All of us New Yorkers have our stories as to where we were born and raised. Many of them follow a similar pattern. I was born in 1961 in Manhattan General. I was raised in the Bronx in the 1960s and 70s. Moved out to Long Island but continued to work in the five boroughs. Worked in Queens with my father in the 80s and then started a career as a nightclub performer working in all the clubs and bars in every borough. Like so many others who have grown up in the New York Metro area we have witnessed New York City go through many changes in the past fifty years. Through the days of New York City Mayors such as Wagner, Lindsay, Beame, Koch and Dinkins through the Giuliani and Bloomberg years right up to Mayor Bill de Blasio, each Mayor’s policies had a dramatic effect on life in New York City and each Mayor responded to tragedy in their own way. Nonetheless, since the days when the city was first founded by the Dutch as New Amsterdam up until the year 2019, New York City has been driven by a force of humanity thriving to be the best. There is so much history behind the story of New York City all fueled by the people who have lived and worked here. Highs and lows, tragedy, and victory, we have seen it all. Up until this year….
During the past year in 2020, I had to go into Manhattan quite often because I was dealing with some medical issues and being treated at New York Presbyterian. At the same time I was and still am also working as substitute teacher on Long Island walking into a classroom every day often replacing teachers who are going home with a fever handing me their lesson plans on their way out of the classroom. It has been a really tough year so far. I have protected myself as well as I can and at times I question why I am still doing it.. All I can say is I feel a sense of duty more than I have ever felt before and I just hope to get through this year okay. And a major part of the reason I have written this article is to document what I have seen in the city because I don’t think, or I should say, I hope we never see images like this again.
My commute in an out of the city was at times filled with traffic on the Long Island Expressway and the 59th Street Bridge. Yet it was nothing compared to the heavy traffic that we have all grown up with during the past forty years going in and out of the city. In the spring, there was no traffic at all, but the summer and fall did start to inch closer to normal as far as commuter traffic.
I have never seen New York City look the way it did in 2020. Often, at times, I felt like I was Charlton Heston in the Omega Man or Will Smith in I am Legend. In many spots of the city, it was basically a ghost town. Empty streets and sidewalks devoid of people and cars. Stores closed, boarded up. Subway entrances sealed off behind white tents and plastic. Reality and the movies intertwining within before my eyes. However not every neighborhood was like that. The upper East Side which is heavily residential was still alive. Fueled by all the hospitals like New York Presbyterian, Memorial Sloan Kettering and their outpatient centers, these hospitals were also surrounded daily by road and foot the traffic heading to and from them. There were still many places of business open, restaurants, cafes diners all serving food, many with outdoor seating and almost all of them delivering to residents of the neighborhood and the heroes that worked in all those hospitals.
During my many trips into Manhattan this past year, I explored the rest of the borough to see how it compared to the Upper East Side. Sometimes I was shocked at what I witnessed, other times it all seemed normal. The biggest shock was Times Square and most of Midtown. The absence of tourists has completely changed the look of what was once the busiest part of the city. There was also a sense of danger in many parts. A feeling that I have not felt since the 1970s. It wasn’t just a feeling either as we all know the how the rates of crime had gone up in the boroughs over the past year. What’s worse was that sense of danger that I experienced at times was in the light of day. Even in the 1970s I felt safe in the daylight. The protests that went violent also left behind city streets that looked like a war zone the next day during the summer.
Words can have an impact, but pictures can be even more telling. I took many pictures during the past year in Manhattan that I have published in this article. It is the reason why I composed this work. I wanted to share what I witnessed, what I experienced, what simply seemed not real. The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is too tragic, to large for any one person to write about it. Over the years so much will be written, from small personal stories to large scale encyclopedic surveys. Even now, in December of 2020, I worry that I am writing about it way too soon. I hope I am wrong.
The next set of pictures were taken during the protests in July and before the election in November. All the these photos were taken during the late morning and early afternoon hours.
The first picture pretty much says it all in response to the looting that went on at night during the protests of the summer of 2020.
The one’s below were taken on November 1st, the day before Election Day. It was incredible to see Sacks Fifth Avenue all boarded up in November. There is a also a video included.
Video in front of St Patrick’s Cathedral and then walking past Saks Fifth Avenue.
I have seen Times Square go through many changes over the past fifty years, but I never imagined seeing Times Square completely empty and pretty much void of all people.
Times Square Video:
Rockefeller Center is usually the most crowded place in the city, especially in November and December. These pictures were taken on a weekday in November around noon.
Outdoor dining in the city on the sidewalks and literally in the streets…..
I could actually go to Ray’s Pizza in Times Square and not have to wait on a line.
Various photos around the city during the pandemic……
No traffic at all on the Long Island Expressway in both directions in the middle of the day.