It was a year ago that I was last in Manhattan. The Thursday of that week, March the 12th, I was meeting with my Tuesdays at Nine Co-Creative Director at the Pret-a-Manger across from Bryant Park. We were deciding on the lineup for our next evening, making plans that were instantly undone as received text message alerts that the Broadway theaters were shutting down, effective immediately. I took the long subway ride back to Brooklyn as the chain reaction began, shutting down New York City. I took the long subway ride home, unaware of the dominos falling, to try and have some semblance of a normal weekend in abnormal times. I made a return trip into Manhattan on Saturday, March 14; there were things I needed to retrieve from my day job to facilitate working remotely. And since arriving home that Saturday night, held in place by the global pandemic, I have remained here in South Brooklyn.
Until this weekend, that is, when I braved the subway ride to the Javits Center, to receive my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine against the coronavirus.
I don’t really talk about my day job here, but as somebody who works as an arts administrator for a music school, I qualify here in New York both as an education worker and a forward-facing non-profit worker. It took a good month or so of winding my way through the various websites and their procedures, but I was finally able to secure an appointment for this past Saturday. The appointment was at the main vaccination hub in Manhattan’s Javits Center, so the vaccination itself was a quick an efficient affair (in and out in thirty minutes, including fifteen minutes of observation time after the inoculation to make sure there were no side effects, during which, at the Javits Center at least, volunteer musicians serenade you with chamber music as you wait). The journey to the Javits Center was considerably longer – a little over an hour in each direction, by subway, which I have not ridden in a year.
The thing about the subway is that you’re never as isolated as you think you are. I’m not referring to your fellow commuters – I’m talking about being removed from the rest of the world (and specifically its pop culture, since this is an arts blog I’m running here). Usually, there’s billboards in the cars and the stations for movies, television shows, and theatre – arts producers of every kind hawking their wares to the captive audience. There was one of that this time. Every car was festooned exclusively with public service announcements about covid; there were no new signs of any kind plastered on the walls of any subway station, at least along the southernmost portion of the D line, or the westernmost portion of the 7.
Aboveground, it wasn’t much different. New York is usually in a constant state of trying to sell you something; I witnessed none of that this weekend. I walked from the Javits Center back to Bryant park, to get some recommended exercise after the shot; in that whole stretch of Midtown Manhattan I saw one billboard for a tv program debuting in April, another for a show that debuted several months ago, and some stray Book of Mormon signs on the lampposts adjoining Times Square. And that was it. Just a few stray phantoms of the media nexxus that once was.
It will be again, of course. But the work to make it so is going to involve far more than just our innoculations. It’s going to take a lot of effort to rebuild things the way they were – and that presupposes that “the way things were” is the goal. If you recognize that it’s not – that we need an arts landscape that’s more accessable, more inclusive, more affordable, and therefore more dynamic – there’s a lot of work and planning to be done.
And unfortunately, none of that planning can take place at the Pret-a-Manger across from Bryant Park, because they’ve closed that location. Stupid pandemic.