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A Morning Walk from Pandemic Station to Pandemic Square

Penn Station to Times Square

New York City entered a new phase of the reopening on Monday, but you would never know it from a morning walk in Midtown on the day after. 

At 34th Street and 8th Avenue, an outsize reminder of the public health crisis from Montefiore Medical Center

After running an errand near Penn Station, I decided to take a walk up to Times Square and Broadway before heading home from 59th Street and Columbus Circle. 

34th Street looking east toward the Empire State Building

I wasn’t altogether prepared for the sights and sounds of this time and this place. Like many other New Yorkers, I have rarely left my neighborhood for the past four months. 

8th Avenue at W. 38th Street

After exiting a quiet Penn Station near 8th Avenue and W. 33rd Street at what would normally be the end of rush hour, I found myself suddenly dropped into a city (mostly) bereft of crowds. 

A few commuters near Port Authority and The New York Times building, 8th Avenue and W. 40th Street

Yet, I had been here before. A long time ago, I road my bike a few times through Times Square at dawn on a Sunday morning in summertime, and just a few people were there. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I remember wandering around a brightly lit Times Square near sunset and then looking down the avenue toward Lower Manhattan with its towers dark in the post-storm blackout. On this weekday morning, I didn’t know quite what to expect. 

7th Avenue at W. 41st Street

Before I left the apartment and the ride on the A train, I read an essay in The New York Times about the city’s economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic - “A Million Jobs Lost: A ‘Heart Attack’ for the N.Y.C. Economy” by Patrick McGeehan, July 7, 2020. The article details the emotional jolt of unemployment and fear of permanent job loss, especially in the tourist and hospitality industry. Add to this the loss of live theater on Broadway until January, and a visit to Times Square can unleash a mix of emotions, including remembrances of times past. 

7th Avenue and W. 42nd Street

Remember when the area was actually raunchy, titillating, and seductive? This Times Square is clean as a whistle, part of a story involving Rudy Giuliani and the Walt Disney Company. And when I say clean, I mean also, “Look at these sidewalks and gutters!” 

Times Square, Tuesday morning

The area was not totally abandoned on this morning, as construction workers and city utility workers were on the job. Obviously, the sanitation workers had been making several passes overnight and into the early hours of the morning. The nighttime in Times Square has a different atmosphere, and of late, the streets are often filled with protests against police violence.

Pedestrian Flow Zone. Keep Moving. Nothing to See Here.

This morning, I saw a young mother and son taking pictures of kid-friendly things like the marquee signs for The Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre. A couple of panhandlers were about, stationary on their corners as a few solitary runners zoomed by. 

W. 45th Street, Times Square

Most everyone wore masks, though, and most adhered to the physical distancing signage, clever in this normally musical part of town. At the time of this writing, a Twitter debate erupted about the worst places in NYC. Times Square was on a lot of lists, but I wondered if many people are still operating on memories or associations from the pre-pandemic New York. If so, and if the recovery takes years, then we may see a different city emerge than the one that’s still stuck in people’s heads. It’s already happening.   

Times Square in the age of coronavirus is still "pretty and witty."

For most of the pandemic crisis, I have taken to wandering in an old growth forest uptown for safe and solitary exercise. So, it was something of a jolt, too, to not only see an urban landscape without many pedestrians on a weekday morning but to be reminded once again that there is so little Nature here.    

Father Duffy Square, Times Square

In the primeval days on the island of Mannahatta, people were naturally drawn to the area of what would become Times Square because small rivers converged there. I assume those gathered would stay for a time and enjoy the waters. Four hundred years later, the “pedestrian flow zones” encourage a swift passage, implemented in 2016 to discourage mingling with topless women and aggressive characters in costume. 

Hope sculpture by Robert Indiana, corner of W. 53rd Street and 7th Avenue

When the city went on pause orders, it felt like like the whole world stopped. So, this is a glimpse of Times Square and nearby places, normally flowing, but now in a freeze frame, frozen in a strange moment of summertime.

"Whisper of how I'm yearning to mingle with the old time throng;
Give my regards to old Broadway and say that I'll be there ere long."
- by George M. Cohan for his musical play Little Johnny Jones. 1904. 

Images from Tuesday morning, July 7, 2020 from 8:53 am to 9:54 am. Click to expand.  







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