October 20, 2021

18 months ago: Visiting New York City, the very epicenter of COV$D

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jane Stillwater @ 7:51 pm
Editor’s note:  Here we are, dear reader, about to view a rough draft of Chapter 3 of my proposed book about traveling throughout America during that strange first year of the Great COV$D Pandemic.  “2020: My Year of Living Dangerously During the Lock-Down” is the book’s working title.
PS:  This adventure took place back in the “good old days” when travel was still allowed.  Nobody is allowed to travel hardly anywhere any more.  My next scheduled trip to the Middle East was just cancelled.  Why?  Because of the mean-spirited bureaucratic lock-downs of course — but also because no one there trusts Americans.  Can you blame them?
April 11, 2020:  Holy moley!  I’m leaving for New York City tomorrow morning at the butt-crack of dawn.  New York City — where apparently freezer-morgue trucks line the streets and corpses are being buried in mass graves due to COV$D.  Talk about being a war correspondent?  I’m going to be entering what sounds like a war zone.  This opportunity is just too good to pass up.  Plus airfares and hotel rooms are all super-cheap right now.  Might as well take advantage.
April 12, 2020:  After all this time, is it any surprise that I am the absolute queen of organized packing?  And at exactly 4:45 am, I hauled my suitcase and laptop and purse and box lunch and cup of hot tea out into the dark and damp streets of Berkeley, only to sit on the curb for 27 minutes while waiting for the F bus to San Francisco.

     “Here comes the bus!” I said to myself — because there was absolutely no one else on the streets for a five-block radius for me to say it to.  COV$D-19[84] has shut this entire city down.  There aren’t even cars driving by.  And BART trains won’t even start running until 8:00 am.  Hurray for A.C. Transit!  Hurray for the F bus!  New York City, here I come.  But after I finally got to the transfer point in downtown San Francisco, some desperate and ungainly running after the #396 bus was involved — running down Mission Street in the dark, dragging all that luggage and yelling “Stop!  Oh, please stop!”

     “This isn’t a bus stop, lady,” said the driver but I looked so pathetic that he let me onboard anyway.  And it still isn’t even daylight out yet.  My three-day adventure has officially begun.  Go, me!  No Fear!  Except for the fear of missing a bus.
      You simply can’t believe what happened next.  I was the only person at the TSA security checkpoint.  Let me say it again.  The only one.  Unreal.  And now I’m one of perhaps ten passengers on a plane that should hold over 200 travelers.  How cool is this!  If only it wasn’t so sad.
     And here I am on the airplane, reading a murder-mystery paperback about a private security company that tried to take over America by creating a giant fear incident.  The fictional company’s name was Blackthorn — and guess what?  Eric Prince’s Blackwater company will now take over security for the current COV$D-19[84] fear incident.  I’m speechless.  “Life imitates art.”  The flight attendant also fed us some most excellent granola bars on the plane.  I even got two extra ones all to myself.
     JFK airport was empty.  “A city brought to its knees,” was my first thought.  And of course my next thought was, “Where is the restroom”.  JFK’s airtrain is empty.  Will the subway be empty too?  I’m just about in tears.  I curse the bastards who did this.

     At least the freaking subway had people in it.  And the streets of Manhattan had people walking, conversing and acting normal too — but there was only one hitch.  All of these people were the ultra-poor.  They obviously had no upscale places to go to.  No techie apartments.  No lounging around in jammies and eating high-end pizza on designer couches for them as they ride out the three-week lock-down.  Take-away from all this?  That only the dregs of humanity are now left on the streets  — and that America really has a whole bunch of dregs.  We just don’t notice them until everything else is taken away.  “Cry the beloved country.”  I have tears in my eyes for real this time.

      Holy cow.  I just realized that none of these poorest of the poor will be receiving any of that “stimulus package” relief money either.  That sucks eggs.  $1,200 would have at least bought them each a good meal and a roof over their head for at least one last night, sort of like when a condemned prisoner gets one last meal.
     I don’t have to go over to Bellevue Hospital and look for refrigerator-truck morgues to see the effect of COV$D on New York City.  All I gotta do is look at its streets, any street.
     I love my hotel.  Totally cool!  I’ve got an 18th-floor up-close view of the Empire State Building, winking at me, right outside my window.  And the room itself?  A high-tech modern design, newness and tile and wood and chrome.  Way beyond IKEA.  So I watched cable TV and then went to sleep.  Discovered the Hallmark channel.  Pure schmaltz.  Just what I need.


