“New York City is Forever Dead,” one headline declared. But the truth is that even though the coronavirus put the emergency brakes on and forced the city to a screeching halt, New York was quickly back in action.
Now, millions of residents are entering a third pandemic summer, sidewalks are bustling, happy hours are on the move and tourists are back.
So how does the city feel now? What is the Vibration?
An examination of five days and five neighborhoods found that New Yorkers described heightened concerns about normalcy, safety and security, finances and mental health — but they also displayed unwavering optimism.
The city has always been defined by the people who live here: it is a magnet for dreamers, a haven for hustlers, a perpetual motion machine in which the engine fuels the human desire to seek. The week I spent in barbershops and baklava, in sunny cafes and shaded gardens, showed that the city was still very much alive.
On a humid Monday afternoon in mid-June, at the intersection of East 149th Street and 3rd Avenue, the Bronx was noisy. The sidewalks were bustling with crowds. Street vendors sold mango slices, jewelry, hats, and toys. Cars were backed by shocks along the way, swaying as the covers gleamed in the heat.
A few blocks north of the noise, Yolanda Hobson sat softly on her shady bow, her bright silver eye shadow gleaming. She said that “beautiful day” made her go out. However, the city is now feeling the rush.
“It feels like everyone is trying to hurry up and do things for ‘just in case’,” said Ms. Hobson. “Everyone is living on ‘just in case’ now.”
Friends and family call Ms. Hobson “Mayor of Melrose” because she knows everything that goes on in her neighbourhood. She will turn 56 in July, was arrested in December and remains wary. “I’m wearing two masks. I just don’t think it’s over.” Then she smiled, “I’m still alive. You’re enjoying.”
Down the street, in Chobby Flow Barbershop, owner Robin “Chobby” Tejada Rodriquez, 31, said business has been too slow since the pandemic.
He’s owned the store for eight years, and the customers who used to have their hair cut every week don’t come in as frequently – or stop coming altogether. He said, “People don’t have money.”
He said businesses in the area that were open late are now closed early. “Theft and crime – it’s crazy now,” he said. And more recently, when people are sitting in his chair, they talk about their problems: “Their mental health, it’s not good.”
Not far away, a few men sat on the edge of the handball court at St. Mary’s Park in the South Bronx. Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five “The Message” were played on a portable speaker. (“It’s like a jungle sometimes; it makes me wonder how to keep from falling apart.”)
“It feels more normal than when the epidemic first started,” said Stephen Montalvo, 23, after finishing a quick match in handball. He lives next door to the park and explained that when the virus hit, the area was “really dirty. A bunch of people were sleeping in the park. There were needles everywhere.”
Now he said, “It’s cleaner,” but added, “The crime is the same.” Pointing west, behind the chain fence, he recalled a rape incident that occurred “at eight in the morning on the other side of the park.” He continued, “I think yesterday, or the day before, they were shooting on that side. You know, normal city crimes.”
“We pass by with smiles.”
He seemed to be an act of optimism not just to start a new business but to open it now, with the city recovering. On a Tuesday afternoon in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Spencer Okada and Khanh Tran stood in front of the huge window of their new Doyers Street store, ArtBean Coffee Roasters, as the breeze poured in.
The couple, who opened the store in May, got married a week before things closed in 2020. “We honeymooned in a small apartment in New York,” said Ms. Tran, who came to town from Vietnam. They made that time productive: “This company was born during lockdown – because we wanted to create something.” They roast coffee themselves, collaborate with artists and hang paintings in the shop.
Mr. Okada, who grew up in Reno, Nevada, shrugged off the timing: “You can’t time anything at all. Now is the time to do it, and like, we just have to do our best.”
About nine miles north, in Harlem, another newly opened business was welcoming guests. He said NYC Zaza Exotics, owned by Antar al-Zaidi – known to some as rapper Yemen Chee$e – was only open for two days, but customers were already checking in. “I have a lot of followers on Instagram. They come from all neighborhoods.”
Mr. Al-Zaidi sells sweets from other countries: Skittles from Japan; crushing soda cream from Canada; A rare and limited edition anomaly like Flaming Hot Mountain Dew. KitKats in the Asian market will run you $20 or $30 here; The chips, $15; Soft drinks, $10.
Despite the very fragrant smell inside the store, Mr. Al-Zaidi said he does not sell cannabis. He is “in the process of” trying to get his license to do so. Until then, Mr. Zaidi is optimistic about the prospects for an internationally sourced snack shop: “Everyone has their own luck. Your luck is your luck, no matter what you sell.”
Just a few blocks away, in Rucker Park, huge speakers vibrated to hip-hop tunes during a street ball game. The man known as Ricky Superstar was beaming as he rolled and twirled the basketballs.
“We pass with smiles,” he said, as the beautiful basketball was about to hit the court. “Smiles are getting better, because the epidemic has receded.”
