The toilet paper drought is finally hitting the Bronx

Since this COVID-19 thing started in New York City, people have been panic buying. One dude buying 20 jars of spaghetti sauce, every shelf in the store is now empty, kind of panic buying. Or at least, that’s how it was down in Manhattan near my mom’s place.

At the two grocery stores near our apartment in the Bronx, everything has been pretty regular in terms of availability. For a few days, the grocery stores were out of ginger. The liquid hand soap was gone from one of two grocery stores for a week. The TP was gone for a few days, but then was restocked. Now, one grocery store has TP and the other doesn’t.

It doesn’t seem like a hoarding issue so much as a supply issue at this point. In the last month, people bought three or more months worth the toilet paper instead of what they would normally buy, so there’s just a shortage coming out of the factories. A self-fulfilling TP shortage.

The food shelves were never totally emptied here. I can tell sales are good though, because I haven’t seen a damn thing on sale at Key Foods for two weeks. I’d like to go to Walmart in NJ, but with the way people are talking, I’m not sure there’d be anything there to buy. Or maybe there’s a line? Or maybe it’s going to be full of people passing the virus around to each other?

I get why people hoard now, though. When they first started, I didn’t understand it. It looked like people were just being stupid, but I’ve been thinking about it and I realized that some people must literally have bought enough so they could go in their house and not come out for weeks or months, because they have the money for it and a job that allows them to work from home. And, given that almost 300 people are dying a day in New York City right now, maybe that was the right move after all. The more you limit your exposure, the more likely you are to not die in the next few months.

Not dying due to exposure to the pandemic has become a class privilege. Just like Cuomo freezing mortgages but not rents. Apparently, renters are supposed to magically pull rent out of their butts even if they haven’t been working, but home owners have to be protected. Even though they’re in the minority.

It doesn’t seem like people in this part of the Bronx are as prone to hoarding as people in other neighborhoods. We’ve discussed whether it’s because of culture, not recognizing the seriousness of the pandemic, or because people in this area just can’t afford to buy multiple weeks or months of groceries all at once in advance. Maybe it’s a bit of all three.

Only the off-brand stuff is left.

Anyway, the shelves are finally starting to look a little bare in the TP section now. Paper towels too. We still bought the same was what we’d normally buy. We have actual towels that we can use instead of paper towels and if we run out of TP, we can wash our butts in the shower.

So, totally not worried about that.

Coronavirus Journal: Day 25 – #coronavirusUSA mascot?

So, I was sitting at the dinner table, trying to get some remote work done and I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye, out the window. I looked over and saw a black bird, a crow, standing on the antennae of the neighboring building.

Ok. Great. A crow. I felt like it fit really well with the current mood in the city and the country. We are the new Italy. We are the new global epicenter of death and coronavirus related destruction, so a crow seemed really appropriate. Hell, the scientific name for a crow is even “corvus”. Coronavirus.

But then he turned and looked at me and I realized the fucker was holding half a hotdog in his beak.

He hopped around, turning this way and that, as if he was gloating over his prize. He must have realized I was watching him because he stopped and starting eyeballing me. He tipped his head back and forth and then decided to move to safer ground, just in case I felt inclined to go out the window after him to challenge him for his hotdog.

The crow turning and preparing to take flight, like the number of coronavirus related deaths in the US.

The fact that the crow was holding half a hotdog in his beak just made the imagery better for me. Here was a representation of death holding a hotdog and chilling outside, the American coronavirus mascot.

I could almost hear him screaming, “HOLD MY BEER! USA! USA! WhooooooOOOooo!” as he flew up and away, out of our control.

Looks like business as usual in New York City

A crowd outside Best Buy on 86th Street in Manhattan, NYC

You look at what Governor Cuomo is saying, and especially Mayor De Blasio, and you’d think that death is literally stalking the streets, as if it would be like this if you went outside:

But instead, it’s almost like nothing is going on at all. I think people are mostly not traveling out of their neighborhoods if they can, especially on the trains, but people are out on the streets in force, especially now that it’s the weekend.