April 13, 2020:  Perhaps there is something to all this COV$D-19 panic after all.  I just woke up from a horrible dream wherein I’d taken a handful of salt crystals from an old baking soda box, added some peach pits, poured them into an old pressure-cooker, filled the pot with water and waited for it to boil.  So far, so good.  But then things got weird.  Horrid half-dead insects started crawling out of the boiling water, trying to get away.  Repulsive.  I tried again and again to kill their ugly selves, stepping on them with my feet.  Translucent albinos, mutants, creepy-crawly things with pincers and multiple legs.  Gross!
     But, in the dream, I did feel sorry for this one mutant butterfly, painfully trying to crawl out, with one large deformed translucent wing.  But they were all mutants, having been bred from the darkness at the bottom of the salt box.  And there was only one thing I could do in the midst of all this horror — one obvious thing.  I got on the phone and called Mr. Rogers.  And, I’ll be damned, he actually came over, sweater and all.  “Kindness makes everything better,” he said.  Was that the moral of this dream?  Do dreams even have morals?
      It was rather cold last night in my perfect little hotel room 18 stories above New York City.  I’ll ask for another blanket tonight.
2:00 pm:  Holy sheep dookie, what a morning I’ve had.  Well, actually it wasn’t exactly all that exciting — unless you consider that I did it all in a rainstorm with 40-to-50 mile-per-hour winds.
     First I walked down Broadway to Harold Square, then on to Union Square.  And, no, Soho Press wasn’t open.  It’s my favorite publishing house.  Rats.  All I got was a photo of the doorman shooing me away.  “They are all working from home.”  But the Food Emporium was still open so I bought a huge Caesar salad for later and half a rotisserie chicken for now — which I ate while walking down Second Avenue toward B&H Dairy.
     St. Marks Place was shut up tight.  Nothing.  Not even cars parked at the curbs.  Not even the Gem Spa was open.  I street-hiked down to B&H Dairy.  Fingers crossed!  No, nope, it was closed too.  But.  Coming to the Lower East Side without eating rice pudding is a crime against nature so I stopped by a grocery store and bought some “Kozy Shack” rice pudding.  Not as ethnic as B&H but who cares.  This is an emergency!  It was delicious.
      Then over to East 5th Street for even more Remembrance of Things Past.  I used to live here back in 1965 — but don’t remember those stairs being so steep.  Used to pay $28 a month for an apartment with a toilet in the hall and a bathtub in the kitchen-slash-living room.  Now all those rent-controlled apartments have been converted into truly expensive condos.  Sigh.
      At the nearby Ninth Precinct police station, I asked directions to the neighborhood food give-away.  “I used to live next door to you guys 55 years ago,” I told two cops standing in front of the precinct.  They smiled indulgently.
     “You walk down to First Avenue,” said one cop, “then left on 3rd Street for the free lunch.”  And, yes, there it was.  Turkey sandwiches, milk, generic Cheerios and carrots to be exact, being distributed to us plague victims by civic-minded volunteers.  At that point, however, the wind turned my umbrella inside out and it was time to get back to the hotel.  On the bus up First Avenue, I passed several hospitals.  None of them looked busy to me.
     More rain.  More wind.
     Now I’m back home, snug in my little hotel, eating salad and rice pudding and happy as a clam.  Oh, and I also went up in the elevator to the hotel’s rooftop garden on the thirty-second floor to eat there.  No fun at all.  “Terrifying” would be a better word.  A terrific view, sure, but far too much wind and rain.  Yikes.
      The hotel sent me up another blanket, a huge white comforter, so now I’m totally ready to hunker down and shelter in place like the rest of New York City’s elite.  But then I got bored.  Back to hitting the streets.  Getting wet all over again.  Using my little pocket camera to document this once-in-a-million-lifetimes event.
      Went off to visit historic Penn Station and guess what?  “They tore it down way back in the 1960s.”  Oh.  But it was still a nice walk.  Ate more salad and more rice pudding for dinner plus a half-glass of that cheap wine I bought at Walgreens last night.  What to do tomorrow?  I’m thinking perhaps The Cloisters?  Central Park?  That’s gotta still be open, right?  Maybe Bellevue hospital.  If I have time.
April 14, 2020:  And now I’m totally freaked out!  Couldn’t get to sleep.  At all.  The ghost-like quality of New York City still haunts me.  It’s now 4:00 am — and all I want to do is go back to Berkeley!  And not because I’m afraid of catching the coronavirus either.  It’s because of the images of this sad and deserted city — and also because of that creepy 5G.  Or something like that.  I’d brought my electromagnetic measuring-device thingie and it is currently flashing its red lights like crazy and beeping its little heart out.  But whatever is causing all this insomnia, I can feel it deep in my bones.  My ears ache, my body is tense.  I have a headache.  And, no, it’s not COV$D.  Perhaps it might be COV$D-1984 however.  I feel like I’m being slowly microwaved by the fear that electrifies New York City right now.

