I live in the greatest city in the world. At least that’s my opinion. A lot of people like to drag us, but we don’t care, we kind of like it, actually. We know who we are; we know what we are. And now we are the epicenter of the world-killing virus. In Casablanca, asked if he can imagine the Germans occupying New York City Rick says “Well there are certain sections of New York that I wouldn’t suggest you try to invade.” This is as true of viruses as it is of armies.
At the very founding of America, New York City found itself under siege. 32,000 troops in New York Harbor, as it says in the musical “Hamilton.” The Battle of Brooklyn in August of 1776 was the largest engagement of the entire Revolutionary War, but we don’t talk about it a lot because we lost it badly. George Washington was lucky to escape with any army at all.
But the war was won and not long after five forts were built around the harbor to ensure the city would never be invaded again. One of those forts serves as the star shaped base of the Statue of Liberty. Now more than 200 years later the city is once again under siege, not by the Redcoats but by the invisible enemy of the Wuhan virus. Just as in 1776, things have not started very well.
Our mayor Bill de Blasio has been a deer in the headlights, first urging New Yorkers to go about their business as usual and now panic-stricken and pleading with the federal government for help. But Bill de Blasio is not New York City; he is an accidental mistake. And even under competent leadership like that of Rudy Giuliani after 9/11, it is not elected officials that make Gotham resolute, it is her people.
The streets today are quiet and strange, loaded with darkness. We see the flash of figures that tell us hospital beds are running out, and worse? The morgues overrun by victims. It’s not good, but it’s also not something we can’t handle. After the February follies in which too many of us failed to heed the advice of experts we do now toil in a complicated quarantine. We get it now, and we are springing into isolated action.
We are checking in with elderly neighbors, from a safe distance of course. We are mobilizing more hospital beds; we are increasingly buying only what we need, not stockpiling like it’s the end of the world. It would be wrong to say that things feel like a new normal, they don’t. But there is a fighting spirit that is emerging; life always finds a way and all that.
New York City is a place that people come to, some merely for a visit; others fall in love with it and never leave. For those who choose to live here there is a price to pay. Not money, though there is that too, but hustle. You gotta move, you gotta walk fast. New York isn’t easy, and the virus will learn that soon, deadly though it may be, it cannot outhustle New Yorkers.
Is it scary? Yeah, sure. Will it beat us? Not on your sweet life. Someday soon the virus will have run its gauntlet through Gotham and we will be weaker, we will have lost lives, fortunes, jobs, but not the ability to pick ourselves up and be the sparkling Big Apple that we have always been. That you can count on. There isn’t a punch in the world that can keep New York City down.
For now? We endure the strange new reality of loneliness and shutdown sadness. We yearn expectantly for another happy hour in midtown, a ballgame, a rickety ride on the Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island. We will have these things again and with all the more meaning for having momentarily lost them.
It still happens. Every time I’m on train or bus or in a car and the skyline comes into view, it chokes me up a bit; it’s like the first girl you ever kissed. And inside that cage of impossible glass and steel and brick the millions make their lives, even under the haze of pandemic. None of that is going to change even if it feels like nothing will ever be normal again right now. New York City will beat this and will beat it with a smile. And when it’s beaten, we hope everyone will come and visit, because New York City is yours too. It belongs to the world.