How I saw NYC change throughout the pandemic

March 2020, or around that time as I like to imagine it, it was like a normal night. I was in West Village having drinks with a girl I was casually seeing as her brother and his friends were in town. As bad as it sounds looking back at it now, so many people joked about COVID-19 and how it won’t be serious. Then we all got an announcement that weekend or around that time to stay at home, we would be working remote. For a while, it seemed like no one wanted to be back in the office since well, working remote has its perks.

My friend and I walked around, may have been April or May of that year, and we could not believe it. NYC, Manhattan itself, the bumbling haven of activity was now a ghost town. Rats became more prominent on the streets as there was less foot traffic and the drugged out homeless stuck out more. Never would anyone have thought that a city like NYC would be turned into a ghost town, it was something else entirely. All of the city had gone into lockdown. As the spring turned to summer, racial tensions boiled over due to the murder of George Floyd.

I watched as once lively apartment buildings went empty in neighborhoods that used to be full of energy. Even my own building saw a change as Friday nights and Saturdays were drop dead silent. You heard almost nothing anymore and rows of stores were now boarded up. Yet I stayed, the truth is that very few cities can rival what NYC offers to a single guy in his twenties.

Tensions got bad as cop cars in Union Square were set on fire and I lived through it, seeing the riots happen all over the city. Some were peaceful protests but as night came, those turned violent. Meanwhile, the city was on lockdown, almost all of the bars closed and nightlife dead. The parties still went on at the apartments and in some underground destinations where you had to have an invite but it was nothing like when the city was open. Most people with the means to do so left NYC and opted to get out of the state entirely. I don’t know much of the city outside of Manhattan, for all I know, Queens and other boroughs are the same.

I loved working remotely and not having to go to the office but it was something else as the city had changed. The lockdowns, fear of COVID, tensions boiling over, and restriction after restriction had changed NYC. I don’t mean change as in your favorite spots being closed, I mean change as in change the character of the city and of Manhattan. At its very core, New York was different because New Yorkers became different. Maybe the tough times exposed traits of New Yorkers you do not see when you are too busy trying to catch the train in the crowd, but it was different.

What I witnessed were not just lockdowns but a roller coaster of rights. At one moment, it’s back to normal, and at the other it is mandate after mandate. NYC has recovered from a lot but this was kind of different, I saw New Yorkers change.

New Yorkers went from kinda rude to hostile.

New Yorkers are stereotypically rude, they can be downright mean, but they are not exactly hostile. In fact, I’d say New Yorkers are good people as a whole who want to help. I remember arriving here and strangers happily helped me with directions and gave me feedback on neighborhoods. There was a degree of trust in most strangers in Manhattan, you felt it, and knew that there were good samaritans abound in the city.

A New Yorker will be blunt with you and talk shit to your face but he is never hostile in a territorial sort of way, at least not in Manhattan. Waiting for food, being in line for groceries, and waiting on your coffee were different experiences now. Perhaps the one demographic in NYC that I saw change and become unbearable were older white women, particularly in Manhattan, they took being Karen to a whole new level.

I remember waiting for the cashier to bag my groceries around April of last year as an older woman accidentally bumped into me. She made eye contact and immediately said “get away from me, get the fuck away from me” as I was standing arm’s length away from her. Very unusual as the cashier watched along with others. Throughout the city, I saw these instances happening more and more often. In all fairness, this did come from the older white population in the city.

In the younger population, there was frustration. We hated how the same old people at risk for COVID were outside wondering around for their walks while locking down was encouraged, some were even unmasked. Frustration grew in the younger population as we dealt with the economy being mostly shut down while those at risk wandered around carelessly, expecting us to cater to their demands.

The less flattering aspects of the city became even more prominent.

I remember walking with a friend to see how the city looked like during the lockdowns when they allowed us out. We got too close to a garbage bag which had not been collected and saw about ten rats inside running around, that scared the shit out of me. When NYC was open, you wouldn’t encounter this as much or even notice it because so much was going on.

The homeless struggles became a lot more prominent as well because you could no longer ignore it compared to moving through crowds of people on their way to work. You had a lot of instances where it would just be you walking down the street and the only person you would encounter is a homeless guy asking for change. I also noticed that the homeless population started to become a lot more aggressive than usual, now cursing at you more when you ignored their requests for change, which brings me to my next point.

Crime went up.

While statistics will bring up the rise in hate crimes and rise in shootings in the city, the truth is that NYC as a whole began to feel a lot less safe. You did not want to take the subway during the pandemic, especially not the one in Union Square. Walking around, especially at night, felt a lot less safe as well. I noticed more shoplifting happening at pharmacies and convenient stores, all of this in parts of Manhattan that were usually seen as being safe.

The spike in crime is shown as being in areas where crime was already bad, I think it is naive to think this way. The truth is that crime in NYC as a whole went up, especially in safer parts of Manhattan. I used to be able to walk around my neighborhood at night and it would be people walking their dogs and everyone getting their evening walk in as well. During the pandemic, I started noticing more homeless drug addicts and overall a vibe that was a lot less safe. It’s no surprise that when the mayoral race happened, the winner on the Democrat side was a former cop with more centrist policies.