       In this fugue-like state, I can almost see New York City starting to die.  Soon, slowly but surely, I predict that people will start leaving.  Individually.  One by one.  Thinking of this or that lame excuse to leave.  In four or five years, I predict that NYC will be all but deserted.  The city that never sleeps will become a ghost town.  And it is with all these freaky thoughts running around my brain at 4:00 am in the freaking morning, that the hotel’s fire alarm system goes off!

     Screaming sirens!  Right in my own room!  I’m grabbing my passport, a paperback book, my jacket.  I’m trying to imagine how I’m going to be able to climb down 18 flights of stairs in my nightgown and bunny slippers — and my painfully sore knees.  Trapped in a towering inferno!  I’m panicked.
      I call downstairs to the front desk.  “It’s only a false alarm.”  Literally.  “Sorry about that.”  OMG, I’m still freaked.  A glass of warm milk wouldn’t be out of place here.  Or a homeopathic sleep remedy.  Or even a Valium.  Yikes.  Will I ever get back to sleep?  Do I even want to?  Will I dream about creepy bugs again?  Will it be all their dreams of creepy bugs that will drive New Yorkers away?  The last straw?  And where would they move to?  Sucks to be them.  Hell, it sucks to be me.
     Somehow I managed to go back to sleep around 6:30 am.  It’s now 11:15 am.  I’ve wasted my only morning in New York City where there is actual sunshine.  I’ve got to pee but am too sluggish to get out of bed.  But there is leftover rice pudding in the mini-fridge.  Maybe thoughts and dreams of rice pudding will lure me out of bed.
      Hey, it worked.
      Now let’s watch the news.  “If you can get online, you can apply for your $1,200 supplement too.”  That is, if you can get online and have a real bank account and an actual physical address.  Too bad for the rest of you.
     Hey, I got a plan on how to stay longer in the Big Apple.  I go get tested.  I test positive.  They put me up in a COV$D-designated hotel room.  I get to stay in NYC for 14 more days for free.  I’d do that in a (New York) minute except that I won’t test positive.  But now it’s time to watch a webinar on how to get unemployment payments.  Took me a full half-hour to hook into Zoom.  Voila!  Boring.  But it gave us lots of numbers to call, URLs to investigate and other bureaucratic information.
     But then I made up for lost time.  Harlem!  Central Park!  St. Patrick’s Cathedral!  The #M2 bus!  There were a hundred people standing in line outside of the Harlem Whole Foods — and I was one of them.  And parked alongside of the line was a highly-decorated food truck.  But instead of tacos or hummus, this truck was selling marijuana cookies!  How entrepreneurial is that.
      And I loved Central Park.  And loved the down-and-out streets of Harlem too.  I’m going to miss New York when its manic COV$D, 5G and techie craziness finally turns it into a ghost town.
      There is so much to see here.  I love that the African-American underdogs of 125th Street are still not caving in to discrimination, poverty and despair — to say nothing of the constant pressure from fierce gentrification.  Then there is the obvious contrast between Harlem poverty and the masses of European-American have-it-alls frolicking along the jogging trails of nearby Central Park.  You can’t hate any of them, either Black or White.  They all seem to be enjoying life.  Perhaps that is the human condition after all — and what, in the end, we all have in common.
     Look at me, getting all philosophical.  Am I making the most of my lightning-strike trip to New York City?  I guess.
April 15, 2020:  Five hours of sleep is just not enough.  I’m awake and nervous as a cat this morning.  It’s 5:00 am.  Checkout time is noon.  Looks like I’m going to be forced to involuntarily “shelter in place” between now and then while I sort myself out.  Crap.  There’s just too much going on in Manhattan for me to sleep, but now I’m a nervous wreck.  Damn, I’m so jealous of those people who can fall asleep at the drop of a hat.
