There is a strange thing about New York City that anyone who has ever lived here has experienced, but which is hard to quantify and explain. Oft times the city has a mood. That is to say that from your door, on the subway, around the streets, bars, and restaurants, for an entire day New York can take on a collective attitude. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s annoyed, but over the past day or so, it is beginning to feel optimistic.
Monday night it was announced that the number of cases and deaths from the novel coronavirus had slowed. While both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have expressed caution, it is mixed with hope. As expected, the curve of cases in Gotham is flattening and maybe, just maybe, the worst will soon be behind us. For the first time in weeks, a future seems to be opening up.
I could feel it in the street yesterday. To be sure, it was a small cross sample. I haven’t left my little Brooklyn neighborhood in more than a month, but on my regular constitutional to the bodega to buy tobacco, and the grocery store to purchase my less pressing needs, something was in the air. In fairness, it was a nice day, the first in some time: low 60’s, sunlight speckling the sidewalks through clouds. But it was more than that — a spring in the step, the faint return of a twinkle in the eye.
Towards the end of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue,” perhaps the finest piece of music ever composed for New York City, the solo piano becomes quiet, wistful, even sad. This gives way to a confused staccato of piercing high piano notes that is joined by the orchestra catching its bearings. New York City waking up until the theme resounds again, thumping and injudicious, a return to the full breath and power of the unstoppable city.
The orchestra has not burst forth yet, but the conductor seems poised, that baton, floating, ready to crash a celebration that we are cautiously prepared for. A strange slumber it has been, and it’s not quite over yet. The slow-motion crisis, the not knowing what day it is, what time it is, the cool shadow of skyscrapers and the tepid heartbeat of a town used to a thunderous pulse rate seems to be receding.
For the past three weeks, it has been too soon to hope, with deaths mounting, convention centers turned into hospitals, every image of closed stores and theaters, empty spaces, the wail of sirens, reinforcing our lockdown. Our once-salubrious city so saddened. But now that clever little smile is curling the lip; eyes widen a bit; it will be soon.
My buddy Brad often talks about feeling better after a few days of a sickness. In the midst of it we forget what feeling healthy feels like, and when that feeling returns what joy it inspires. Our faculties and constitutions back in working order, minds fixed on getting back to business. Here in New York that feeling is so close. Perhaps it is still just a bit out of reach, but not by much.
The fight is not over. Our vulnerable populations still need us to stay inside; to keep the businesses closed, for now. But for the first time in weeks it feels like this might end, like we might be back walking our streets sooner rather than later. This new dawn will be unlike others. Life will be different, the physical and economic carnage will still be felt.
But in that mourning there will be morning, and we will still be alive. Hang in there Gotham, you got this.