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Surviving Halloween in Central Park

By Brendan Loy

Central Park Resident

Central Park is a wonderful place to live 365 days per year. But there are two days on the calendar when it transforms into something epic and unbelievable. If Central Park were a country, these would be its principal national holidays. One is the Saturday of the annual Community Garage Sale. The other is Halloween.

If you haven’t experienced Halloween in the community, you haven’t really experienced Halloween.

The combination of a massive number of kids, a ton of homes close together, safe streets, and lots of homeowners in the Halloween spirit – and willing to disgorge copious amounts of candy to neighbors and total strangers alike – makes Central Park a veritable mecca for trick-or-treaters. Not only do the neighborhood kids come out in force, but countless people from surrounding neighborhoods drive into Central Park just so their kids can trick-or-treat here.

The result? In 2011, my wife and I gave out approximately 1,270 pieces of candy to 1,100 trick-or-treaters (give or take). In 2012, we estimated 1,200 trick-or-treaters. No, those aren’t typos. Twelve hundred.

Here’s a time-lapse video that I shot last year of the madness, which really gets crazy around 6:30 p.m.:

I know there are a few curmudgeons who might not care for this epic insanity, but personally, I think it’s great. (Then again, I’m a father of three girls age 5 and under, and I’m also a kid at heart, so I’m predisposed to love this holiday—the crazier, the better!) However, it does require a good deal of preparation and advance planning, which is what this blog post is all about.

A caveat: the holiday’s insanity may vary, depending on exactly where you live in Central Park. We live in the East 29th Avenue neighborhood, fairly close to Central Park Boulevard, on a street that goes straight through from Quebec to Central Park and across to the Westerly Creek neighborhood. So we’re in one of the highest-traffic areas on Halloween. I’ve heard that it’s less crazy in Eastbridge and the Central Park neighborhoods – still very busy, but not to such a ridiculous degree – so if you’re new to the area, check with your neighbors to get a sense of the local patterns.

That said, what follows are my thoughts, based on our experiences as a family with young kids on a busy-ish street in the East 29th Avenue neighborhood, on how to make sure you have a Happy Halloween …