Heading downtown yesterday to 86th Street, the train actually felt crowded for 1:30 PM. On the way home, the platform was mostly empty, but the uptown 4 was standing room only when it arrived. It definitely wasn’t as crowded as it normally is at 2:50 PM, but it was still shoulder-to-shoulder.

The uptown 4 train platform at 86th street on 3/20/2020, almost completely empty of people
The uptown 4 train platform at 86th street on Friday afternoon 3/20/2020, almost completely empty of people

I think this says a lot about neighborhoods and socio-economics in New York City. People from the Bronx have to take the trains because most people from the Bronx don’t have jobs that they can do from home. You don’t see a lot of people getting on the train at 86th Street because most of the people that live in that area are able to stay home and/or work from home.

Proving the point, the train heading out of the Bronx this afternoon (Saturday) was almost empty.

An empty 4 train today 3/21/2020
An empty 4 train on Saturday afternoon, 3/21/2020. Photo credit: Marie Farless

86th Street and Central Park are are both packed, though. My wife couldn’t believe how many people are out. She said it looks like a regular weekend, as if nothing is going on.

A large crowd of people jogging and walking in Central Park today, 3/21/2020
A large crowd of people jogging and walking in Central Park today, 3/21/2020. Photo credit: Marie Farless
People in Central Park today, Saturday 3/21/2020. Photo credit: Marie Farless

You’d think most people would be at home or at least keeping their distance from each other, but they’re all bunched up in crowds.

I look at these people and think to myself, they’re out there huffing and puffing and blasting viruses into the air and then the next person is going to run through that. I read that coronavirus can hang around in the air for 3 hours, so if you’re running behind someone carrying the virus, you’re probably screwed, especially if there’s no breeze, but you won’t know it for about two weeks and in the meantime you’ll be infecting everyone you know and come in contact with.

Anyway, based on what Cuomo was saying today, everything except essential services will be shut down as of 8 PM Sunday night. I wonder if that means restaurants too? No more take-out? No more delivery? No more runs to the liquor store?

Plastic shielding and a sign at the entrance of a liquor shop requiring customers to remain outside
A liqour shop on Ave B and 14th Street in Manhattan, NYC with plastic sheeting and a table at the front door, creating a makeshift take-out window.

I wonder if that will push more people into panic buying at grocery stores today and tomorrow? And if more people will be congregating in parks afterwards?

A little history of Central Park…

Anyway, this situation with Central Park reminds me of when and why the park was originally built. In 1850, wealthy merchants and landowners argued that they needed somewhere to go for scenic carriage rides in the city. Another argument they presented to justify the expense of creating the park was that it would give working class people a healthy alternative to going to the saloons and hanging around in the streets.

Before Central Park was built, people just had nowhere to go besides their ratty tenements, the streets, or the bars. Battery Park didn’t exist at the time. Neither did the paths along the rivers. Those were all shipping docks and commercial areas, or simply didn’t exist because the land reclamation hadn’t been done yet.

Central Park probably didn’t work out that well for working class people back in the day because working class people wouldn’t have been able to afford the transit cost to get to there. Travel was harder and more expensive compared to wages at the time.

Everything is getting shut down

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic, people have nowhere to go because the “saloons” and other restaurants are closed so they’re finally gathering in Central Park and probably other parks across the city. After Sunday, even more businesses are going to be closed so that’s even more people with time on their hands and maybe heading to the park. I imagine it won’t be too much longer before Central Park is closed too.

We started out with gatherings limited to 500, then 50, then 10, and now you can’t even have a 5 person game of basketball according to Cuomo. De Blasio is calling for the military to be brought in. It looks like they’re pushing for martial law and De Blasio has been fighting to restrict people to their homes since last week.

