Today, my husband and I drove into Manhattan for the first time in 2020. The City that never sleeps was fast asleep. We drove and stopped by all our favorite tourist spots. Times Square, Rockefeller Center, 34th Street, 14th Street- all the fun and lively areas were eerily quiet. For the first time in 52 years that I have lived here I felt sad while visiting Manhattan, rather than excited- in the past no matter how often we drove in, I felt energized. Today I realized that an era had ended. As we got to Tribeca, it seemed more normal but not as hectic and frenetic as it used to be; even the West Village was crowded with dining spilling out into streets and plazas. We visited the new Hudson River Pier 26, built right next to Pier 25, which is a lovely walkway with lots of outdoor seating for viewing and relaxing. It was full of families visiting, but certainly would have been more packed had it not been for the total elimination of tourism from the City.
What made me sad was the sight of shuttered gift shops, more homeless than I have seen in the past even in the popular tourist areas, the lack of vendors and just people walking in general and just a feeling of hollowness and emptiness. It is going to take several years to recover the losses incurred by Covid 19, and it is hard to say if NYC will ever be the same hustling bustling City again as it was.
I imagine this type of standstill is present in every popular city around the globe. It is as if a glittering bejeweled cover had been lifted off a worn-out piece of furniture. And now that the glitter is gone, everyone is wondering what all the excitement was all about. I remember we would often stop at Times Square to see and feel the people jams and the lights that made night into day. What was so magical about people being with so many people- strangers all? It makes one wonder. As we drove down empty avenues, with no taxis honking or tailgating, it made me think- did it make sense to stuff so many cars into such a small place to harass and stress each other? Now that commuters are working remotely, it again lifts up a cover to show us the absurdness of how we were living. Neither the Holland Tunnel or the George Washington Bridge approaches had the long lines of honking traffic. I smiled to myself when a sign on the side of Times Square captured my thoughts exactly- it said: “Embrace the Absurd”! Is this the absurd era or was pre-Covid 19 the absurd era? We will find out if we reflect- hopefully we will evolve into more sane ways of working, living and entertaining than the insanity of a City that never slept which glorified all forms of the extreme.