First, it would never have happened without the Pfizer vaccine I got in April at the County Center. Have vaccine, will travel. My partner Naomi and I took vacation days, I bought a 10-pass of tickets and we were back on the train.
Riding the train from Katonah felt so natural, after decades of traveling back and forth on it. Wearing a mask on the train, not so natural. The hour and 22 minutes ride took longer than ever due to making more local stops, but it gave me more time to read.
Finally the train slipped into the tunnel at 96th Street for the subterranean last 10 minutes to Grand Central. The station was quieter than usual, with stores still shuttered. I didn’t see paper schedules in the information booth with the fabled clock on it, a meeting place for travelers for generations. Who needs paper schedules when everybody has a smart phone to thumb through www.mta.info?
|NYPD in front of Temple Emanuel on 5th Avenue.|
|5th Avenue on a Thursday morning, around 10:30 am.|
A low-level anxiety seeped into me as we stepped out of Grand Central on to the short stretch of Vanderbilt Avenue east of Madison Avenue. After reading about the rising crime rate and Mayor de Blasio’s blas
éresponse to violence in the city, I had emptied my wallet of most credit and store cards before I left home, in case the worst happened. I hit the streets in full situational awareness mode, looking for any source of trouble.
Instead of instant menace, I first experienced a city in snooze mode. The honking, the traffic, the midtown crowds—mostly gone.
Heading for the Metropolitan Museum, we strolled up 5th Avenue. The streets felt eerily empty for a bright spring morning. The place felt more like a late summer Sunday, even on the most touristy stretches of 5th. But why expect otherwise? What tourists want to visit New York with the pandemic on and attractions like Broadway theaters still shuttered? Plus, hundreds of thousands of office workers—like I was for over 20 years until I started working remotely in 2018—are still pounding their laptops at home. We’re gone. How many are ever coming back? How many want to, anyway, after experiencing the lower costs and time savings of working at home?
But I'm glad I took the step out of my suburban comfort zone, since our museum visits were a treat. At the Met we viewed the retrospective of portrait painter Alice Neel, "People Come First." I’d never seen her work before. That was worth two hours of strolling and reading, followed by an iced coffee and caramel brownie in the cafeteria.
Next stop: a bus down 5th Avenue to reach the Morgan Library & Museum on Madison Avenue. We saw the amazing exhibit “David Hockney: Drawing from Life,” Its brilliant idea was to gather portraits Hockney did of four people over the course of decades, along with self-portraits. One of the subjects was Hockney’s mother. Hockney’s ability to capture the aging process over 50 years of relationships is striking. I’ve never seen anything like it.
|Nothing happening in front of an ultra-high end jewelry store.|
|Open later, maybe?|
We had dinner at Jackson Hole, a burger place on 3rd Avenue, dining al fresco in a sturdy tent set up outside. From there we walked up Madison to Grand Central, on the train, back home.
Looking at the photos I took, they show a lonesome city of famous stores with nobody in front of them, wide open avenues, cops guarding a synagogue from the marauding Jew haters making their bones in the city these days. New stories paint a hellish vision of a city sliding backward; Mayor Nero fiddles while Rome burns. I’m reading about more attacks, more graffiti, more anti-semitism, more drug dealers recreating the “needle park” era, and even the return of the pestilential squeegee men. All we need now is to restore the 70s-80s urban collapse vibe is for CBGB & OMFUG to reopen, the Bronx to start burning again and the defunct Village Voice to start publishing again. To be fair, my narrow view from 5th Avenue was sunny and surprisingly hopeful, cleaner than I expected. Friends who live in the city sound happy enough, not crazed. One man, an essential worker who kept going in throughout the pandemic, said the situation is vastly better than a year ago, which is encouraging. Still, the feeling of light-hearted safety I enjoyed for decades has vanished until proven otherwise.
Next trip: Museum of Art and Design and the Museum of Modern Art. I’m sure we’ll have a great time. I’m pulling for New York, where I’ve lived or worked and visited for over 40 years, to bounce back. Maybe it will. I've lived in its gravitational pull since I left small-town Texas. The city clawed its way back in the 1990s, after 2,000 murders per year, after 9/11, after the financial crisis, after Superstorm Sandy. As corporations start prying workers back from their home offices and businesses open up, the critical mass of people could create more dynamism and get the tourists in to enjoy theater, museums, shopping and all the sights; if they crave a rancid taste of "Taxi Driver"-style grime, crime and decay, they're in for a real treat. Tough-minded leadership to replace the feckless Mayor de Blasio could also make a big difference. Rudy Giuliani may be way past his sell-by date, but a hard-edged facsimile could work. I don’t live in the city, so that’s not my call to make.
I'll close with a look on the bright side. Remember my crack about the “defunct Village Voice?” I should retract that, since the Village Voice published its first print issue since 2017 in April. So, hope springs eternal.
|5th Avenue at Central Park South.|