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.

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.

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?