In Wes Craven’s classic The Serpent and the Rainbow the main character yells out the film’s tagline: “Don’t bury me, I’m not dead!!” Today feels like a real life horror movie. New York City, shamed, abused, abandoned and told it’s “over and done” is trying to scream out, “I’m not dead yet!” The truth is, the heart of NYC still beats, and Manhattan is still my town. Here’s why:
Since the pandemic hit, the city that never sleeps has taken a long rest. A place swarmed with crowds has seen a mass exodus. Endless articles about it’s inhabitants fleeing to second, or new homes, and why they’re not returning.
The latest trend isn’t writing about leaving, but opining on how New York City is even dead, and over. One article by a native New Yorker so blasphemous, it elicited a scathing response by none other than Jerry Seinfeld.
I’m also a native, born and bred on the island of Manhattan. I live in Stuyvesant Town, a few blocks from where I grew up, within the very same complex.
From child to adulthood, I’ve seen the city change form many times.
As a girl, I spent Sundays horse back riding on the Upper West side’s at the Claremont Academy. A walk into Central Park on my horse (a sight you’ll never see again), followed by a jaunt to my favorite book store. The long time closed Murder Ink. Capped off with a bagel and lox platter at Barney Greengrass.
In my teenage years, I’d spend Saturdays loitering at the Astor Place Cube and nights at Coney Island High in St. Marks Place. Sometimes I’d head uptown to 50th and 8th to watch movie matinees at the $3 movie theater.
Later, as an adult these special, one of a kind New York City establishments were long gone. Making way for mega stores that until then were reserved for the suburbs. Less than ten years ago, it would take a special trip up to Target on 116th street to spend the day shopping for essentials and largely unnecessary items.
Now, there’s a Target five minutes from my home.
Today, the city once again looks vastly different. Creative outdoor seating lines the sidewalks transforming city streets into something that resembles Europe more than NYC. Shuttered store fronts are everywhere and Broadway remains unrecognizable. It’s dirtier, the effects of sanitation budget cuts. It’s missing the typical summer crowds and yes, a certain vibrancy.
But New York City isn’t just a destination for your amusement. It’s a place that people (still) call home. A living, breathing organism that exists in hidden, unexplored alley ways and cobble stone streets. The way the light hits certain buildings at dusk. It’s a state of mind, and the beauty that exists within it will never disappear, no matter how different it may look.
I spent Labor Day Weekend emerging from my apartment and wandering the city again. Rediscovering streets and neighborhoods I haven’t visited in over seven months.
We went to Madison Square Park, and ate outside at Shake Shack. A pre fall breeze brushed my face while I downed a shroom burger, and a jazz quartet played by the fountain in the background. All around me people were enjoying the perfect city day. What I saw wasn’t the same city I was used to but one that was redefining itself and adjusting to the times.
The next day we explored the West Village. We took pictures of new street art. My husband, a collage artist, has been leaving free art everywhere for people to take. Something that’s been amazing to watch, which never would’ve happened in normal times.
We grabbed a NY slice, and stopped at Dominique Ansel for pumpkin cronuts. It normally would’ve taken hours on an overcrowded line, but instead was a mostly pleasant experience.
Manhattan is still my town, because it shaped me into the person I am today.
It taught me to grow up fast, and be street smart. It’s where my mom taught me about art on weekend museum visits. The place I met my husband. The city where we fell in love between impromptu 2nd dates at Empire State Building and midnight showings of Taxi Driver at the IFC film center.
Settings do look different. Eating inside your favorite restaurant or drinking on a stool in your local bar isn’t possible right now. Gathering with friends is more complicated than we ever could’ve imagined.
But everything I saw last weekend points to a city trying to revive itself despite difficult times, and learning how to readapt.
As Woody Allen said in Manhattan, “New York was his town, and it always would be.” And Manhattan is still my town.
New York has had countless metamorphoses. It will be reborn and reshape itself again, and I’ll be here when it does.