I get that COVID-19 is serious, but it seems like the response they’re demanding is exaggerated. With about 45,000 tests done, New York City has found about 6,200 people that already have the virus. That doesn’t really tell us much about how rapidly the virus is spreading in the city because the testing is still trying to catch up to the actual number of people that are already infected. But let’s say there are 10,000 cases in New York City. That’s about 0.12% of the city’s population of ~8.4 million.

I suppose they’re trying to prevent New York from winding up like Italy, but if the bar is so low, I wonder what’s going to count in terms of successfully overcoming the current situation. What I mean is, how few people have to have the virus before we can all get back to our regular lives?

And, more importantly, how are the state and federal governments going to overcome the economic hurdle they’re creating?

De Blasio, Cuomo, and the Federal Government need to figure out what they’re going to do when this situation drags on for weeks and months. People really aren’t going to be able to pay their bills. Putting a moratorium on evictions/utility cutoffs/etc. doesn’t even help, because once the moratorium is up, the evictions and cutoffs will start. You can’t expect people to suddenly have money after 3 months of not working just because the virus is gone and you declare the moratorium to be over. This situation is going to turn into a disaster. And maybe even sooner than 3 months if people run out of money to buy food.

A little more corona madness

C-Town Storefront on Avenue C

I was downtown in the East Village this afternoon. I was a little excited to see what was happening down there. I also had to get a power cable we need for a work monitor and I wanted to drop some stuff off at my Mom’s place.

I keep going outside with this expectation that the city is going to look completely deserted, like it did in downtown Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy. It was creepy as hell at night back then because there was no power downtown. We had to use flashlights to get around and one night, it looked like my wife and I were the only two people on 14th Street for two blocks in either direction.

Today, though, you wouldn’t think anything out of the ordinary was going on. It just looked like a typical afternoon. Maybe a Sunday afternoon instead of a Tuesday afternoon, though. And there was noticeably less traffic on the road for a weekday. But there were plenty of people out and about and only a few of them were wearing masks.

I wore an N95 mask while outside today. It was kind of nice because people gave me a lot of extra space on the train bench, platforms, buses and on the street, just in case I was sick I guess. I might keep wearing an N95 mask for a while after this thing dies down!

It’s hard to reconcile what I’m seeing on the street with what I’m hearing in the news about Italy. Who knows how bad this will all get here, though? I read that cases of corona virus more than doubled to over 1200 between last night and this morning. I doubt things have even come close to peaking in terms of the virus running its course.

I went with my Mom over to C-Town on Avenue C. I think she asked me to come with her just in case the crowds were more than she could handle on her own. It wasn’t too bad when we got there but it’s like the crowd followed us.

The near-empty bread shelves at C-Town

The shelves were just about wiped out of pasta, fresh cut meat, bread, tortillas, canned soup, and some varieties of cooking and olive oils.

The tortillas were wiped out at C-Town

I still can’t understand what the hell people are thinking down there. I didn’t bother to check to see if they had liquid hand soap or toilet paper. We don’t need any.

Toilet paper and paper towels at Key Foods in the Bronx
Hand soap at Key Foods in the Bronx

In the Bronx, by contrast, the stores are still relatively well stocked. The shelves at my two local groceries were empty of bottled water and some hand soaps, but there is plenty of toilet paper, paper towels, and more importantly fresh fruits and vegetables.

Plenty of tortillas available at Key Foods in the Bronx too

I’m a little curious to know how this is all going to play out. I mean, Trump is saying this corona virus situation is going to continue through July or August. New York City is limiting gatherings to 50 or less and pretty much all venues are closed. Restaurants are limited to take out and delivery. Gyms are closed.

Can businesses afford to be closed until August? Can people who work in the service industry afford to be out of a job for 5 months?

I saw on Twitter than the government is talking about dropping some cash on the masses, but the figure they’re throwing around is $1000.00. For a large portion of the country that might be ok if the situation only lasts 2 weeks. In New York City that isn’t even rent, even in the bad parts of town. It certainly isn’t going to do anything to help people who suffer from underemployment or unemployment for 5 months.

