New York City is my love. No matter where I’ve lived or traveled, New York is always home for me. My city is noisy, crowded, opinionated, ethnic, and multi-racial. Restaurants open all night. Any cuisine, anytime. Broadway so bright that nighttime looks like daytime. Cars honking in the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels. World-class theater, dance, and music. And, don’t get me started on the museums. Or the parks and street art.
In the age of the coronavirus (COVID-19), it is a different city. Residential areas have people walking and working. Business districts and tourist areas are quiet. Not many pedestrians. No horns honking. Shops and restaurants closed. It would be peaceful if it wasn’t so disturbing.
The Lights Are Out On Broadway
The TKTS Booth offers discounted theater tickets and would normally have a line around the block. The energy and excitement would be palpable. First-time visitors seeing their first Broadway show. Longtime residents out for a bargain. Today: Quiet. No tickets sold. No people.
I wandered over to 46th Street and saw the closed theaters. Hamilton -- the hottest ticket in town -- sold out a year in advance. Doors closed. Same for every other theater. I worry for the smaller theaters. How many will come back? How will theater have to change?
At the same time, I have seen some amazing online live performances: 31 ballerinas from around the world dancing Swan Lake. Andrea Bocelli singing live at the Duomo in Milan. New ways of performing and being are being created.
Onward to 5th Avenue, the shopping mecca. Again, almost no people on the streets. So different from the “usual.” I guess I should say the “former usual.”
I wandered down to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral Closed
The doors to St. Patrick’s Cathedral were closed. Two NYC policemen stood guard on the sidewalk. One lone person sat on the steps reading. I have been by St. Patrick’s hundreds of times over the past 40 years and have never seen the doors closed.
I walked up the steps and saw this notice taped up with blue painter’s tape:
DUE TO COVID-19 VIRUS / SAINT PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL / WILL REMAIN CLOSED UNTIL / FURTHER NOTICE / YOU CAN WATCH OUR MASS ON OUR WEBSITE
It was now 4:15 and the beginning of rush hour in NYC. I decided to go over to Times Square and then down to Penn Station.
Empty Subway Station
Subway ridership is down more than 90 percent. This was very apparent at Times Square. I saw four people enter the station. According to the Times Square website, nearly 180,000 people a day used to enter this station. How I wished for it to be less crowded when I was working ... but not like this.
Pennsylvania Station With Essential Workers Only
I have spent countless hours at Penn Station and Madison Square Garden right above it. I’ve taken the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) to my parent’s house, New Jersey Transit to and from work, and Amtrak to Philadelphia and Boston. Penn Station connects the whole Northeast.
Now, it’s a hub for only essential workers, largely people of color and working-class folks trying to keep food on the table. It was striking to see the people in the station and also note who wasn’t there. Not many white-collar workers, for starters.
All of the museums are closed and that deeply saddens me. I teach fundraising classes at NYU and my students who work for cultural institutions are very scared. I thought about the last time I was at MOMA in January. We only spent two hours there with plans for returning soon. We now have a different definition of soon. I am enjoying MOMA’s online offerings.
Limited Social Distancing At Washington Square Park
Washington Square Park is usually full of NYU students, performers, tourists, and others. I was happy to see some people in the park (though many were not wearing masks or social distancing). However, it was so much less noisy and crowded than it would usually be on a warm spring day.
Thankful To Our Essential Workers
Officers Muniz and Wickham are among the many first responders and police officers who are doing their best to keep the city safe. Officer Wickham gave me some helpful photography tips as I took his picture. I am deeply grateful for all of the essential workers who are risking their lives.
Small Restaurants Hit Hard
Rasa, a Malaysian and Singaporean restaurant, was the saddest and last stop for us. My partner in life and travel is Singaporean. We have been going to Rasa since it opened in 2013 and have known the owner, Camie Lai, for 15+ years.
Since her customers are mainly NYU students and tourists, Camie told us that she expected that she would have to close Rasa. There are simply not enough customers now to make it through to the next phase, and the small business stimulus package was simply not enough.
For me, New York is Rasa and the thousands of restaurants like it. I fear that part of New York will be permanently damaged by the coronavirus.
With our takeout dinner in hand, we drove through the (empty) Holland Tunnel back to Jersey City. For once, the food was still warm when we arrived home 15 minutes later. I was glad and saddened to have spent some time in the city.
The Future Of New York City
New York State is beginning the first tentative steps towards reopening. The New York metropolitan area (including Jersey City) is expected to be the last area to reopen. Broadway, museums, churches, and other places are likely to stay shuttered until the fall, with strict social distancing measures in place.
The demise of New York City has been predicted many times -- after 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, the financial crisis of 2007. I wonder if this time is different. Perhaps in 10 years, we will look back and Broadway will be booming and the museums just as crowded as ever. Or, will everything be different? One thing is for sure, we’ll have to create new possibilities as we reimagine NYC.
For more photos and insights, read up on what it’s like living in New York City during the coronavirus pandemic.