By Carol Tannenhauser
I miss the city.
I’m 71 years old and my husband is 75, so we, our dog, and our pre-existing conditions rushed out of Manhattan more than two months ago, urged on by surprisingly insistent younger people. I took a backpack and a shopping bag full of clothes, never dreaming how long we’d be away.
I haven’t spent an entire springtime out of the city in 50 years. More than anything, this crisis has revealed to me the privilege I have in even having this option. My guilt about that could and will fill another story. What this pandemic has hit home for me about economic, social and racial inequity, heroes and leaders, has been transformative. For now, though, lulled by the gentleness and isolation of the country, I’m trying hard just to keep the city alive in my mind, as I’ve done in the past with people I have lost. I think about it constantly: how it is, what will happen to it next, and down the road. My grown children are there. That’s where they were born and raised, and that’s where they chose to stay. For better or worse, New York City is their home — and ours.
I didn’t move to the city in 1970 to further my education, for a job opportunity, or chasing a dream that could only be fulfilled there — unless you count the dream of true love. New York City was supposed to be a few years’ stop after college on the way to the life I was raised to live in the suburbs. We just never left. If pressed for a reason, I’d say it was either that we’re indecisive, or New York City was — and is — the most interesting place we’ve ever been. You can see the whole world on its streets. It suited our sensibilities the way love does: somehow you just know.
We settled and raised our children on the Upper East Side. But it was on the Upper West Side that we found our place. I am an unabashed chauvinist. It doesn’t surprise me, scientifically or metaphorically, that New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic. New York City is the epicenter of the universe, spinning on the axis of Bethesda Fountain, I like to say. And the Upper West Side is its conscience and heart.
I feel it most intensely on Thanksgiving, when the eyes of the world are upon the city and the neighborhood, as they have been lately. Small comfort, I’m sure, to those who stayed and endured the horrors and hardships of the entire coronavirus curve. I’ve read some consider those who fled to be traitors or, worse, not “real” New Yorkers. Damn! I wonder if I’ll be home by Thanksgiving and if there will be a Macy’s parade — or a Macy’s.
It’s crazy! I’m in the middle of an explosion of green and I’m sitting inside trying to conjure up Central Park. The best parts of my pre-pandemic days were spent in the park. Every morning, my dog and I would head there for an off-leash hour.
“Enjoy your walk,” my doorman, Alex, would unfailingly say, smiling. It felt like a blessing.
I miss Alex! And I miss my dog friends, now scattered in many different states. I miss arguing with them about politics, exchanging books, sharing morning moods, enjoying the antics of the dogs.
I even miss the tourists. I love how they stand in front of the Museum of Natural History, their maps unfurled, and ask me where the Museum of Natural History is. I miss Teddy Roosevelt Park, surrounding the museum, the site of so much controversy when they decided to build an addition to the museum. When construction started, the noise of the jackhammers rattled my teeth.
I miss my dentist! What if I lose a crown?
I miss Andy’s Deli, on 80th and Columbus Avenue. I used to show up there every day for my regular order — tuna on rye, well toasted, not too much tuna. Alberto would call it out in Spanish as soon as I stepped over the threshold. I miss Alberto! He never judged me for always ordering the same thing.
A friend in the city informed me that he passed Andy’s and it’s closed.
“So, you’re missing the New York City that existed before and doesn’t exist anymore,” he texted.
Update: Andy’s Deli has reopened!
Update #2: Macy’s has announced it will be reopening its flagship store by the summer!
There’s no question in my mind, New York City will be back — and so will I.
Hurry home, Carol! The UWS will be waiting to welcome you back in all is glory: both familiar and new.
Beautiful piece. We look forward to welcoming you back, Carol, and appreciate your continuing to provide excellent UWS reporting from wherever you’re in exile.
I loved reading this and oddly enough, even still being here in the city I may miss it just as much. We are all in this together!
“New York City is the epicenter of the universe, spinning on the axis of Bethesda Fountain.”
Mind if I steal that line?
The only thing I would add to your great essay is that even New Yorkers still living in the city miss it, what it was pre-pandemic. We are all praying for its speedy return – and yours.
Hope you are right, that any semblance of even the pre-virus shuttered NYC will be back. For those of us who have been cloistered here through the past two + months, it’s hard to imagine.
