I decide to spend the weekend in New York City, on my way back to my permanent home Back East, in East Hampton. Before going out to Long Island, I want to take in the air of a city that has just begun to awaken post pandemic.
The ride in from Westchester Airport is long and tedious with heavy traffic going toward Manhattan and across the George Washington Bridge. On a Thursday afternoon traffic swells with commercial trucks and vacationers getting a jump start on a long weekend at the beach. It is an unseasonably hot and stifling day for early June. What a difference from when I was last here, during the darker days of covid, when Manhattan resembled a high-rise ghost town. Things are bustling again. Passing through the Bronx, I see Yankee Stadium and my level of anticipation escalates automatically. It is good to be back in New York. Onto the Major Deegan and the Second Avenue Bridge at 130th Street. The bodegas are thriving; the streets are alive with people—workers, school kids on their way home. South on 2nd Avenue and the neighborhood changes. From Spanish markets to posh boutiques. I see far fewer vacant storefronts. Restaurants have spilled out onto the sidewalks everywhere, with lively tables full of customers, causing even more car congestion on the streets. Reaching our home on 68th Street, the doormen are at the ready. Lots of hugs and “good to see you” and “welcome back.” All nice and homey until we go for the elevators. They are out of service as is seems the recent increase in demand has shortened their lifespans a bit. Or maybe they missed a few rounds of maintenance during lockdown. Undaunted we take the service elevator up to the 31st floor, with our luggage and packages from the front desk. Later, a quiet dinner at Da Umberto, our favorite local Italian restaurant, is the perfect balm after a long day of travel. In Florida, we usually dine outdoors but this time we are inside. The waiter is courteous and welcoming, and we are thrilled to be there, happy that the place survived the long restaurant shutdown period. Afterward, a stroll back to the apartment. The air is cooler and I notice the streets are back to their uneven cleanliness. We don’t see any homeless folks and hope it means the shelters a safely up and running now. Last year the sidewalks were filled with homeless men and women, staying out in the open air where presumably it was safer. The commercial rental market is still dismal and despite the uptick there are still more stores closed than open. Certain areas have recovered more robustly than others. Second Avenue closed for years while the new subway line was installed and now it is now open for business. Lexington Avenue is missing many of the mom-and-pop shops that dotted the streetscape—the shoe repair, the dry cleaner, the small dress shops, and the like. I see a lot of young people everywhere and they will be the force that really turns the economy around, back in their apartments and waiting to return to their offices. Theater will reopen in the fall. Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall. Eventually people will return from their quarantine escapes and summer homes to enjoy the city again. They say it is the greatest city in the world. The pandemic will be a dark chapter in its history, but the pages have already turned, and the glorious story of New York continues.