Food Feature: Two tales of a city (2)

The show must go on

I felt like a vulture descending upon the city as we banked over the World Trade Center site — passengers and flight attendants craned for an aerial view — and landed at La Guardia. But in reality the trip was planned long before the terrorist attacks, and we paid full price for nearly everything.

Still, I can't deny visions of restaurants without waits, half-price tickets for top-billed shows and four-star hotels for a song. New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was urging us, as our patriotic duty, to spend big in the Big Apple. See a show, go to a restaurant — it's the right thing to do! But the buzzards had been circling for weeks. I was late, and they'd already descended.

The city was crawling with people. Venturing into Times Square on a Thursday night, it seemed more packed than on previous trips. Scrolling news stories may be announcing recent attacks in Afghanistan, but shoppers are still trying to get the best bargain for an authentic-looking Movado at the corner of 42nd and Broadway.

Broadway. That's why I was here. I was lucky enough to snag tickets for Sunday's performance of The Producers months ago as well as Friday seats for the opening weekend of Mamma Mia, the first show to open on Broadway since Sept. 11 with hopes of defibrillating the heart of the theater district.

It was opening weekend for the show and early reviews of the previous night's performance confirmed the musical to be a good time at the Winter Garden Theater (recently vacated by Andrew Lloyd Weber's Cats). Ben Brantley of the New York Times touted it as the theatrical equivalent of comfort food. Yes, it's a soap opera plot with disco hits as vehicles for great voices, and if New York and America need a good time, then they've got it in Mamma Mia..

The next day we searched for Saturday show tickets. Certain there'd be gobs of seats, people begging us to fill seats, warm bodies, money, money, money (as we heard the evening before), we bypassed the Times Square TKTS kiosk, already snaking in an hours-long line, for the downtown location.

Formerly housed in the World Trade Center, the downtown TKTS station was now a small trailer at the Bowling Green subway stop. A dozen or so people, all anxious for a great bargain, lined up for tickets. No Urinetown, the second-hottest ticket in the city. And no Cabaret. Not even The Full Monty, which has been playing for months. Maybe the tickets were easy to come by weeks ago, but it's back to normal as far as theater goes.

The walk uptown was another thing. Those who weren't crowding regular tourist attractions in town had found a new one — the touchstone of our collective culture. Broadway was alive in the Financial District with thousands looking at the twisted and burnt metal of what used to be the World Trade Center. They stood mostly silent, videotaping, shooting photos, crying.

But give those New Yorkers some credit. Panhandlers were doing good business hawking WTC posters, "INY" shirts and flag paraphernalia. Crushed amidst people, I felt a pick-pocket looking for my wallet. I switched my wallet to my front pocket and then turned around to see who was feeling my ass. The guy quickly turned away. Then I noticed more faces in the crowd that had other interests than watching the drama unfold across the street. One man cruised a woman's purse and a group seemed to be casing some religious fanatics looking for a moment to catch them unaware and swindle them of loot. Maybe there was a brief moment of hesitation here in the city. But already, things are back on track.??

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