There’s still people out. More than she would’ve expected considering the city is on lockdown. Essential workers, the only ones allowed out for any length of time. Everyone else, supposedly only for grocery shopping or a quick walk around the block.
No loitering. No getting closer than 6 feet to another human. No exceptions. A near-impossible order in a city of millions. But after being trapped inside for weeks, it was becoming a question of what’s more important, sanity or sheltering in place? For now, a quick jaunt to her favorite park and back. She needs to soak in the city a bit to regain her strength.
Walking down the sidewalk, it quickly becomes clear to her that there are a few types of pedestrians in this brave new world. There’s “the balker,” who acts personally affronted if someone is less than 6 feet away and sharply contorts their bodies as if it helps anything. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s “the oblivious.” These are the most maddening types, continuing about as if it’s business as usual. Lastly (and luckily the most common), “the best-attempter,” who does what they can to create as much space as possible given the constraints at hand.
It’s a delicate dance all the way to Tompkins Square. On the way, she thinks how surreal it is to see so many businesses closed, gates down, with notes of health, safety and sorrow left on the doors. Others, the restaurants who’ve closed their doors to the public but still offer pickup and delivery, have notes of instruction for delivery workers: Do not enter. Ring bell and we will bring the food out. Then there’s the essential spots, like Duane Reade, with a line down the block. A guard keeps watch at the door: only 10 people allowed in at a time. One in, one out.
It all makes for a different air in the city. It’s quieter, which is eerie for New York on a Friday afternoon. Less revelry. More masks. It’s spring, which usual feels more hopeful than it does now. She finds a bench in the sun to absorb as much Vitamin D as possible in the shortest amount of time. The nearest person is at least 15 feet away. Success.
After a few moments, she starts to take in the scene playing out in the park around her. The daffodils are still planted. Trees are still starting to bloom. Squirrels are still scrounging for nuts. But the children aren’t laughing and playing on the jungle gyms. Friends aren’t setting up picnics for a little sunbathing and solo-cup drinking. Even the dogs seem to know as they walk by with their owners. One hopeful pup suddenly springs after at bird only to stop short on account of the leash. She laughs, maybe that one doesn’t know. She soaks in it. Gaining strength from the electricity of the city, even if it’s humming at a different wavelength than normal.
Dance music starts to play from a boom box. Quietly at first, then louder. She can’t quite place where it’s coming from. After a few minutes, cheers erupt from the others like her who are scattered sporadically across benches. Someone is performing. Bringing smiles and an extra sprinkling of hope to anyone who can hear it.
On the walk back, she spots a bar with a takeout window — another line spaced out down the block, but this one, more cheerful. Strangers talking from 6 feet away as they discuss which drinks they will take away, supporting a local business and celebrating life at the same time. She checks the time and speeds up, not wanting to miss the nightly chorus of neighbors who cheer for all the heroes fighting on the front lines.
It hits her. Every New Yorker is in this together. That’s how we do. We come together when it matters most. There’s nothing we can’t do. We will fight this together. We will lift each other up when we need to and above all else, we will keep going.
New Yorkers are the best. There’s no one like them.