Andy’s Deli at 74th/Amsterdam has been open again since Monday, 5/18. Signs of life! Great egg and cheese for breakfast the other hand. Only thing is, it’s tight quarters inside, so wait your turn outside. The front door is kept open.
When I read pieces like this I feel glad that I stayed in NYC over the past few months. I too could have gone to a far away second home. But I know I would have been bored to tears and missing New York the whole time.
I continue to take my daily walks, sometimes enjoying them and other times sad at what I am seeing, or not seeing anymore. What I’m seeing now is a city frozen in time waiting to reemerge in a new and cautious form. But it will be back, ready to welcome those residents who left and whose return will help bring life back to this wonderful town.
I must admit being in New York during this shut down has saved my life. Because of my dog I have been in Riverside Park almost every day. As a result of that I got to be apart of spring evolving on a daily basis, the first time on my 74 years I was able to do that and it was magnificent. The Cherry trees, the crab apples were gorgeous and our on a spectacular show. Plus, hundreds of new flowers have been planted all over in the past several years and they beautiful. This has saved me from a deep dive into that black hole of depression.
“doesn’t exist” only applies to this moment, though inevitably some things won’t “anymore” and new things will. Lots to be hopeful for and look forward to, ever the City’s story. In the scheme of things it’s hardly even been that long. The love continues from inside, and the countdown is within reach.
Lovely essay Carol!
Great piece Carol!!! Your writing is so descriptive…. you tell it like it is. I, too, miss NYC as it was prepandemic.
Hoping for a quick return to normalcy.
very touching writing
Really? “New York City is the epicenter of the universe, spinning on the axis of Bethesda Fountain, I like to say. And the Upper West Side is its conscience…” Well written self centered and ridiculous. I love NYC, my family is on the UWS since 1880 but your statement is just terrible elitist drivel!well written drivel.
I love New York the way that I love people. For me, this is exactly the time to be here and nowhere else. It’s been a time to appreciate the rare beautiful things that were always here, although I did not notice them as much because I did not need them as much — as someone else mentioned, our parks are treasures. The New York of any decade was never the New York that we knew before. I’m not afraid of that. Something essential endures even now, I see it and feel it and I will be here to celebrate it with you when you return.
Thank you, Carol, for a piece that really touched me. Beautiful writing.
No shame whatsoever in taking steps to protect yourself but we need you back here as soon as you are comfortable in doing so. The local places like Andy’s need your business and the neighborhood needs your enthusiasm and ingenuity in helping us adapt to the new reality. Hurry back!!
I cannot imagine leaving NYC in a crisis and am extremely glad I stayed. Life is constantly changing. Yes, of course, the coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything any of us have ever experienced in our lifetime–with far-reaching and tragic consequences for so many–but it is still part of a piece in that it is part of the ever-changing fabric of life. NYC and the UWS are my home. Besides the overwhelming love that I have for this epicenter and its residents is the admiration and respect I have for our never-ending adaptability and ingenuity. I have little doubt that what comes next for us will be fascinating in its own right. Tough times don’t only bring tragedy and sadness. They also bring out good in many, and perhaps a modification to our value system. I’ve never felt more connected to my partner, Central Park, the rhythms of my neighborhood and, despite social distancing, my family and friends. You’ve missed something meaningful, Carol, by not being here.
Loved your writing about The Big Apple. I cut my grown up teeth there just out of the UofArizona and worked for Joe Hirshhorn at 277 Park Avenue. Oh how exciting and instrumental it was in forming my social mores. I have lived out here in the Arizona desert for nearly 50 years but still get as anxious as a kid when I board the plane for a visit.
I was out of the city when things shut down & I’m grieving the it everyday. When this started I thought I could return in a few weeks but now all I can do is watch closely and hopefully find my way back to the UWS very, very soon😢 It will be a changed city but I will still love it💛
“Epicenter” is the place on the earth’s surface directly above the focus of an earthquake.
Carol I love your note and essentially a love letter to nyc and the upper west side. We stayed here during the pandemic because I take care of my elder mother and we did not have another place to shelter. We definitely do not resent anyone who left and actually it has made the upper west side much quieter which is necessary during this time. So we thank you for helping us spread out a bit more. Hope that you will get to return soon to a safe and wonderful place!