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Riding out the Pandemic in New York City, Part 1: Are You Nuts?

Updated on April 14, 2020
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Claire, an ex-pat Montanan, ardent progressive and former jeweler, covers NYC-based film festivals for "Bright Lights Film Journal."

Stay East, Old Woman

“Come home! You can quarantine in the Mini-Wini.”

Bless my sister—and the tiny trailer in her driveway—but I’m staying put.

My son, stepson and daughter-in-law live in San Diego; my mom, sister and brother are in Montana; my daughter and her husband are Chicagoans, my husband is hunkered down in his Indiana hometown.

I'm in the heart of New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic.

In the past few weeks, I’ve received phone calls, emails, texts and social media messages. The sentiment varies in tone and urgency, but it's bascially, Are you nuts?

I’m stubborn, loyal, and as much as I can be, prepared. Please defer judgement on my sanity, at least for a few paragraphs.

Not the exact trailer in my sister's driveway, but you get the idea.
Not the exact trailer in my sister's driveway, but you get the idea. | Source

Everywhere is Here.

I love this noisy, dirty, joyous, classy, rough-and-tumble town.

I rush past the smell of not-so-fresh fish in Chinatown, eat the best Paper Masala Dosa east of Chennai on Lex and 28th, and I totally get the tone (not the content) of an argument taking place on two sides of the street in Koreatown. There's a guy in Alphabet City who wears a brown leather kilt, rain or shine. It's not unusual to hear eight or nine languages on my long walks to the big library. I buy books from a seven-mile selection at the Strand.

Where else in America could anyone walk a half hour in any direction and be in a different world?

The downside? The mobility, diversity, and density of NYC makes it the perfect place for a pandemic.

New Yorkers Love Mankind ...

Just because I love it here doesn't mean I enjoy "socializing."

Many New Yorkers are, like Montanans, temperamentally suited to solitude. We love the amenities, cuisine and creative energy here. We're culture sluts. Cuisine floozies, intellectual whores.

... Please, do that thing you do. Then let me go ...

Disclaimer: I know NYC beats a lot of people down. If I was struggling financially, this town would be no fun. Housing is pricey here. Taxes are high. Still, if you’re creative and flexible, willing to spend your kids' inheritance in an apartment the size of a Montana master bathroom, life in NYC may be more approachable (and a lot more fun) than you think .

Charlie Brown's friend Linus is a true New Yorker:

If Charles Schulz drew big buildings behind Linus, and a crowd of people willfully ignoring him, he'd have New Yorkers pegged.
If Charles Schulz drew big buildings behind Linus, and a crowd of people willfully ignoring him, he'd have New Yorkers pegged. | Source

Think Twice Before Running for the Hills

News Flash (duh): Covid-19 respects no borders.

It might sound safer to run for the hills, but once you're stuck in rural America, you better appreciate the scenery, because there's a lot of it between rural hospitals.

While you wait and worry for the pandemic to head West, I'm getting great Szechuan delivered to my door, or filling my Instacart with vegan, gluten-free comfort food.

The numbers of dead and afflicted are awful. The workload for our essential employees is unbearable. But New Yorkers are a sensible, patriotic bunch, by and large. We listen to Governor Cuomo. We respect science. We're doing our best.

The backroads might not make the headlines, but they are not immune. This Broadway tragedy, after killer openings in more than a few US cities, is on the road.

"Hang on, Ma."
"Hang on, Ma." | Source

Social Distancing: A Small Sacrifice, Not Real Suffering

I wasn’t in New York City on 9/11. I watched Superstorm Sandy on TV. Perhaps my subconscious wants to demonstrate loyalty by putting myself in harm's way, but that's not why I decided to stay.

I spent 58 years in Montana, and for the last decade I lived there, I flew back and forth to New York City. My husband and I moved to the Midwest -- or, like I told him, "halfway to New York." I never took root in Indiana. I feel pot-bound and spindly in communities that require cars. I don't want to drive five miles for decent street tacos.

The one miscalculation I made is how long I'd have to be apart from my husband. We both wanted to get the bigger apartment into contract, and we're used to being apart for a few weeks at a time. I had hoped we'd be "over the hump" by April 15. Now it looks like I might be here until we close, sometime after June 1.

This is the longest we've been away from each other in 37 years.

Montana will always have a warm place in my heart, but the skyscrapers I see from my eleventh-floor window give me the rush some folks get when they see the Rockies from US 89.

New York City doesn't just "feel like" home. New York City IS home.

I understand, despite my precautions, this Montana gal could still catch Covid-19.

When things go "back to normal," it will likely be what Mayor DiBlasio calls "a new normal." Rather than run from that new normal, I'd like to be here to help shape it.

Right now, every day that passes without someone in my far-flung family coming down with Coronavirus, well, it's a good day.

Suffering is always more bearable when someone else is doing it.

Please take care of yourself, your family, friends, and co-workers and companion animals, and try to understand why I have chosen to stay put.

BELOW: Part 2: How to Succeed in Social Distancing without Really Dying.


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