New Yorkers love to tell you that they’re tough.
This, of course, is the city that never sleeps. The cultural, economic, and creative capital of the world. The city that survived 9/11, the blackouts, the 2008 recession, and the now-historic events of the American Revolution and Black Tuesday, among countless others, cemented in the annals of history to comprise the bedrock of this tough identity. This is the city indomitable.
So when I moved here in late-February 2020, on the cusp of an unprecedented global pandemic, I wasn’t worried. Certainly, I was concerned for my health and took the threat of the virus seriously, but I was confident that my new, tough, fellow citizens and I would adjust and find a way to keep the magic going.
But within weeks, I discovered that many friends, friends of friends, and even family were making plans to “get out of the city for a while.” Others had already fled before I could even check-in. In the beginning, it seemed that acquaintances of a certain level of income were the ones getting out of town. You know, that friend who “can work from anywhere,” whose parents own a summer house in Vermont, Maine, or Connecticut. That friend who perhaps lived in one of these neighborhoods. Initially, I was childishly bitter towards these people. I wanted to grab them, shake them vigorously, and bark rhetorical questions and comments at them:
Things get bad and you just leave?
The coronafied version of New York is still much cooler than the coronafied version of wherever you're going!
If you leave, everyone else is gonna leave, and then the city will be less fun and I JUST GOT HERE.
So much for New York toughness!
But as time went on, others without the financial means for a luxurious, extended-respite (masking an outright, semi-permanent escape) seemed to be rethinking their New York-existence as well. A friend from college chose not to renew his lease and is staying with a friend of his until he figures out his long-term plan. My sister bought a one-way ticket to LA and is trying life out there. Others who were furloughed from jobs in event-planning say they don’t plan to renew their lease and are considering new places to live. Some say their departure is temporary, while others are thinking more permanently. It’s as if the virus uncovered issues that had been there all along.
Most of my friends and I are in our early to mid-30’s, “older millennials.” We graduated within a few years of the 2008 financial crisis to a dearth of job opportunities or a low salary that became the first reference point for all subsequent raises. Speaking for myself, and a few others, this the time in our lives where we started to claw our way into a decent standard of living. I noticed that many of my peers, especially those of us who had chosen to live in expensive — yet fun — cities were making big life decisions such as buying property, getting married, having kids, or in my case — finally figuring out a professional trajectory.
And when the pandemic hit, a lot of us got furloughed or outright laid off. Some, like me, have been fortunate enough to keep our jobs, and I assumed the overwhelming majority of that group would stick around. But many are using the pandemic as an opportunity to reevaluate their future at a critical stage of life. This is why I have started to see so-called “deserters” in a new light. If you're in your 30’s and you’ve been caught up in the New York action for a few years, this may be a much-needed, first-time, opportunity for you to take a breath and reconsider the price you pay for all those cutting-edge restaurants, niche theatre productions, funky bars, industrial-hip parks, ethnic neighborhoods, beautiful bridges, illuminated skylines, and the downright exhilarating air that permeates through every inch of the five boroughs of New York City. There is a day-to-day sensory experience that makes you think, “wow, something absolutely incredible could happen to me today,” as you engage in the most mundane ritual, like swiping your subway card on your daily commute.
That is why I moved here in February.
But if I moved here when I was in my 20’s, I could see how maybe that air has gone stale. And how perhaps its stagnance would prompt me to think again: is it worth it?
I have taken the pandemic quite seriously and engaged in all necessary precautions, but I still feel that exhilarating air every day. I’m grateful to say that I’ve adjusted to a coronafied NYC that still does the trick. I’ve been biking and running to all the parks and waterfronts, checking out all the beaches, sipping coffee at all the outdoor cafes, strolling through all the ethnic neighborhoods, and venturing to all the top sunset locales, among other invigorating activities. I believe this is still the city indomitable, and that the pandemic version of it, is better than the pandemic version of anywhere else; it’s the only place I want to be wearing a mask right now.
So yeah, I’d like to think of myself as tough…but I also just got here.