As I reflect on my life in Manhattan before the coronavirus, I am reminded of how much I love this great city. Not only for its vitality, diversity and possibility, but also for the way it rises up during crisis and adversity and always comes out on top. I recall the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the WTC, when New Yorkers came together to memorialize their personal and collective loss, and now how they come together to applaud the healthcare workers every night at 7 PM or how a local florist volunteered to turn trash cans into floral arrangements to bring some brightness back to the streets. I love New York, but I also love New Yorkers. Sharing crowded sidewalks, riding dirty subways, waiting in uncomfortable traffic or long restaurant lines. As Jerry Seinfeld says, “That is what we love”. I would agree, and because we do love the city for all that it offers both good and bad, we will tough it out and move forward from this crisis.
Having initiated my love for New York on the Upper West Side, the neighborhood holds a special place in my heart. In the late 80’s I moved into a less than well appointed rent controlled apartment on 75th Street and Columbus Avenue despite my mother contesting that I would be much safer and better off moving to the East Side. The lobby with its white and blue porcelain tiles looked like the bathroom in the subway station, and on some mornings on my way to work I might trip over the legs of someone who didn’t make it home the night before. Perhaps Mom was right, but I was determined to find my way on my own and make the city my home. To this day, in spite of the impact the pandemic has had on the city, draining its energy and excitement, I am still grateful to call New York my home.
In the early 1980’s, the avenues on the Upper West Side were lined with small family owned businesses, useful establishments like laundromats, shoemakers and restaurants that most of us could afford to eat at. The neighborhood was great for celebrity stalking both on the streets during the day and in the clubs and bars at night. It wasn’t unusual to run into Madonna, Bruce Willis, Dustin Hoffman or Harrison Ford on any given day. In fact it was expected, and without paparazzi around I usually didn’t notice the celebrities unless they were pointed out to me.
I lived this way on the Upper West Side for 20 years watching its renewal, before I moved with my two year old and ex-husband to a lovely, but not right for me suburb of the city. A few years ago, I was more than ready to move back to Manhattan, renting in different neighborhoods like Chelsea near the Highline and the West Village to find what was right for me. They never felt like a home to me, so when I was ready to commit I started looking for a place I could call Home and by chance found an apartment back on 75th Street, two avenues down from where I started my city life. My new studio was much smaller and more expensive than the rent controlled one bedroom apartment I had in the eighties, but it had a lot of light, and with a lot of work, a lot of potential. What was important was how much at home I felt in my little place from where I could re-launch my life – blissfully surrounded and inspired socially, intellectually, and professionally.
I moved into my apartment in late January but by early March, in comes the coronavirus and with it social distancing mandates. Restaurants, museums, Broadway theatres, coffee shops, designer boutiques, and practically everything else were closed. I had consulting contracts with no projects to put hours against and no dance spaces or yoga studios to practice my patience and exercise my creative spirit. With work and life as I knew it coming to a screeching halt, I was left with way too much time and energy spent on a lot of nothing.
Over the last two weeks I witnessed the first signs of a rebirth on the streets of my neighborhood. People moved through the streets in a more easygoing way, as if to say “I’m feeling better, I’m not so afraid of you breathing on me, or having you share my doorknob”. With masks over their mouths it was hard to see if they were smiling, but I’d like to imagine so. Some of the bars and restaurants had opened to the sidewalk so you could grab a daiquiri slushy or margarita on your way to food shop at Fairway, or to sip on the stairs of your building or on a bench in the park. Still restrictive but at least it was a start and an entre to having some fun again.
Change is tough to take because we are driven to habits and practices, and people and places that make us feel comfortable. But challenges are also an opportunity to learn and grow and make positive changes. As the city begins its post coronavirus rebirth, business and residential scenarios will be handled differently in different parts of the city over time. For now, however, there are small smart things we can do to set the stage for bigger bolder changes to come.
- Find new ways to experience NY: Lots of people whether they are living in the city or just visiting like to plan outings to the theatre, a sporting event or a museum which won’t be feasible for awhile. Why not continue to spend time doing more walking tours, hikes and bike rides? The city has beautiful architecture and historical walks. The Central Park conservancy and other parks in the city have guided nature tours you can actually do without a guide. I’ve also seen a lot of lawn chairs at the parks where friends and family are chilling outside. While the weather is nice, why not do nothing together?
- Support the local guys: Amazon is super convenient, but it doesn’t help the local businesses when we order what we can easily get at the supermarket or shop next door. Even if it is a few cents more, we want to support small shop owners so that our streets won’t be one big CVS or empty high-rise. I for one am an Amazon freak, but as of this writing I am limiting my Buy Now option to wait a day or so and check to see if the local shop has what I need. After all, I have plenty of time and nothing is that essential to have on demand.
- Be good to your neighbor: This may sound like I am going the route of a Mr. Rogers, but heck if we are food shopping for the seniors in our building now, why can’t we continue to do that? Or at the very least be more considerate when we are in the elevators with neighbors. If it is crowded, stay out or don’t talk on the phone.
New York State is about to begin a Phase 1 re-opening, and the city will get its turn soon when the necessary preparations and precautions have been taken. I know that life in New York City as we knew it before the coronavirus will never be the same, just as life in the eighties was so different for me than it was over the past decades. I also know that New Yorkers are a strong and proud people who rise up against adversity and come out on top. And so, we will learn to accept the post pandemic changes in our lifestyle and find ways to support the city, our neighborhood and each other. A new, even better New York City – rising up and standing even stronger than before.