Missing my city while still in it: NYC, Spring of 2020

January and February of 2020 were just another winter in NYC: cold, punctuated with occasional extreme cold, but not that much snow this year. I showed apartments, went to sales meetings and my office, and enjoyed the city as I always did: experiencing the performing arts multiple times per week, trying out bumper cars on ice at Bryant Park, and a public art installation just south of Times Square that involved giant seesaws in the middle of Broadway. There were reports on the news of a new virus in Wuhan, China. By the first week of March the alarms were beginning to sound louder. On March 6 (two days after I enjoyed a preview performance of Company with Patti Lupone), Compass, where I am an Associate Broker, suggested that agents work from home when possible. On March 7 I attended an all-day board retreat at the Larchmont Yacht Club, where one topic of conversation was contingency plans around the virus. Just a few days later, Thursday, March 12, Broadway and all performing arts in NYC were shut down for a month “resuming the week of April 13.”

By March 16, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo had placed our state on “pause.” Real estate showings were not allowed, and everything was shut down except for grocery stores, pharmacies, and other essential businesses (which included bike and liquor stores). People were encouraged to stay home at all times except for getting essential items like food, or for exercise outdoors.

The city quickly became a ghost of itself. Many who had another place to go left the city, and the rest of us spent most of our time inside our apartments. We all began to hear of friends who were sick, or even very sick.

As March crept into April, it became clear that we were far from the peak of infection, despite weeks of lockdown. As we headed toward the second week of April, when we did hit our peak, most of us learned that someone we knew had died, or was close to it.

In April, we began to see refrigerated trucks outside hospitals. The US Comfort docked a few blocks from my apartment, and the Javits Convention Center was set up for hospital overflow (although neither of these turned out to be heavily used). There were hospital tents in Central Park across from Mount Sinai Medical Center.

At first we were advised not to wear masks; but then we were. This is the way science works with a new phenomenon: educated guesses are made until more data come in that suggest alternate approaches. Going out for a walk every day for exercise and fresh air was eerie at times. Where were all the people? To stand in Times Square in the middle of the day and have no one else in your photos was previously not something I could have even imagined.

As April came to a close, it became clear that what we were doing – isolating, distancing, wearing masks – was working and our numbers began to improve. Signs began to appear everywhere showing what 6 feet of distance looked like, and reminding us that we are “New York Tough.”

Meanwhile, the entire city seemed to lean out of their windows, go up to their roofs, or out to their balconies or terraces, to applaud and make noise to thank the essential workers every evening at 7PM. It was incredibly touching that so many people did this, night after night, and it also served as a way to feel less isolated. As we applauded with others, we also signaled to each other “I’m still here, and I’m glad you’re still here, too.”

As May turned toward June, our numbers were under control enough that we began hearing about the future of phased reopening. Simultaneously, protests over the death of George Floyd swept the city. Although the vast majority of these were peaceful, some of the unrest led to the city having a curfew for several nights.

In June, the city began to slowly reawaken. Times Square was still quite empty, but clever signs were put up to remind people of safe distance and mask wearing, with hat tips to beloved Broadway shows.

On June 22, Phase 2 reopening meant the return of real estate showings – with extensive safety measures in place. Appropriately, new Fair Housing disclosures and notices also became a part of our new normal, along with the Covid-19 health questionnaires and liability forms.

Now in August, it is clear that it will be a long time before New York City can reopen performing arts, indoor dining, and so many aspects of life that make living here such a rich and enjoyable experience. This pandemic has taken NYC’s super powers – so many people from so many places, all crowded together and often experiencing things together in crowds indoors – and turned them against us. But there is more to New York City than these experiences, although of course I can’t wait to be able to have our city back to normal again. We have shown that we could do the difficult things and make the difficult choices to save as many lives as possible, led by data and science, and beat back a virus that had taken hold before we realized it. If we can continue to do so, we can stave off this enemy until we can declare it vanquished and return safely to the activities we love. To meet a group of friends and hug them, to sit in a darkened Broadway theatre and be transported, to eat and drink and laugh and sing together – I believe we will do these things again. Many times before people have counted NYC out, and yet we always rise again like a phoenix. Being patient is hard, but we will rise again.

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