Day 283 of self-isolation. Day 144 without gas/heat.
Alright, I kid; New York is not dead, but it’s in trouble.
A lot of my co-workers (past and present) have decided to move from Queens and Brooklyn and into the suburbs, especially since they can just work remotely. Classmates I went to Parsons with have recently escaped to California or Upstate New York, and some even talked about moving to Georgia. Though “the incident” played a huge part, my building currently has only 3 out of 8 units occupied — many of my neighbors moving back home to their parents (you think NYC officials are slow to fix things? Try them in a pandemic). My favorite bars, restaurants, and coffee shops are struggling and many of them are going out of business (my coincidentally-named everyday coffee shop, Daily Press, has shuttered).
All of this — from the fear of riding the subway or even going out, to the economy, to government resources being bogged down — is because of COVID-19, this catastrophic virus. It’s impact has biblical-in-size ramifications and, without hyperbole, feels fucking near-apocalyptic. Too many deaths, too much chaos, too much struggling. There’s a huge exodus of people leaving the city: if you can’t do anything and you don’t feel safe, why pay so much rent and so much money to stay and live here? The reason a lot of people moved to New York was for the experience, and with the virus out of control because of a lack of common sense in all of America, that said experience becomes inadequate, becomes impotent. I don’t know how it is in LA, Paris, or London, but New York feels like a former shell of what it once was in 2009, much less a year ago. Then again, with the rates of infection and the death tolls rising, I can’t imagine any city being as vibrant as they should be — but are their residents noticeably leaving en-masse?
From the viewpoint of a now 11-year resident, the city isn’t the same; it’s weird and depressing, and the sight of pedestrian-less blocks or empty subway cars makes me feel numb. Still, I’m clinging onto hope. I also have some perspective: my friends Brett and Gino — a Philly native and a Montreal transplant, respectively — have lived in New York longer than me. They went through the darkest time of 9/11 (and the literal dark time of the NYC blackout a few months afterwards), but they remained in the city and watched it transform back to greatness. After 9/11, New York became a tech magnet: venture capitalists funded startups like Vimeo, Tumblr, and Foursquare; a Google HQ was even built. After 9/11, New York became this past few decades’ arts/culture capital of the world: The Strokes and YYY’s and the burgeoning music scene, Parsons and Project Runway, Williamsburg and Soho and the Lower East Side became synonymous with creativity and style. All of those were the very reasons I dreamt of moving to New York — to be successful in tech, to immerse myself in culture. Brett and Gino have seen it all, and they’ve established themselves in their job fields and social niches, and I see them as examples of the young, ambitious, and talented quintessential New Yorker (if either of you are reading this, don’t let it get to your head). As inexperienced as I was, they were great guides at how to navigate this city, and better examples of New Yorkers who can overcome.
Despite the empty Manhattan streets, the closed storefronts, and the constant wailing of ambulance sirens, I have hope that something new and wonderful will come out of this current crisis. New York City will once again rise from this mess, and like Gino and Brett beforehand, I’d like to be present when that happens. I think I can be that grizzled-but-experienced guide for the next person, be it a recently hired co-worker or new neighbor or a student if I ever decide to teach. It’s in my capacity to pass wisdom to others, to the fresh-faced and uninformed (and, I begrudgingly admit, the less jaded). Knowing how things can change and evolve, I have such hope for everything to get better than it was before, especially in this stupid yet wonderful city. Yeah, I’m going to try to stick it out. Let’s go with a dumb sailing metaphor: I want to see this storm through and witness what beautiful vastness awaits this battered ship.