Monday, December 12, 2022

New York Reborn, Again

Annamaria on Monday

I was in love with New York long before there was an I ❤️ New York campaign.

In fact for me, New York was love at first sight.  I was 10 when my mother and father took me and my older brother from New Jersey to New York to see the Easter show at Radio City Music Hall. The experience was so intensely wonderful that I still remember what I was wearing at the time: my new Easter coat and a little straw hat. I even had a tiny purse of my own, which I carried with two hands before me.

Until then, the most impressive building I had ever been in was the Our Lady of Lourdes Church on River Street in Paterson New Jersey. The photos above capture my first WOW experience, exciting entertainment in an Art Deco masterpiece.  After the show, Rockettes and all, we went to Lindy's for cheesecake. Then, walking down Broadway toward the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the bus home, I was next to my mother.  I said to her, "Mommy, when I grow up, I'm going to live here." She patted my little straw hat, and said, "That's nice." When I remember that experience as an adult, I imagine that my mother thought my declaration childish. And I guess it was. Sort of. As a matter of established fact, however, I had given my little red heart to New York, and I have never taken it back.

My first job out of college was at the Equitable Life Assurance Society on Sixth Avenue. I commuted from my parents' house in Hawthorne, New Jersey, which meant that I took a train to Hoboken, the Path train to 23rd St., and the F train to
Sixth Avenue and 50th St.  I did the reverse on the way home. Within a year, I was in love with a native New Yorker, someone – tall, dark, and handsome – who knew New York as I wanted to know it. When we were married in the Lady Chapel in St. Patrick's Cathedral, I was on my way to becoming a New York woman. 

New York and I have been through a lot together, including the breakup of that marriage.  But my enthusiasm for the city of my dreams has never flagged.  Both I and my city have endured many trials and tribulations. I did not know when I first moved in that it had already survived quite a few announcements of its imminent demise, most notably after the stock market crashes of 1893 and 1929.

Not long after I planted myself here, I witnessed my first-hand announcements of New York's coming death.  In the 1970s!  New York was known as "Fear City" or "Stink City" and roundly despised nation-wide.  A fiscal crisis had put NYC on the brink.  Inflation was 16 to 18%.  Concomitant cuts in education, police, and fire departments led to warnings that New York was going over the cliff. Even Jimmy Breslin, the quintessential New York columnist wrote a piece for the Herald Tribune stating that one day in the future people in automobiles driving on the New Jersey Turnpike would look to their east, and say "there used to be a great city there."

In October of 1975, New York appealed to the Federal Government to guarantee its bonds to keep it from declaring bankruptcy.  Despite the fact that tons more in federal taxes were being collected in New York than ever came back to it in federal programs, President Gerald Ford famously told New York to "drop dead." New Yorkers attitude was, succinctly put in New Yorkese, "Oh, yeah?"  The union leaders turned around and bought the bonds with their pension money.  New York came roaring back.  The unions made money by betting on NYC! The  I ❤️ New York campaign announced and enhanced that come back!

The beat went on.

Terrorists tried to bring the city, a symbol all over the world of freedom and diversity, to its knees on 9/11.  We built a new World Trade Center that can withstand being hit by a jumbo jet.  It sticks up from among the shorter buildings of the financial district like a single raised finger telling potential assassins, in classic New York style, to fuck off.

The financial debacle of 2008-2009 gave the naysayers another excuse to write New York's obituary.  Yeah?  Not really.

Then 2020 hit us hard.  NYC became the epicenter of the pandemic, with refrigerated trucks in the parking lots of our hospitals because there was no room in the morgues for the dead.  That June, not having had a haircut in five months, I walked the two and a half miles to the newly reopened salon.  My route took me through Times Square.  When I got there at 11AM, I stood on the east side of Broadway between 44th Street and 45th Street, with my back to a building.  I looked around -180 degrees!  There was not one other person in sight - not a dog walker, not a cop, not a vendor.  Nobody.  Not a single soul in Times Square but me.  It felt like being in a post-apocalyptic movie.   And people were writing and publishing long treatises  on why Covid was different from all other NYC disasters.  The office buildings would stay empty because people could move to Raleigh and with the right bandwidth and a Zoom account keep their jobs.  The world according to Covid was the new normal.  Crowded theaters and restaurants were a thing of the past, forever.   There would be no need anymore for New York.

Guess what!


  1. Thanks for the perspective! It sounds a bit like something Mark Twain might have said...

  2. So right, Michael. And as in the premature announcements of Mark Twain's demise, the most recents ones of New York's were picked up by other media. In researching this, I found a long, long one, packed with evidence, that started as a blog and was republished in a newspaper and a magazine. In Twain's case, the announcement was premature news of an event that, alas, actually happened. Perhaps NYC will disappear one day, as Troy did. But then there is the story of Rome. It was once governed by Caligula. But it is still going strong!

  3. Queue Billy Joel from 1976:

    Seen the lights go out on Broadway
    I saw the Empire State laid low
    And life went on beyond the palisades
    They all bought Cadillacs
    And left there long ago

    They held a concert out in Brooklyn
    To watch the island bridges blow
    They turned our power down
    And drove us underground
    But we went right on with the show

    1. The Boss knows, EvKa - going right on with the show is what NYRs do. Any alternative doesn't even occur to us.

  4. I love this piece. Growing up far away from America, "New York" is what always came to mind when I heard "America".

    1. Thank you so much, Ovidia. On my way to Singapore years ago, I stayed on the plane during a layover in Hong Kong, where most of the onward passengers got off. A man who came on to tidy up the plane asked me where I was from. When I said "New York," he immediately exclaimed, "The capital of the world." It is not arrogance for a New Yorker to agree. We know it is true because NYC is the only place on the globe where the whole world is represented among its inhabitants. Five hundred languages are spoken just in the borough of Queens. Even more important, all a person has to do to declare himself a New Yorker is move in. People who come here to live are automatically one of us.

  5. I enjoyed this post so much. When I was in my late teens I lived in New York (Manhattan) for two years. Even though it's been decades since I was there, and even though, at heart, I'm a California gal, the atmosphere of NYC still resonates with me. My husband and I live in Braga, Portugal, now, which we love, but NYC still has a special place in my heart. Loved your post. Also, I just ordered your book.

    1. Wow! Thank you so much for your kind words, Elizabeth. I guess I should say obrigada! I am so happy to have brought out the New Yorker in you. I hope you enjoy the book!!!

  6. Great post, Sis. And I think you're still adorable in your straw hat.