February 24, 2020

How My Recent Trip to NYC Brought Faux Bullets Over Broadway

Times Square in New York City. Photo by Good Free Photos.

So far, my annual pilgrimage to the Great White Way was going quite swimmingly. 

I already had marveled at the visual delights in the new stage version of “Moulin Rouge!: The Musical,” which was more over-the-top than the movie. I had been magically transported to Hogwarts in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two,” an all-day theatrical event that had me gasping in astonishment. And I had just seen this year’s Tony-winning musical “Hadestown,” a moving retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth with a New Orleans twist.

But in Times Square on that evening of Tuesday, Aug. 6, I, along with my partner, Greg, and hundreds of tourists, were jolted out of the fantasyland of Broadway and into the reality of the world we now live in.

Greg and I had just exited the theater carrying our “Hadestown” programs. He had to run a shopping errand at the Gap, so we were heading that way as walked by the TKTS booth at Times Square. I remarked how amazing it was that there was such a huge crowd of families just hanging out on a weeknight at 10 o’clock. Because I was distracted by my people-watching, I was stunned when Greg suddenly grabbed me and yelled, “Run!”

It was like a dream — or a nightmare. Everywhere around us, people were in a panic, running and screaming. Some had fallen to the ground in the stampede. Many had abandoned their shoes and flip-flops as they fled from an assumed danger.

I had not heard gunshots, or really anything out of the ordinary, when the melee began. But when Greg said, “Run,” I ran. I wasn’t sure what we were running from — an active shooter, a bomb, a sniper from a high rise, a careening van — I just knew we had to get out of there. There were murmurs from the crowd about gunshots. I heard one man say there was a shooting at the M&M store. It’s interesting how quickly rumors spread.

I had not heard gunshots, or really anything out of the ordinary, when the melee began. But when Greg said, “Run,” I ran. I wasn’t sure what we were running from.

With the recent massacres in Gilroy, Calif.; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio, so fresh on our collective consciousness, the movie playing in my mind went through all the worst-case scenarios. Were we about to be gunned down? Was this it? In survival mode, we tried to take shelter in the retail stores lining Broadway, but they were all locking their doors. I can appreciate emergency protocols, but in the horror of the moment, I couldn’t understand how they would turn away those seeking safety.

Ultimately, we ran about five blocks until we reached the 50th Street subway station and dived quickly underground. Who would’ve thought that a subway station, still sweltering and humid so late at night with all the accompanying smells one would expect of it, could feel like such a safe haven? 

When we got back to the apartment we were staying at on the Upper West Side, I closed the door behind us with a big sigh of relief. Then I checked Twitter to see if there was any news on the situation. Good news — it wasn’t a shooting. Apparently, a motorcycle in Times Square had backfired multiple times, causing the crowd to assume it was gunshots. I was glad there was not, in fact, an active shooter situation. But I was also saddened that this was the state of the world — that being on edge has become the new normal. 

If there is one positive thing I can take away from this experience, it’s that my partner is a mensch. When he grabbed me at the first sign of chaos, he held me tight with his body shielding mine from any potential bullets. He stayed in this position for as many blocks as we ran. In the “Hadestown” musical we had just seen, there is a lyric that goes “What you gonna do when the chips are down, now that the chips are down.” When the chips were down, Greg had my back. Literally. This is a guy who has anxiety attacks if his brunch order is wrong. Yet when it mattered, his true colors showed through. 

The terror I felt that night has already faded from memory. What has stayed with me, however, is a newfound appreciation for life. Love. And a good ol’ Broadway musical.

Jonathan Fong is the style director for the Journal.