LAKIN@LARGE - Times Square squared

February 2013

At the beginning of December with the temperature hovering around 15 to 16 degrees Celsius in Menton, I was told by a very persuasive lady that we were off to New York for a week. I fought valiantly, but lost and before you could say ‘Have a nice day’, I was in a mile-long queue waiting to go through immigration at Kennedy Airport.

New York is an amazing city, full of weird and wonderful people, taxi drivers that barely speak English – or as Rex Harrison said in My Fair Lady, Americans haven’t spoken English for years – surprising sites, towering buildings and literally hundreds of clocks from the mundane to the unexpected.

The photograph below shows Tourneau, New York’s largest watch emporium with its nineteen-clock storefront: a large clock showing local time and eighteen smaller clocks indicating the time in various time zones around the world.

Where Broadway and 7th Avenue converge you find the bustling and much-photographed Times Square. Here amidst the thousands of tourists you’ll see the Naked Cowboy protecting his extremities with a white guitar, white Stetson and cowboy boots singing in an arctic temperature, people dressed as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the Statue of Liberty. But the winner was a man giving away photocopies of a Rolex watch but asking for a dollar for a photocopy of the guarantee.

LAKIN@LARGE - Times Square squared

Further downtown, sitting between Ground Zero and Wall Street and on the corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane, there’s a watch and jewellery store called William Barthman. Established in 1884, the owner decided in 1899 to set into what the Americans call the sidewalk and we call the pavement a mechanical clock that to this day is controlled and serviced from a passage underneath. A very thick glass set into a brass and steel bezel bearing the name of the shop protects the dial from a century of attacks by vandals. It’s no longer mechanical; today it functions using an electric motor.

In 1946, the New York Police Department estimated that on average 51,000 people walked over the clock daily. Given that the numbers will have increased dramatically since then, let’s say it now averages out to 75,000 people a day, that means around 1,806,750,000 people have walked and stamped across its face over the last century. They don’t make ’em like that anymore!

All of which reminds me of a story about a man walking in Times Square when he checks his watch to find it has stopped. He looks around but doesn’t see a clock and asks a man the time.

The man drops to the ground saying, “Just a second,” pulls out what looks like a conductor’s baton, sticks it in the crack between two paving stones, extracts a carpenter’s level to ensure the baton is perfectly vertical, then takes a compass from his pocket, locates north and as in days of yore gets the precise length of the shadow cast by the stick using a retractable tape measure.

He then takes out a slide rule from his inside pocket, makes a quick calculation and as he clambers to his feet putting away all the paraphernalia states confidently, “It’s exactly two twenty-seven in the afternoon.”

Suitably impressed by this calculation the man sets his watch, gives it a shake to ensure it is now working and says, “That’s quite a remarkable calculation you did there. But what do you do if it’s overcast or raining and there’s no shadow?” The man points to his wrist and says, “In that case I’d look at Patek!” Well, you’ve got to laugh haven’t you?

Source: Europa Star February - March 2013 Magazine Issue