  1. Buy candy. Lots and lots of candy. And then buy even more. Our first Halloween was in 2009. We figured Halloween would be a big deal here, given that it’s such a kid-friendly area, so we made sure to have a few hundred pieces of candy. We thought that would be plenty. But we had no concept of just how big Halloween is here, and needless to say, it became apparent very quickly that our candy supply was grossly insufficient. Lesson learned: A candy supply in four figures is needed (at least in our part of Central Park) if you don’t want to experience the trick side of Halloween.
  2. Buy in bulk. If you’re going to buy 1,000+ pieces of candy (or even, say, 500+, if you live in a neighborhood that’s slightly less crazy), you have to be deliberate about it, and do the math. That 50-piece bag of KIT KAT candies or REESE’s Peanut Butter Cups might serve you well in a different neighborhood, but you’ll be lucky if it lasts 15 minutes in Central Park. And you’ll bankrupt yourself if you buy 20 of those bags. Think economies of scale, people! I personally won’t even consider buying a bag of candy unless it has at least 150 pieces. Less than that, and I’m barely making a dent in accumulating the total I need.
  3. Buy strategically. Of course, the candies that are easiest to find in bulk sizes are things like Smarties, Sweet Tarts, Jolly Ranchers and Swedish Fish. They have their place, but you don’t want to be that person who has only those sorts of candies – and no KIT KATs, REESE’s or Snickers. So, every time you’re in Walmart, Target, King Soopers or any other store in September and October with a Halloween section, be on the lookout for good candies, in bulk sizes, at good prices. They can be hard to find, but they are the holy grail of Central Park Halloween. Snatch them up if you see them. (And tell me where you found them!)
  4. Come home from work early on Halloween. Or at least don’t be late.  Official trick-or-treating hours are 5 to 8 p.m. Traffic isn’t generally too bad between 5 & 6, as the first hour is mostly reserved for little kids from the immediate neighborhood. Starting around 6, though, it gets wild and wooly. The traffic becomes, well, Garage Sale Saturday-esque. Remember how I said we were horribly short on candy in 2009? I had to make a dash to King Soopers around 6:15 to shore up our dwindling supplies, except it was more of a crawl than a “dash” because of traffic. What’s usually a three-minute drive took 10+ minutes each way. Trust me: At least in our part of the community, you don’t want to be out driving after 6, ideally not after 5:30.
  5. Get your kids dressed up with extra time to spare. If you have kids, this is another good reason to come home early. Once trick-or-treating starts at 5 (indeed, there are usually a few early arrivals by 4:45), there isn’t much time to admire your kids’ adorable costumes, take pictures and so forth, because if you’re still at home, you’ll be answering the door constantly, and if you’re out, your kids will have no interest in hanging around for pictures – they’ll want to go get candy, NOW! So, get them ready early in the 4 p.m. hour, if not sooner, and leave yourself enough time to take those pictures and admire that adorableness before the madness begins.
  6. Prepare little kids for scary Halloween decorations. If you have small children and are taking them trick-or-treating, a key point to remember is that a lot of  residents go all-out with their Halloween decorations, including all manner of motion-activated spiders, monsters and the like. Several years ago, my now-almost-6-year-old was, at age 2 or 3, so terrified by the unexpected movement of some sort of disembodied hand decoration on a neighbor’s porch, she nearly melted into a puddle of terrified tears right on the spot, and came sprinting back to Daddy on the sidewalk without getting any candy. So talk to your kids about this, and have an action plan geared to each child’s specific propensity for being scared, whether that means holding their hands up the stairs of each porch or whatever.
  7. Invite friends or family over. Halloween in Central Park is something that must be seen to be believed, so it’s well worth inviting people over solely to expand their range of life experiences. But there’s also a very practical and self-serving side to this, one that’s particularly important if you’ve got small kids who you will be accompanying on their trick-or-treating endeavors. You can use the help. Somebody needs to stay at the house and tend to the endless stream of trick-or-treaters. If the only people at home are two parents and their children, that means one parent can’t come out trick-or-treating with the kids – and what if the parent who stays behind needs to use the restroom while holding down the fort solo? There might be a dozen knocks at the door in that time! An extra pair (or multiple extra pairs) of hands is incredibly useful on Halloween, especially after 6:30-7 when things get utterly crazy. We’ve invited a friend over twice, and had my parents visit from Connecticut more than once. Plan ahead on this one; it’s worth it.
  8. Be consistent and firm: one piece of candy per trick-or-treater. This may occasionally make you feel mean, especially when face-to-face with an adorable 3-year-old in a Winnie the Pooh costume, but hold your ground! If you start giving away two or three candies per person, you are doomed – it is a mathematical certainty that you will run out of candy (unless you’ve stocked up with several thousand pieces). So you’ve got to hold the line at one piece per person.
  9. Do NOT be fooled by “low turnout” early on. We have made this mistake several times, even though we should know better by now. You may find yourself thinking “it looks like this year won’t be as crazy as last year. I guess we could start letting them take two pieces.” NO!! DO NOT DO THIS!! You will run out of candy early if you do this! IT’S A TRAP! It’s always less crazy between 5 and 6, when the sky isn’t dark yet, and when it’s mostly just the little kids from the neighborhood who are out. During this first hour, you may occasionally go 3 or 4 or even 5 minutes without a single trick-or-treater (which will be unfathomable by 7:30). You may only see a total of several dozen kids by 6. But trust me: Things will pick up, big-time, once it gets dark, and the older kids (and kids from outside the neighborhood) start showing up. Hold firm to your one-candy-per-kid rule!
  10. Be prepared for the “industrial” portion of the evening. I have often said that Halloween in our part of the community is pure awesomeness from 5 to 7 p.m., and then it starts to “feel a little industrial” in the final hour of trick-or-treating. What I mean is that, starting around 7, there are just so many trick-or-treaters that you really don’t have time to stop and admire the cute costumes as much. It’s the most you can do to keep the line moving. Again, this may be less true in other neighborhoods, but that’s how it feels for us. In any event, this is when those extra sets of hands are really helpful. Speaking of which, if your kids’ bedtime is before 8:30 or so (there are always some late knocks even after the “official” end of trick-or-treating at 8), have a plan for how you’re handling it – perhaps involving a special exception where they get to stay up late. Because sneaking away from the height of the insanity for a 7:30 bedtime is, er, not easy. Especially if you’ve got kids on a sugar high who don’t want to go to bed yet.
  11. Have a plan for the marginal trick-or-treaters. You will get – especially in that “industrial” 7 to 8 hour – some teenagers at your door who appear to be wearing normal clothes, rather than any costume at all, and yet still say “trick-or-treat” and ask for candy. The same goes for adults, often costume-less, with their own pillowcases alongside their kids’ bucket. This is annoying, but you need to decide whether it’s worth the trouble to refuse. My wife usually asks, in a friendly tone of course, “What are you dressed up as?” and insists on a reasonably satisfactory answer as the price of a treat. I usually just give everyone a piece of candy regardless. I’m lazy, and it’s just so busy by that point in the night. But anyway, have a plan in advance for this scenario.
  12. Don’t assume you can buy peace just by turning out your porch light.  Most trick-or-treaters obey the convention that if the light’s off, they shouldn’t bother to knock – but not all, and when there are so many kids trick-or-treating, even a low percentage ignoring your porch’s darkness means quite a few knocks at the door. I know this from the years when we’ve run out of candy early, and promptly turned off our light and went inside. We still got a bunch of knocks. So, if you want to be a Halloween Scrooge and not give out candy at all, you may want to go on vacation or visit a friend or something. If you’re home, you’ll have to answer your door a bunch of times, and then you’ll feel guilty about not having any candy. As you should! Halloween in Central Park is the best!

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