The incompetent leadership was no longer tolerable.

It doesn’t matter where you stand on the political spectrum, New York has not elected good leaders recently. Our previous few governors seem to always get caught up in some sort of scandal and our mayor is considered to be one of the worst in America. In all fairness, the mayors before the current mayor did do a good job. When things were open, you kind of tolerated it. The drinking, partying, and hooking up with attractive women took your mind off of how incompetent and corrupt some of the people running the city were.

Once the lockdowns happened, nightlife ended, jobs gutted, crime skyrocketed, and the rich fled; you were forced to pay attention to it. The chickens came home to roost for the leadership which became a laughing stock of the entire country. Now New Yorkers were forced to ask where the hell those tax dollars were actually going. New Yorkers hit the polls and selected someone different for mayor, but it was a tale of two New Yorks.

Racial tensions got much worse.

While it does not get talked about as much and might catch others by surprise, NYC has quite a lot of racism going on under the surface. The wealthy whites who vote Democrat in the city will play up the hero act but there is a reason they prefer not to live too close to Harlem. I won’t take the time to bash out of touch liberals too much.

As it showed in the race for mayor and Democrat primary, well-off whites in the city do not vote like minorities do. One group was facing rising crime rates and found defunding the police to be a baffling proposal. Meanwhile, the Uber Eats Work From Home class was all onboard for defunding the police as they hid out in their doorman secured buildings.

While wealthy whites cheered for vaccine mandates, minorities who are less vaccinated on average were not nearly as enthusiastic. The Carmine Incident represented these tensions boiling over, even though the family was from Texas. Vaccine mandates were a tale of one privileged side cheering for them while the other side which was less privileged did not see as much value in them because they had pressing issues like rising crime staring them in the face.

For decades, these tensions existed. Many New Yorkers of color were aware of what I will call the Reddit New Yorker for the sake of this post, the type to pretend to care about people of color but only hang with their white and/or hipster crowd. Somehow, during the pandemic, the tensions bubbled up to the surface. Vaccine mandates almost gave some of the wealthy closet racists a way to be prejudiced while just hiding behind the “they’re unvaccinated” act.

People got nosier.

New Yorkers are stereotyped as being in their own world and out of everyone’s business. As the mandates came, New Yorkers got nosier and nosier. Once again, the biggest culprit here were middle-aged and older white women being Karens. Now, it became their duty to ask everyone if they were vaccinated and then give them a lecture if they were not. Your conversations had a much bigger chance of being overheard.

As angry as I was at these types, I felt for them now looking back at it. So many of these people lived easy lives in their Manhattan bubbles, believing every word of what mainstream media told them, and once the pandemic came it was as if their world had been shattered. I may have been annoyed and angry at first but I realized that these people were just really scared and adversarial as a result.

More people questioned why they live in the city now, and many moved.

In all fairness, a lot of people have also moved into NYC because they think that things will be back to normal soon. Rents have gone up in Manhattan for a reason and in my heart, NYC will always hold a special place. Despite the love I had for NYC, I realized that with being able to work remote and nightlife being mostly closed, there was very little incentive to pay the high taxes and high rents.

You paid the high taxes and high rents because you loved the nightlife the city offered and the fact that it attracted a non-judgmental crowd that didn’t care if you weren’t married with kids by 35. Once nightlife started to close down and the mandates kicked in, you started to question why you lived in the city. When jobs allow you to work remote and nightlife becomes more stringent on proof of vaccination, you really start to second guess what you are actually paying for.

What does the future hold?

I moved out of NYC and seeing how the city handled the pandemic, am left wondering how they might handle future crises. Some of what NYC offers in the form of a great hookup culture will be tough to rival for most cities. NYC has its charm and it will always attract tourists from across the world. With remote work being the norm now, it is anyone’s guess how much livelier Manhattan will be. Given the good years it gave me, I will always be in NYC’s corner and rooting for it. I am only left asking if I would want to go back.

2 thoughts on “How I saw NYC change throughout the pandemic

  1. In early March 2020, I was in NYC and taking the subway to visit a relative. The subway was spotless and had that bleach-chlorine-clean smell. I didn’t live in NYC, but I had been on other occasions and taken the subway before, and I had never ever seen the subway this clean before. I thought, stupidly and optimistically, that something positive might actually come out of this pandemic. Ha.

    “well-off whites in the city do not vote like minorities do. One group was facing rising crime rates and found defunding the police to be a baffling proposal. Meanwhile, the Uber Eats Work From Home class was all onboard for defunding the police as they hid out in their doorman secured buildings.” – thank you for making this point. I think this was a point that got lost in the noise of “defund the police”.

    1. I swear man, the well off whites in NYC are a big problem to the city and have sabotaged life for minorities with their voting habits. Hope Eric Adams changes some things.

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