His first name is Ricardo Verona. Born “around the corner of Apollo”; He’s been coming to Rucker Park since the 1970s; He swims four times a week. He turns 62 in September. “I feel energized now,” he said. “People feel like, yeah!”
Faeq Al-Nabulsi, owner of Al-Sham Sweets and Pastries, was selling baklava and biscuits for pounds on Wednesday on Steinway Street in Astoria. But the work was inconsistent.
“Last year was better than this year, so far,” said Mr. Nabulsi. “Now, people are more careful” with their spending, he said.
The store has been open for 12 years. Mr. Nabulsi, 53, originally from Jordan, recently raised his prices, as the cost of components and supplies – boxes and bags – have soared. He said he doesn’t charge as much as it costs him, which hurt his earnings.
“But that’s fine. What are you going to do?”
On 35th Street and Astoria Street, 19-year-old Tasneem Shawkat was walking home to East Elmhurst from a doctor’s appointment in Astoria, which would take about an hour. “It’s a long walk home, but it’s nice,” She said. But walking at night is a different story. “I don’t know if it was because of what I was hearing, but I definitely feel less safe,” she said.
On a side street in Flushing, the descent of a series of stairs, bright lights and squishy colorful stuffed animals in Anime Claw have attracted fans of Asian animation and video games. Vivian Hsieh, 25, who works at the store and loves “anything delicate,” said people just come to take pictures with a plush wall.
Despite the cheery interior, Michael Shaw, 29, who runs the store, said there had been a “security issue” recently in the neighborhood. “A robbery, a simple robbery, something like that.” He said he could also tell us that some customers were feeling financially stressed, but that the store offers convenience and entertainment: “We make people smile.”
“Things are back to normal a little bit.”
As P-Funk and The Temptations cheered from the speakers on Thursday afternoon, a group of customers gathered inside the Royal Rib House on Malcolm X Boulevard in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, ordering fried chicken, mac and cheese and, of course, ribs.
Jason Barnett, 45, who runs the restaurant now that his parents gave him the torch, has lived in Bed-Stuy for more than 25 years. “Every day I see more and more people coming out,” he said. “People are just happy to get out, and things are getting back to normal a little bit.”
Cree Flornoy, 31, who started visiting the Royal Rib House as a child, was taking an order for her mom: “She got me some ribs and another type of rib with collard greens,” she said. Ms Flournoy described the mood in the city as “hopeful”. “I think we’re all trying to, like, come back to life and do all the things we used to do, go to places we used to go — and have fun. “
Across town in Bushwick, Luzclarita Velez, 25, and Marcella Jordan, 21, played a game of tractor with their dog, Biscuits, at the dog race at Maria Hernandez Park. Ms. Velez said the town seemed “quiet”, but it made her think of all kinds of possibilities. Perhaps you will transition from studying criminal justice to becoming an emergency medical technician. Maybe you’ll go to Puerto Rico, and Disney World. “Like, you only have one life,” she said. Immediately and more locally, you’ll love going to the rooftop restaurant. “I’ve lived here all my life,” she said, and yet there were so many things she’d never do. “I want to explore more of the city.”
“They are ready to go out and live their lives.”
On the Staten Island Ferry Friday, crowds swept starboard, taking selfies as the boat sailed near the Statue of Liberty, which stood against a deep blue sky.
In the St. George neighborhood, Kia Kelly sat outside of Sherry’s Kitchen, a Bay Street soul food restaurant. “I’m actually from Brooklyn,” she said, and laughed as she described how her neighborhood, Brooklyn Junction, had returned to normal: “Normal, back to the ghetto, back to the controversy, dollar truck — nothing happened. But just, you see people wearing masks “.
Mrs. Kelly’s wife, Shani Lewis, 34, now runs Sherry’s Kitchen. Lewis’s mother, Sheris Lewis Clinton, who founded the restaurant, passed away earlier this year. She was known for providing free meals to the needy. Mrs. Lewis keeps her mother’s recipes alive and spirited: “We feed the homeless. I keep up with it.”
I got ready to fry some fish. Beautiful, sweet-smelling red buns sat on the stove waiting to be frozen. But prices have to change, she said. “Let me tell you. Oxtails? For $200,” You will get like a small bag. It used to be $100 for two large bags. “
Down the street on the top floor of the Empire Outlets, a frosé machine was flapping behind the bar in Clinton Hall beer garden. A little girl threw bean bags while lazy bees were flying around the beehives in the garden at the back of the roof.
General Manager, Jason Prisca, said people are really excited to be back again: “The last year has been kind of like Small Steps.” Mr. Prisca, who, when asked his age, replied “old enough,” commutes from Brooklyn to work and notices the difference: “Staten Islanders, they are a different breed. They’re ready to go out and live their lives.” And for him, personally, “I think the pandemic has really taught me gratitude — an appreciation for being around other people and being on the outside.”