Still Home, Here in New York
Spring is here in New York.
Yes, we encountered snow flurries last week. But like New Yorkers themselves, the flinty resilience of our flora and fauna continues unabated by our current circumstances. Tree branches are buckling under the weight of their fresh leaves, blowing in the wind. The flower beds lining park paths and planted in front of apartment buildings have blossomed with the vibrant colors of May. Squirrels and chipmunks, birds (including our beloved pigeons), and some bold raccoons have lay claim to their slice of our urban world once again – though this season they are encounter many few interlopers than normal.
Masked and on my bike, I’ve been in the city on a consistent basis since mid-March, when our city – and pretty much the world – closed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The rhythm and energy of the city transformed virtually overnight. Cars were scarce. Buses were judicious. And those pedestrians using the street hurried along as always, though not with the urgency of getting where they needed to be, but with a protective caution laced with fear. The eerie silence that greeted me every morning as I came down off the Manhattan Bridge into Chinatown – one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city due to its vibrant bustle around food and community – was, at first, chilling. But as the days went by and we settled into this “new (hopefully temporary) normal,” the quiet and the emptiness found a new resonance, providing me with a different sensation than the initial shocks did. Strength.
I see it in my fellow workers who share our office building in Manhattan, including our doormen, Miles and Jose. I feel it when I bike down the middle of Park Avenue, empty except for the NYPD cars parked every few blocks, still keeping our streets safe. I hear it in the constant roar of the grinder at our local coffee shop, Blank Slate, which has remained open throughout this time with one barista at the counter and one chef in the back – a small but mighty army keeping the neighborhood caffeinated and connected. Many of us linger (at a distance) for a moment outside when picking up our orders so we can say hello and get the latest details about what’s planning to re-open and, sadly, what is not. Those of us who have remained, will always have these weeks together to connect us. We endured the pandemic together, in person, in real life.
Real life in New York feels very different. Slower. More meaningful. A friend and I recently traveled to the Upper West Side to buy a special sandwich so we could sit in Strawberry Fields and eat together on separate benches. Other New Yorkers have similar ideas and we find ourselves communicating more and more with our eyes and our body language. Words feel less necessary when you can feel the crinkle of a smile from under a mask of support and understanding. We learn so much from each other when we are present and look in each other’s eyes. And yes, our city feels right now like a movie set, about to start shooting. However, when I nod to the construction workers, the doormen, the delivery drivers on their motorized scooters, the bodega owners, the fruit sellers who are back out and set up (selling you navel oranges FOUR for $1, if you can believe it!), and all of those essential workers who serve our city at the United States Postal Service, I feel the backbone of our city – the individuals who make the city truly hum and run with seemingly effortless – and it is strong. It is fortified. It is ready and rearing to go.
Of course, we will come back from this time of isolation. Businesses will re-open, companies will return to work, and soon we will welcome clients and friends back into our offices at Prosek. I like to think we’ve learned some lessons in how to better communicate with each other, how much stronger our connections and our results are when we aren’t doing eight different things at once, but have the space and the time to really focus on what’s important. To realize what is more important, which is each other. You never know just how much you miss the crowds and congestion of Manhattan, the lines – unmarked by tape on the floor – to order a salad for lunch, or the sweet Uber driver who will return an abandoned bag or pair of shoes to you with a mere push of a button on your device, until they have all left you alone in the city.
Except, we’re never really alone. And as the weather warms and signs of life slowly reveal themselves again, I find myself listening for new sounds coming down off the Bridge into the city, discovering that yet another restaurant or bookstore has reopened for pick-up and delivery. I relish in the detailed lattice work of a building I always rushed past, or a small public space I never realized was available to us. And, just like that, my relationship to this city that I’ve called home for over 20 years, changes again. New York is the only city that allows you to embrace change so powerfully.
We will continue on in a new way, the way New Yorkers always do – abandon the old (unless it’s that revival of The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster coming to Broadway early next year!) with the great anticipation for the new. The sense of adventure is why we are all here in the first place.