Once upon a time in New York, I took this photo. It was the late 70s in Central Park back and I was wandering around with my new Minolta. To me, this image epitomizes the best of New York. A Sunday in the city’s great park, a woman and a little kid enjoying the sunlight coming off the pond, the dog about to jump in. It reminds me of the classic Georges Seurat painting “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jette.”
New York can be a beautiful place but it’s lost a lot in our Covid time.
People come to NYC for every reason you can imagine. Some follow lovers, some come to ‘make it,’ some just want to experience the city’s dynanism before settling back home in the midwest or south or wherever they’re from. Some love Broadway, some love the downtown scene, some love the brashness.
I was born in this city but I stayed my entire life. Why? Well, I love the street life, the characters, the daily small dramas, the idea that anything come happen at any time. I don’t love the subway but I did appreciate it as the fastest way to get around and its intensity which, yeah, sometimes got to be a bit much.
But now….I see everything I love about NYC is going, going, gone. There is no street life. Getting on the subway is taking your life in your hands. I’m afraid to go down there for fear of getting infected. Bars and restaurants are closed, as are bookstores and museums. You can’t even wander through a Duane Reade drugstore and curse its confusing aisles. Well you can but it’s not the same when you have to avoid every living soul. Even free Shakespeare in the Park has just been cancelled this summer.
And New York City, without its people and its dynamism, is just plain ugly. The other day I took a walk to sit in a park but it was padlocked because it happens to also have a playground and they’re all closed. Looking around, I saw how sad everything looked without the crowds.
I go back and forth about the future. Some days I think, as this dreaded Covid curve flattens and then falls and the summer brings its heat, things will go back to normal. But then I have second thoughts.
For the immediate future (I’m thinking two years), I can’t see myself going to a Broadway theater, a movie theater, or any performance or sporting event, not even my beloved Yankees. I’ll probably have to get on the subway but I’ll be wearing a mask and gloves and who knows what else?
Some street life will come back because there’s no way to keep six feet away from others in parts of Manhattan. But will Times Square return to its crazy glory? NYC is losing its defining characteristic–its propinquity, the kinship we as New Yorkers always have felt intuitively.
On my most pessimistic days, I think if New York City becomes so changed, why stay here? Maybe it would be better to live in a place that nourishes your soul instead of challenging you on a daily basis. And then there’s the reality of being older. How much time am I going to get to enjoy all this anyway? I’ve always loved the ocean and have dreamed of living near an ocean. Maybe it’s time to hit the road and trade in street life for the constant beating of the waves on the shore.
New York will bounce back. It always does but do I want to wait for it? Like everything else about Covid-19, these are questions without answers.