Not that I’m surprised, but with the economic situation this dire, most people are losing their minds because Trump referred to COVID-19 corona virus as the Chinese Flu. So what? No one cries that the 1918 flu is called Spanish Flu. And we all know it came from China. It doesn’t even matter what it’s called. If people want to be ignorant and abuse Chinese people, they’re going to do it regardless of what you call the virus.

People seem to like getting themselves bogged down in minor battles over ideological purity. They lose the forest for the trees. And I think Trump does this stuff just to troll people. I think he trolls people just like other trolls troll people and for the same reason. Imagine the rush you would get if you could make millions of people have fits over a word choice that isn’t even offensive because it might, maybe, possibly, cause someone to be mean to Chinese people.

I don’t even care. I’m going to ride this out and then I’m going to head to Chinatown and pig out.

BTW, here are some pro-tips for people out panic buying:

  1. You can wash your hands with bar soap
  2. You can wash your butt with water

Corona Virus Update – Bronx, New York City

I went outside today for the first time since Thursday. It was quiet. Unusually quiet. There wasn’t even much traffic on Jerome Avenue, which was strange for that time of day. It was just me, a guy in a mask and gloves in front of the liquor store, and two people begging for money by the train stairs.

I think the bubonic plague could hit New York City and that woman would still be sitting by the subway stairs asking if anyone has a quarter, though. She’s something special.

Antillana on Jerome Ave has toilet paper. It has paper towels. There are plenty of canned goods too. But there’s no bottled water, which I thought was weird because even in China, Italy, and Spain, the hardest hit areas of the world, they never cut off the water. At least, I never heard that they did. I don’t understand the obsession with buying toilet paper either. Toilet paper isn’t going to save anyone from the virus. And you can wash your butt in the shower if you run out of TP.

Antillana was pretty empty. It felt like an ordinary Sunday evening, though the customers seemed a bit edgy. They had everything I was looking for except bananas. Their bananas were there on display but they were all brown and rotten. Not sure why they left them out. I figure even people who are panic buying aren’t going to buy something that’s rotten. Probably.

Key Food up the hill was quite a bit busier than usual, but still not all that crowded. Not like how I expected it to be. I found some nice bananas there. They seemed to be low on red onions, which struck me as strange. I bought a sweet onion. Not because I was panic buying. We’re just low on onions.

I’m not sure what I expected. You’d think the world was ending based on the images of empty store shelves, fights over toilet paper, and all the closures. I got an update while I was out saying that the public schools are going to be closed through the end of April. The libraries are closed too. I had this feeling while I was on the street that at any moment, a zombie horde might show up and start chasing me. I’m not used to seeing the streets that empty.

I guess this is all about “flattening the curve”.

I saw a politician on Twitter saying that all the restaurants and bars in New York City should be ordered closed, but I don’t see that happening. Not unless the city agrees to discount every business a month’s property taxes or reimburse a month’s rent, plus lost income. And the city would have to agree to reimburse all of the employees for lost wages or something.

A lot of people in New York City and, I imagine, the rest of the country, live paycheck to paycheck. That’s probably especially true here where rent is about $1500 a month even in poor neighborhoods.

You close a business for a month and you make a bunch of people homeless or at risk of homelessness. You cause people to default on credit card payments and miss an electric payment or car payment.

Corona virus hasn’t even hit New York City that hard but it’s already emphasizing the wealth disparity that exists and how dangerous it is for the economy as a whole. You can’t hoard wealth at the top if you want to keep making money. Money has to flow through all segments of the society to keep the economy moving. That’s just how it is. Does it matter how many yachts you can buy if your actions tank the country’s economy and your money no longer has value?

Anyway, I’m going to be heading downtown tomorrow. I’m excited to see how things are in Manhattan.