I couldn’t help but notice that the new pedestrian sanctuary on Broadway below Forty-second Street now sports one of those mobile surveillance towers that the NYPD placed just off the boardwalk in Rockaway. I asked a policeman stationed there what it was called. “A watchtower?” he said. That’s all? Didn’t the police have some slang term for it? “A surveillance tower?” he said. I guess I wasn’t making myself clear. He said I could call it whatever I wanted.
So the mobile surveillance tower has an I.D. number at the top, preceded by the letters MSTF, which I have doped out as “Mobile Security Task Force.” A new sign at the pedestrian level says “NYPD Security Camera.” I knew there was something about sitting out in the middle of Broadway that I didn’t like, but I thought it was just the hot sun. Now I know: it’s being under surveillance.
There is another one of these sanctuaries farther down Broadway, below Twenty-third Street, just east of the Flatiron Building. I tried it out this morning and found it slightly uncomfortable. For one thing, there’s an entire park (Madison Square Park) right across the street, and wouldn’t you rather sit over there, among the fountains and the hydrangeas, enjoying a fine view of the Flatiron Building, than outside the parfumerie Jo Malone, which is promoting a fragrance called Sweet Lime and Cedar? (Sounds like a clothes closet that someone has spilled margarita mix in.)
But what really bothered me, I think, was that I didn’t know how much I could afford to relax. Could I put my bag down on the birdseed paving and sit back in the chair? Or would that be an invitation to a purse snatcher? Has New York City gotten so safe that I don’t need to be wary of purse snatchers? I guess not, if the NYPD must focus its MSTF on Times Square. So the message is that you can sit out there, but no, you should not get too comfortable.