The New York You Once Knew Is Gone. The One You Loved Remains.
Those of us who stayed in New York are faced with the task of keeping the city alive. We aren’t going anywhere.
New York City is not as deserted as the pictures will lead you to believe.
After recently undergoing two weeks of isolation for Covid-19-like symptoms, I emerged from my apartment expecting to find, like the man in the famous Twilight Zone episode who accidentally survives an atomic blast in the bank vault where he works, that New York had disappeared while I’d been waiting things out upstairs.
But it was still there. Indeed, as I climbed onto my bike to run errands for myself and some others — arguably the most socially distant form of travel possible these days — the streets felt immediately familiar. To know New York City by bike is to know it intimately in a way not possible by foot or car. It’s like being thrust into the bloodstream of a great beast, privy to its every pulse. You need only go a few blocks before the rhythm of the lights and motion of the traffic reveal themselves; you learn the beats and melody of the streets the way you learn any song.
Despite its muted movements and darkened storefronts, the city I pedaled into was not new to me. Anyone who’s held a job that puts them at odds with the 9–5 world — or rather the 7-midnight world, as New York schedules so often run — knows this particular city. It’s the “my shift ended at 4 a.m.” New York. Or “my shift starts at 5 a.m.” It’s early Sunday morning in August New York. It’s Audrey Hepburn emerging from a lone cab on a deserted Fifth Avenue to stare longingly into a Tiffany’s window New York. It’s Thanksgiving night or Christmas Day New York. It’s the New York of for better or for worse.
And now it’s something else, too. E.B. White said there were three New Yorks: the city of those who were born here, the city of those who commute in daily, and the city of those who come here “in quest of something.”