CORONAVIRUS

Listen — If New York Is 'Over' For You, Please Leave

The last thing this magical city or its incredible citizens needs right now is snide commentary from people who fled when things got tough.

There’s a scene in one of the final episodes of “Sex and the City’s” six season run where Carrie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Petrovsky (that relationship is a plot line critique we’ll save for another day) are at a party also attended by Carrie’s former friend and washed-up socialite Lexi Featherston, played by Kristen Johnston.

After doing cocaine in the bathroom and being asked to not smoke inside the apartment ― Featherston declares that New York is no longer fun. It’s “Over. O-V-E-R. Over.”

She then plummets out the window to her death, paving the way for that big post-funeral fight between Carrie and Miranda in which Carrie argues, and I paraphrase, that she could stay in New York and write about her life or go to Paris and live her damn life! But I digress.

That scene has been permeating my now-typical pandemic-centric anxieties recently thanks to a collection of similarly themed tweets I keep seeing about New York City and its being “over” for a completely different reason. “New Yorkers,” who fled the city in March when COVID-19 lockdowns went into place, have taken to sounding off on the state they’ve found it in upon their return. Some of the thousands who say they’ll never return spoke out in a June New York Times article about leaving the city amid protests against police brutality. 

These people are not wrong to say that New York City ― like many other cities around the world ― is having a tough time right now. There’s the expired moratorium on evictions, the devastating toll COVID-19 has had on our homeless population, the mental health implications associated with the pandemic, the disturbing rate at which businesses, many Black-owned, are either shuttered or at risk of shuttering, the uncertain future of its gay bars, the ravaged restaurant industry and the staggering unemployment rates, not to mention the unthinkable and disastrous consequences of all of the above. 

So no, New York isn’t the New York many people with the means to do so abandoned six months ago. But you don’t get to flee the city, come back to the city when it’s convenient or necessary, and make a declaration about how disappointed you are with the city. You come back to the city and be thankful it’s still here ― and it lets you in ― at all. 

I spent 10 days in a rental house in July. I spend a few hours per week window-shopping for Airbnb homes in the tristate area I’d like to spend a weekend in. I am not immune to urges to flee, and I am not even remotely close to being one of the many people most impacted by the pandemic. And, when you consider that our government leadership lacks a certain faith-instilling commitment to ensuring a brighter future for the city (this New York Times piece spells it out pretty clearly), the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness are staggering.  

But every day for the last six months I have gotten to wake up in New York City. I’ve gotten to support local businesses that hustled their asses off to pivot to the realities of the situation we are all now facing. I bought groceries from local restaurants and chatted with my neighbors (from a distance). I went to the park; I drank to-go cocktails; I biked. I walked. I spent time with and supporting my community. No matter what the pandemic has done, New York City’s heart is here and it’s beating bigger than ever before. That’s not something we should take for granted.

I’ve been thinking a lot about about chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s heartbreaking New York Times piece written during the “Tiger King” era of lockdown (I think), when this nightmare was just beginning and none of us knew we’d still be grappling with it five months later. In the essay, which you should read if you have not, Hamilton wonders if there is still a place for her iconic New York City restaurant Prune anymore ― and maybe, tragically, there won’t be. There are surely some things New York will never be again. More people will lose their jobs and their homes. More people will need help from the government, their families, their friends, their neighbors. 

It’s devastating and scary and it’s not just happening in New York City, it’s happening all over the country, all over the world. I don’t know what anyone else who is tweeting about New York being “over” has had to contend with, overcome or grieve during the first half of this year, but I do know what a massive privilege it is to get to flee in the first place ― and, still, it’s a privilege I won’t judge anyone for. You do you ― and if that means leaving our city (and having the means to do it), cool.

What I will judge people for is having the gall to return back to our ― not their ― city and disrespect not only it, but the many incredible people who live here and refuse to ever give up on it. And I couldn’t help but wonder (see what I did there?), shouldn’t we be spending less time sending snide tweets and more time concentrating on how we can support this city and be our best to it ― and each other?

If your version of that is “over” after spending one day here, maybe you never really belonged here in the first place. 


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