craziness of Rockefeller center with two small girls.

  • Q December 5, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    So sorry to hear that!

    P.S. American Girl is the biggest scam, in my humble opinion.

  • Joni December 5, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    This is FANTASTIC writing. Have you thought about submitting it to NPR’s Holiday stories? It’s BEAUTIFUL and has the perfect touch of sweet and sour.

  • Angie December 5, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    Tim Gunn would have told you “make it work!” and I think somehow you did! haha

  • Kitty December 6, 2010 at 1:54 am

    I find Mickey + Minnie scary.

  • shruthi December 6, 2010 at 4:27 am

    …and all this while i thought the Toys R Us store with the freaking ferris wheel and the M&M store were the worst!!! I love the way the Fendi store is lit up for xmas with the belt across the building!

  • Isabella Di Sclafani December 6, 2010 at 7:20 am

    That was funny as hell. Thanks for giving me a good laugh this morning, Jenna. Hopefully, in about 5-10 years from now, you’ll look back at these hellish moments in time as “special” times spent with your kids. Have a good day.

  • Nicole Franzen December 6, 2010 at 8:53 am

    I totally AGREE! I was up there trying to shoot some photos the last few days and its HELL! So many people pushing you and crowded in the streets. Its’ really not an enjoyable experience. I like living in Brooklyn where its much quieter 🙂 that’s all

  • siri December 6, 2010 at 9:10 am

    Skinniest Santa. Ever. What a farce.

  • bronwyn December 6, 2010 at 9:17 am

    There are so many things I love about this post. First, that santa picture on top is PERFECT. It’s so ominous. What you described is EXACTLY my idea of hell. Though I’m sure nothing in San Francisco matches the madness you described, we do have places that at certain times of year are the worst place on earth to be, especially with children. Haven’t we all had those days? Where we’re like “Why did I think THAT was a good idea?” And when you were describing the American Girl store, I thought of the Disney store and how I must never take my child there. Thank you for the reminder. 🙂

  • erica December 6, 2010 at 9:53 am

    I agree with you!! I work right by Rock Center and it’s a mess just going to get lunch during the holidays. I can’t even imagine walking through on the weekends, let alone with two kids. You’re brave! (Love the post though!)

  • Neighbor Amy December 6, 2010 at 9:55 am

    We were there on Sunday morning. The girls wanted to ice skate (hah!) but we went to the Lego store instead. Could not move inside there and the revolving door was such a hazard because the crush of people threatened to push you into a slot before you were ready. We lost a scarf along the way; no one cried, but there was one very unhappy 10 year old. Going back tonight — hoping the Monday night crowd isn’t as bad. And, I don’t think I can ever shop at Hollister.

  • Jessica December 6, 2010 at 10:16 am

    I’ve always been of the opinion that the Red Hook Fairway is the epicenter of NYC hell.

    All of humanity–love that phrase–squished inside, alternately pushing by each other to get to the free samples and strolling sooo slowly as they stare at food displays. Plus, once entering the store, you’re forced to walk like 5 miles through the entire place to get to the check-out (like an Ikea–but without the shortcut signs). Ugh.

  • Michele December 6, 2010 at 10:26 am

    Too funny – this is my exact story from 5 years ago, except the American Girl bit had to have the doll leave the building with us as it was a birthday present…..and it was birthday Day! Couldn’t see the tree or the skaters, couldn’t move and were crushed. Funny how we should know better but trying to get in the spirit of Christmas just forces us to do things.
    Maybe they should have a tourist free day…….

  • Jennifer December 6, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Now, imagine having to walk through that madness every day to get to work. For 6 years. And try not to curse under your breath at Santa, the tree and every Cindy Lou Who stopping in the middle of the *#($ing sidewalk.

    Merry Christmas! 🙂

  • Justine December 6, 2010 at 10:56 am

    OMG. What were you thinking!? And you a veteran NYer!!!

