Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Finding a Needle in a Haystack

Movies in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Concerts in Prospect Park and Coney Island. Yes, summer in Brooklyn means lots of free entertainment. In 2010, it also means crowds. Very large crowds.

It's bad enough that you can now arrive ahead of time and end up wishing you had brought binoculars to better see The Big Lebowski. Or honed up on your tree-climbing skills for an unobstructed view of The Swell Season.

Turns out that one of the worst parts of being way back in the crowd is being forced to listen to folks around you providing rendezvous directions to wayward friends.

You'd think that mobile capabilities would have made this whole process easier. Maybe people are finding each other easily via texting or social networks. Perhaps there's an app that brings two people  together via incredibly accurate GPS. But, scrunched on our blanket in Brooklyn Bridge Park, hemmed in by sweaty bodies, enduring the wafting smell of cheese and bug repellent, my wife and I are oblivious to any of that.

Instead, we hear a French-accented twenty-something guy, who's already appropriated the upper back quadrant of our blanket, shouting in our ear. No, he's talking very loudly into his cell phone: "Walk to zee bock, you'll see a bleu awning on zee right. I'm on zee left een front of zee tall light tower."

I look around. About 2,000 people are in this section of the park, surrounded by five tall light towers, with some 100 people directly in front of each. But, depending on what angle Pierre's friend is looking from, in "front" of the light pole can mean just about anywhere. Like finding a needle in a haystack!

I suppress a giggle and try to lose myself in a book. (By coincidence, I'm reading "Thomas Wolfe's "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn" in the anthology Brooklyn Noir 2. It's 1935, and the locals know how to give directions, with the proper accent: "Yuh take duh Fourt' Avenoo express, get off at Fifty-nint' Street, change to a Sea Beach local deh, get off at Eighteent" Avenoo an' Sixty-toid, an' den walk down foeh blocks.")

But back to the present. The minutes roll by and so do more silly directions in the background. Finally, somehow, Pierre's friend shows up. The brie spreads. Our blanket gets more crowded. The movie starts and I get up on my knees to see over the basketball player in front of me.

In Prospect Park, the crowd is twice as large. We're ensconced beyond the fences of the main concert area. Stage way right, but we would actually see it if not for the portable toilets lined up and taunting us from inside the parameters. Expecting to get real seats, we brought no blanket. But we have room to stretch on the grass. And to enjoy the distant music amidst running kids and scampering dogs,

Then, from behind, we hear the booming voice of a Park Slope dad: "We're in the back, on the left side of the stage, near some bicycles, in front of a tree." I won't tell you how many bicycles are around or how many trees. Or how large an area he's talking about. My wife and I look at each other, and this time we burst out laughing. Rather than wait for the continuing directions, we pick ourselves up, scramble through the strollers, and move to a better vantage point.

A decade or so ago, when cell phones were not yet ubiquitous, we would frequently go to the even more crowded Bryant Park movies in Manhattan. And guess what? Latecomers found their friends. People would agree on pre-established locations, or folks would hold up distinct umbrellas with floppy bunny ears, or pitch posts adorned with colorful pennants.

In today's world of Facebook, Foursquare and Flashmob, gathering people together is the easy part. But Google the terms "finding people in a crowd" or "finding someone in a crowd" and you'll receive a mere handful of results. Pretty strange for a generation raised on "Where's Waldo!"

Anyone with any solutions to this problem, please chime in.  Because providing your location via voice over a cell phone just doesn't seem to be the answer.

It's an old joke that men never ask for directions; they'd rather get lost seeking their way. I would venture that they shouldn't give directions and get others lost too, except that giving bad instructions in crowds cuts across gender lines.

In the midst of a throng of people exiting Prospect Park, a sweet feminine voice behind us cut through the chatter: "As you come into the park, you'll see a whole bunch of people leaving.  Look for me."

Ok! And look for me when the Aretha Franklin concert gets rescheduled. I'll be in the back surrounded by a bunch of people, a lot of whom have lawn chairs.  In front of some trees....


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