Times Square is the heaviest populated tourist area in the world. It draws approximately 39 million visitors annually. Most come to gawk at the giant billboards and the neon and LED-lighted ads, but a lot more come to take their photos with one of the naked buskers who roam the area.
Times Square near rush hour on last Friday was a slow-moving sea of people who clogged the sidewalk making locals rushing to catch buses and subways do detours into the street just to get round them. That’s the Times Square I was prepared for. I wasn’t expecting to see so many street performers but I should have known. The unusually balmy October afternoon drew almost everyone outdoors.
I spotted Elmo, the giant Statue of Liberty, the Transformer Robot, and several naked buskers. Everyone knows about the Naked Cowboy, the granddaddy of the naked buskers who strolls around Times Square entertaining visitors and locals in his cowboy hat, cowboy boots, tidy whities, and his guitar placed strategically so that it gives the impression that he’s nude.
The Naked Cowboy also has his naked cowgirls, though I didn’t see any. Who I did see, and dubious pleasure of meeting, was $andy Kane, the Naked Cowgirl.
Kane, a former stripper, who looks more like someone’s great-grandmother than a naked busker, has played the Naked Cowgirl for about 6 years. She parades around Times Square, her red cowboy hat covering flowing pink hair, the bottom half of black bikini, pasties affixed to her sagging breasts, garter belts, and flats. A gold-studded bra that looks like it supported someone far more buxom, hangs from her guitar. I don’t remember hearing her actually play.
Kane offered to pose but I told her I only had $1 left. She did anyway. When I downloaded the photo, I noticed she’d given the finger, two actually. But it wasn’t personal, that’s part of Kane’s act, probably from her stripper days.
I must have picked the right place (Broadway and 45th Street) to sit as I saw not just one, but two Naked Cowboys. I also saw the Naked Indian, Adam David. David, who’s been operating as the Naked Indian for a little more than a year, recently settled a dispute with the Naked Cowboy over the name. Robert John Burck, aka the Naked Cowboy, holds a trademark and each cowboy pays a franchise fee.
Women were gladly lining up to have their photos taken with the Naked Indian and the Naked Cowboy, and get a chance to squeeze each of their buns. No, I took no photos of that silly spectacle.
The most popular character on Friday was the Showgirl. Men followed her every provocative pose. For $5, you get to take a photo with her. I’ve forgotten now what she said her name is – but when I think of her, I think Jade. If you look closely, you’ll notice that her costume’s painted on. Two guys were with her, one collected the money – she’s got no pockets – and another stood close by, I guess as a bodyguard.
When I told my friends about the female naked buskers I’d seen in Times Square, they wanted to know how they were allowed to perform nearly nude. According to a New York law, full nudity in public is legal if it’s part of a performance or play.
Street performers are also protected under the First Amendment. They are free to stroll Times Square and to work for tips from $2 to $5 taking photos but they’re not allowed to demand money, sell merchandise or block traffic.
Buskers, naked and clothed, can take home $50-70 a day, others like the Naked Cowboy who’s considered the #1 tourist attraction in New York City, can take home much more.
Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, Times Square, which is 1% of New York City’s total land size, generates 11% of the city’s economic output and 10% of the jobs. Since 2007, economic growth in this iconic area that lies between Broadway and Seventh Avenue and stretches from 42nd to 47th Street, outpaced the city’s by 13% during the same period.