I live here, in Greenwich Village, near SoHo and Nolita, have lived here for the duration of this crisis; but I’m not used to it, and never will get used to it—the masks on nearly everybody, even little children, even people driving, with no other people in their cars; some people still eyeing you in anger, if you’re not masked, or have your mask pulled down, outdoors.
I can’t get used to that, just as I can’t get used to seeing so many devastated businesses, some boarded up and covered with graffiti, and others just replaced by glossy chains. People eating, maskless, in those stupid temporary set-ups on the sidewalks outside restaurants, the waiters wearing masks. (Are the cooks in those hot kitchens wearing masks?)
It’s not New York, as P. Jerome notes here, from his invaluable perspective as a visitor. It’s not New York.
So where did all the New Yorkers go?
From P. Jerome:
You New Yorkers know what you are living through, but here is the perspective of a visitor that I would like to share.
This past weekend I took a two-day trip to NYC, where I had not visited since September, and before that in June. Coming from DC, where masks are almost everywhere (outdoors and indoors), I was saddened to see that it is even worse in NYC. I was the only person I saw — save for a rare smoker, a cop or some homeless people — not wearing a mask outdoors. New Yorkers wear them on bikes, driving alone in cars and even while jogging, and of course on the street. I was scolded multiple times and ok I yelled at some masked bikers. But young people, street vendors, E. Village hipsters, etc. all seem to wear masks with an air of sanctimoniousness that is difficult to tolerate.
I went to Film Forum, my favorite movie theater, for a few movies. I was one of three people for one film, seated ten+ rows apart. The others wore their masks throughout (they had come in together), despite no one telling them to do so or policing it. The other films were more filled (15-20 people), and the same thing. Everyone I could see wore a mask for hours in a drafty, uncrowded theater. No one scolded me for not wearing one, but people avoided me leaving the theater.
Restaurants were only slightly better, with the privilege of removing a mask after being seated in a plexiglass enclosure. There was no possibility of speaking with anyone at the next table, or anyone other than a waiter. One restaurant even tacked on a 10% “Covid tax” on the bill. (I was later told this is illegal). And the contact tracing stuff is a deterrent from going into any restaurant.
But perhaps most challenging is that there is no where in Manhattan to sit down maskless indoors, except at a restaurant. The museums have mask Nazis enforcing “order” even in the lobby areas, and they yell at you if the mask is slipping down your nose. Starbucks doesn’t let you sit down at all, at least the one I entered. Given that it was pouring rain, all I could do is go into some or other retail spot and wear a mask. I was asked to leave REI for improperly pulling the mask away from my face so I could breathe.
It is mostly the same in DC, but I see many more people in DC on the street not wearing masks than I saw in NYC. I thought DC was the most conformist city in this sick country, but I was wrong. New York wins. Where are the rebellious artists? The political radicals? The don’t-give-a-shit young people? Fun city?
There are obviously many mask-less people I did not see over two days, but the overall feel is grim, not only for New Yorkers but for the rest of us who think of New York as a vibrant, exciting city. That it is no longer.