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.

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.

Coronavirus in New York City

Image of old Independent Subway Downtown-East Side-Brooklyn tile sign at 6th Ave L/PATH station in Manhattan.

Reactions to the threat of coronavirus in New York City seem to vary by neighborhood. Out on the street where I live (the Bronx), you would hardly notice that anything different is going on.

No one is wearing masks. No one is keeping their distance. No one is doing the “wuhan shake”. No one is panic buying toilet paper or cleaning supplies. I don’t know if that has to do with ethnic background or socioeconomic class. Maybe just a culture of not panicking when it doesn’t seem like there’s a reason to panic yet. That’s an interesting idea. Are certain ethnic groups more likely to buy in to Armageddon panic buying than others?

Anyway, don’t take this the wrong way, but maybe coronavirus is doing some good too. Of course it’s horrible that people are dying, but it’s illuminating some issues and making people do things they should have been doing already. It lowered pollution in China. It’s got the MTA actually cleaning trains every 72 hours. God knows how long they were going between cleanings before that. The MTA is cleaning train stations more regularly too. The mall in Jersey City almost reeked of cleaning fluid. And now it’s got people apparently finally cleaning their homes and their hands, given the shortage of soap and hand sanitizer in stores.

Or at least they’re pretending to. I do see a lot of dudes not washing their hands in public bathrooms still. Or just wetting their fingers with water, then wiping their hands on their dirty pants and walking out, like that accomplishes anything. They probably went right out and started putting their dick-fingers on items on the shelves.

Anyway, I was in Jersey City earlier today and both there and on the way back to my Mom’s place in Manhattan I noticed a lot of people wearing masks. I saw some people wearing latex or other types of gloves too. No gas masks or full on respirators, though. It was mostly Asians. I think they’re used to wearing masks because it’s something that’s already common in Asian culture. But I did see a few white people wearing masks too.

I was pretty disappointed that I forgot my mask. I was around a lot of people today in buses and trains. With the number of diagnosed cases jumping so high so quickly in New York City and New York State, I’m going to be worried for a while now.

I wish coronavirus would make wearing masks to prevent getting or spreading illnesses more of a thing in the US. I know health professionals are saying that they don’t work and you shouldn’t wear them if you’re healthy, but I don’t believe that. If that were true, health professionals wouldn’t wear masks either. I’m certain they’re not foolproof, guaranteed protection, but at least they’re something. If viruses are traveling on moisture particles from someone’s nose or mouth, at least they help stop that.

Anyway, the stock market is crashing. The end is nigh. Or at least that’s how it seems from the news. Maybe they’re right. I’ve been wondering how the spread of coronavirus could be stopped in the US considering the political climate and actual limits of government here.

Is it even lawful in this country for the government to forcefully quarantine people? I don’t know. What would that look like? Quarantine camps? Are we going to see trucks spraying weird sanitizing chemicals rolling down Park Avenue? That would be interesting, but considering how poorly the government is doing in even distributing test kits, I can’t imagine them moving on to more aggressive measures like China is undertaking.

Guess I’ll just have to wait and see. If any part of the US turns into a complete disaster from coronavirus, I have complete confidence that it will be New York City. It’s just too dense and poorly managed. But probably nothing serious will happen. Americans have a weird tendency to predict and long for worst case scenarios, like the zombie apocalypse.

Cyling with a GoPro Hero 7 Black

Evening Citibike Ride in New York City

A few weeks ago, my wife and I bought a GoPro Hero 7 Black. We’d been thinking about making the purchase for about a month and finally decided it’s something we’d enjoy having, and it has been kind of fun being able to record most or at least some of our rides. The battery life leaves something to be desired, but we solved that by just buying more batteries and another charger.

Like driving, cycling in New York City was something I said I would never do. Also like driving, cycling is now a regular part of my daily routine. I’ve found that riding a Citibike is easier as the last leg of my commute than waiting on the L train or taking the bus. It’s also faster, which is kind of sad. Maybe that will change when 14th Street is closed to all but bus traffic at the beginning of next year. Who knows? But we’ve also found using Citibikes to be a faster and more enjoyable way to get around Lower Manhattan when we’re out on the weekends. And it’s exciting, and having a camera on your head to record the rides is also fun, especially if something crazy happens.

My wife has used the camera a few times but every time I’ve wanted to over the last two weeks it has either been raining or I just haven’t had time to bother with it. I finally took it for a spin last night. The video looks great on my phone while watching both the local video and the YouTube upload, after it finished encoding at 1440p. It looks like crap on my laptop, but I don’t think it can display 1440p anyway, which is annoying, but that wasn’t why I bought it, I guess.

It’s a nice new toy. I’m thinking about getting another one so we don’t fight over the one we have. I kind of want a Pixelbook too though, so I have a more portable typing device that I can take with me when I’m out of the apartment. Decisions, decisions.

Here’s another video I took in the Union Square train station. It looks clearer, which makes sense given that there’s more light in the station.

The 4 Train Arriving at Union Square

My head wasn’t in the helmet when I recorded this. You’d have to be crazy to lean in that close to a train coming into the station. People get hit by trains every day. Someone died on the platform near where I recorded this a few years ago after they leaned out to check for the train and the train struck their head. That was pretty sad, because it was just a kid.

Traffic Congestion and Reckless Driving in New York City

4-11-2018 Yankee Trails Bus Reckless Driver

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018. W 39th St. & 6th Ave in Manhattan, New York City.

I was traveling straight in the right-hand lane when a Yankee Trails bus (lic. plate 41944-PC, perhaps, the video is sort of blurry) made a right onto 6th Ave from the left-hand lane and cut me off. I had to turn hard to the right to avoid having the bus hit the front of my car and probably rip the front fender off or worse.

This is obviously a violation of traffic laws and is reckless driving. Bus drivers in NYC just don’t seem to care about other vehicles on the road. Even MTA buses often cut people off or swing hard into an adjacent lane without waiting for traffic to clear, running other vehicles into oncoming traffic or causing them to have to slam hard on their brakes.

It’s ridiculous and this type of driving is consistent and constant in New York City. It’s not just the buses, either. A lot of people in personal vehicles drive the same way.

Take this driver, for example:

4-12-2018 Reckless Driver Westend Ave

Every so often, Pix11 or NY1 will post a story on Facebook about traffic congestion and commenters offer a slew of theories and complaints. Those complaints have mostly targetted For-Hire Vehicle services, but I don’t see removing all for-hire vehicles as a legitimate or even reasonable solution.

Are there a lot of For-Hire Vehicles in the city? Yes, because there are a lot of people that need and use them. Do they cause a lot of congestion? Not really. Not compared to traffic accidents caused by people who drive like that Yankee Trails bus driver, or the person on Westend Ave in the second video. Or like all of the double and triple-parked delivery vehicles during the day that bottleneck traffic on main avenues and side streets.

Traffic congestion sucks, but much of that pain is self-inflicted. Legislating that deliveries only occur at night would be a quick fix that would dramatically ease traffic congestion during the day. That lighter traffic would probably lead to less road rage/stupidity, which would lead to fewer accidents.

But, that’s an easy, smart fix for average New Yorkers that doesn’t pander to business interests. It also doesn’t create an opportunity for the city and state government to screw New Yorkers with another tax, which they’re introducing on all for-hire vehicles fares below 96th Street starting in January 2019, supposedly to supplement the MTA’s budget. Being real, it doesn’t make sense to tax an unrelated service to make up budget shortfalls in the MTA. Being more real, that money will probably just line pockets and by summer of 2019 the MTA will be crying for more cash and raising fares again. Is anyone really surprised, though?