Summer in New York means the shedding of drab winter coats for brightly colored sundresses and (for some) underwear-length shorts, a nightly soundtrack of people laughing at sidewalk cafes and the tuneful jingle of the Mr. Softee truck outside my window, summer Friday beach and camping trips, and (in the case of this summer) 101 degree heat waves. It also means a seemingly endless array of free entertainments throughout the city. Every park has a list of popular movies to show and/or a selection of concerts and dance performances. There are street fairs and firework shows aplenty. On the one hand, this is all wonderful, and I enjoy the plethora of free summer events as often as possible. But on the other hand: so do everyone else.
Not surprisingly, I am not the only city dweller, or human for that matter, who enjoys some good bargain entertainment with my warm weather. Unfortunatley, due to the sheer volume of people here, most of these "free" activities get paid for in either time committment or willingness to subject oneself to physical discomfort. On the Fourth of July, I ended up waiting over an hour in line in the hot sun for the free ferry to Governor's Island for a free She and Him concert.
Likewise, the movies in the park always seem like a good idea, but in reality you have to get there at 5:00 to get a decent spot on the lawn. Then it doesn't get dark until 9, at which point you've been drinking wine and picnicing for so long that you almost have no choice but to pass out during the actual movie. This happened last year to me during Close Encounters of the Third Kind, although I can't say I regret it. Similarly, the free philharmonic concert I went to in Central Park last year caused me to sit so far back that seeing the stage was difficult, much less hearing any sound from it. It was not a great venue for hearing talented musicians, but, as it turns out, it was a surprisingly great venue for listening to frat guys and Wall Street interns (a nominal distinction) wax nostalgic about how great beer is.
And then there is perhaps the most elusive of all free New York performances: Shakespeare in the Park. I was able to go last year after sticking it out in the standby line, and it was a lot of fun. This year, however, the performance of The Merchant of Venice received a glowing review and contains Al Pacino (whose fan base is apparently incredibly loyal). Tickets for each day's performance are handed out a 1:00 PM. Normally, I can't spend my day waiting in line (the eternal curse of the 9-5), but on Monday, as I had the day off, it seemed like a good time to try my luck. I got to the line at 8:00 in the morning, armed with a deck of cards, a blanket, a book, and feeling pretty proud of myself. Any smugness was dashed after following the mile long line to its conclusion. The people at the front of the line were passed out on air mattresses. After waiting less than half an hour, a kindly employee of the Public Theater informed us that while they couldn't force us to leave, there was no possible way we were getting tickets that far back. Someone asked how early the people who had a shot of getting tickets had gotten there. The answer: 5:30 in the morning. And really, I don't even like The Merchant of Venice that much.
Worth spending 8 hours of my life in 100 degree heat for?
After leaving the line, I went to the Guggenheim so that coming into Manhattan on my day off at 8:00 in the morning wouldn't be a total bust. I got there right when it was opening and the line was minimal. It was incredibly refreshing to wait in a short line, knowing that for the simple price of $15, we would be guaranteed admission to wander the musuem for as long as we liked. I do love living in a city that has so many wonderful cultural events for free. But sometimes it's nice to have some personal space or to not wake up in the middle of the night to camp outside of Central Park on air mattresses. And you just can't put a price on that.