    I once spent a whole NYC holiday season with out of town guests doing less horrific alternatives to all the holiday tourist hell: tea at Takashimaya instead of Serendipity, and skating up at 96th St. instead of Rockefeller Center. The challenge was actually fun.

    But I definitely feel for you. I once made the mistake of going to Salem for Halloween. Also to be avoided like the plague…

  • unha December 6, 2010 at 11:04 am

    brave mama!

    yeah, just reading that gave me a heart attack.

  • rebecca December 6, 2010 at 11:19 am

    like you… i always get sucked in. and then totally regret going afterwards. haha.

  • Ginny December 6, 2010 at 11:29 am

    That mitten was just truly meant to be lost. Mark messed with destiny and temporarily wronged the balance. 😉

  • elena December 6, 2010 at 11:51 am

    this is so funny, and you are right it is nyc hell.

  • raquel December 6, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    love how mia is holding onto claudine.

  • RebeccaNYC December 6, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Best time to go is at midnight. Magic. Of course, the girls will have to wait a few years for that. Went last Sunday for the 4pm evensong at St Thomas Church, and had to battle the crowds on the street. Could not wait to get into the church where it was quiet, and that beautiful music sung by the wonderful boy’s choir. Much better than the Hollister store. But thats just me.

  • Brie December 6, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    I have never been to NYC during the holidays but from your description I think I’ll stay away and look at pictures instead 🙂 What a bummer about being 5 minutes late for Tim Gunn!!

  • j.dot December 6, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    i applaud your bravery. i get panic attacks already and my boy is barely 1 year old…ha? i wonder how he’ll react to a santa…hope he’s not skinny…peace.

  • Caroline December 6, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Whoa.. You convinced me!!

  • sandy December 6, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Jenna. I feel for you. Hope today is better. I used to work in that area and it has always been crazy during the holidays. Slow tourists walking around gawking at things, same tourists holding up the line at Pret-A-Manger deciding which croissant to get and even worse at Starbucks, they’re looking at menu and mumbling re: what drink to get while I snuck out of office (w/o coat) wanting a hot chocolate; most express cummuter bus stops rearranged away from Rock ctr (so instead of running aross 6 th ave chasing after bus for 5 blocks, I need to run 8 blocks). Hope you got rest in the evening after the day trip.

  • Kristen December 7, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Haha, I think I literally laughed outloud at your post. Love your descriptions of everything!

  • Megan Champion December 7, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Ha!!!!! That is too funny. Like all terrors when they are not your own.

  • Cadie December 8, 2010 at 1:04 am

    I love Rockefeller Center but lately we’ve been waiting until after Christmas to go see the tree so the crowds are a little smaller. I feel like everyone has at least one day in the city where everything seems to be crazy and go wrong. My roommates from college visited a couple of years back during our winter break and while they went to see a broadway show (my bf and I were broke) we were planning on going ice skating by the tree. It proceeded to start pouring and we ran around looking for a starbucks. We ended up having to duck into barnes and noble since the way we ran there were unfortunately no starbucks which is rare. Everything ended up ok and we all laughed about it when we met up later but at the time we were like why us? haha

  • Kelly December 8, 2010 at 8:33 am

    This is hilarious! Argh, shows the Christmas spirit perfectly!

  • leslie December 10, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    I experienced this exact same day last year!!! EXACT!!!

  • patricia December 16, 2010 at 9:19 am

    Oh how we romanticize things don’t we? I’ve always wished I could take our kids there this time of year (like my parents did for my brothers and I) but your post brought me back to my senses. What flashbacks!—except I’m the whiny kid in my head and not the ailing parent!

  • stacy February 2, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    As a new reader to your blog(just found it this am on ohdeedoh) this post just cracked me up big time, because I spent 10 years in NYC before moving to Austin and the madness you describe at Rock Center at Xmas is so true. So so true! I miss NYC and Park Slope so much so I ‘ve been able to re-live some of my favorite Brooklyn moments trough reading your posts- thank you!