Today marks three years after I left my country to try to live the so-called American Dream, just like thousands of immigrants naively do. I chose moving to New York City because this place stole my heart the very first time I landed at the JFK. Its excessive dimensions, recurring noises, extra energy and limitless possibilities got to me and made me change everything I’ve ever known to chase a more interesting and challenging life. But this city looks so different now…
Having it been hit badly by the COVID-19 pandemic, I didn’t take the train uptown for three long months. Because of the lockdown, I had to stay at home in a Brooklyn basement to save myself from getting sick or spreading the virus to others. Now, some might say things are better, safer, even calmer. I sort of beg to differ.
NEW YORK LOOKS DIFFERENT
I believe the pandemic might have brought some advantages such as pollution and traffic reduction, but Manhattan looks dirty and grim, resembling more the infamous Gotham City than the well-known Big Apple.
Perhaps I was desensitized before but I also noticed more people living on the streets this time around. I was hoping it was just my distorted vision of things until I found this Politico article talking about an increase in homelessness in New York.
Then, something else caught my eyes. Even though my favorite cookies shop remains closed and I received a text message saying that a Brazilian beauty salon wouldn’t reopen at all, I believed these were exceptions. After I finally return to the city, I’m forced to face reality. The Indian eyebrow threading place I used to visit seems to be abandoned and so is the deli next door with a sign hanging on its wall that reads: FOR RENT.
It’s sad to see how New York looks broken down, desolate, sketchy. As if it has become partially a ghost town or been dealing with of the toughest economic crisis in history. Well, as a matter of fact, it’s both.
NEW YORK SMELLS DIFFERENT, TOO.
The subway is busier nowadays if you compare to the beginning of the outbreak. But if you ever have the chance to ride it in the middle of a random afternoon, some stations can be found totally empty. Its quietness leaves room for more perceiving and less complaining.
The tiled walls look cleaner and more charming. But it’s the stuffed air that touched me. New York subway is old, we all know that. The first station was opened to the public in 1904. And boy, now I can smell how ancient it is. Think about visiting an old house that has been turned into a museum. Just like the Montmatre Museum in France. It smells exactly the same. Funny fact: this time I didn’t recognize piss or sweat in the air. More than sniffing old wood or rusty structures, what I inhaled was history and the good old days.
I know things might never be the same after this health disaster we’re all going through. Jobs have been lost, businesses closed doors, people lost loved ones. Still, oh, how I wish I to see the New York tough that Cuomo insists on calling the state and its residents. NYC was built to be lively, busy and resilient. Not drab or deserted. So yes, it will get through this. I know. It just might not be enough to survive the illusion of my three-year-old American Dream.