      Yesterday, when my #M2 bus drove past Trump Tower, there were two SWAT guys locked and loaded and stuffed into full body armor, standing out front.  I wonder how much that is costing us taxpayers?
     Enough of this existential angst.  I’m either going to fall back to sleep — or I’m not.  Apparently not.  More TV.  Now the talking heads are going on and on about how people are dying in rest homes.  Duh.  That’s what people in rest homes do.  With a lot of help from Governor Cuomo.
     Did I mention that yesterday I walked past the “Billy Graham Chaplaincy” trucks and tents set up in Central Park’s east meadow?  “How many patients do those tents hold?” I asked a cop.
     “60,” he replied — but this emergency area didn’t look all that busy either.  And a few yards away from the enclave was a sad bunch of handmade signs saying, “These people are haters” and “We don’t want these haters here”.  Apparently the Billy Graham Chaplaincy’s offshoot, the “Shepard’s Purse” disaster relief organization, is homophobic.  Shame on them.
     There’s just all kinds of wrong going on with this COV$D-19[84] operation.  No wonder I’m in angst.  This thing is of such gigantic scope, who the freak can deal with it all.  So many lies.  So I climbed back into bed with some breakfast sausages from Whole Foods and another half-glass of cheap wine.  Decadent.  But, hell, this is New York City.  Decadence here fits like a glove.  Screw it.  No more going back to sleep for me.  Waste of time to even try.  And I still have one more thing left to do before I leave.  Time to get my arse over to the actual World Epicenter of COV$D-19 itself — Bellevue Hospital!
     There was hardly anybody there.  Ambulances sat empty on the street in front of the hospital.  The ER ambulance bays were empty.  The lobby was empty.  A security guard told me to stop taking photos and move on.  So much for the World Epicenter of COV$D-19.
     Up the street at another hospital (First Avenue is Hospital Row), there was a long line of 30 to 40 people in scrubs.  What were they lining up for?  Waiting for ambulances to arrive?  No.  They were waiting in line at a food truck.  “BBQ,” read the food truck but most of them were waiting to buy designer coffee.  Hey, I want some designer hot water!  I brought my own teabag just in case, but the line was too long.
     On the walk back to the hotel, I looked everywhere for a place that was open to sell hot drinks.  Nope.  None.  There was a Trader Joe’s that was open but its line was also too long.  61 people in it to be exact.  I counted.  Finally I found a small coffee shop near the hotel that was open.  Good.  My hands were really cold.  Ah.  I’m in hot water now!
     Back at the hotel, I even managed to take a short nap.  Ten minutes?  Power nap?  Sure.  Now I’m sitting in Row 10, Seat A of my airplane.  No food service, no one in the TSA security checkpoint but me, no luck getting my wi-fi hooked up at the airport — but I’m here!  On my way home!  Living on stale Clif Bars that I scored from the 13 Reasons Why craft services snack table six months ago, back when they were still making films.

      But I’ve had a fabulous adventure — and I’m not gonna starve between JFK’s Gate 5 and south Berkeley, right?  But then it turns out that my freaking journey home is still gonna go on and on and on and on.  First I waited an hour for a bus to take me to JFK.  Then a really long plane ride with a boring transfer in Chicago.  Waiting for another bus outside the San Francisco airport.  In the dark nighttime.  Out in the freaking cold nighttime weather.  This is taking forever.  “How much does a taxi to Berkeley cost?”

     “$80.”  Oh.  So I waited and waited some more.  Out in the cold.  Finally a bus to downtown San Francisco arrived.  And now I’m still waiting in downtown S.F.  Opened my suitcase, pulled out an extra pair of pants and put them on too.  Right in the middle of the bus terminal.  At midnight.  3:00 am, New York time.  Who knew I could be this resilient, living on granola bars for the last ten hours.  If I don’t get COV$D-19 after tonight, then I’ll know that we are being lied to for sure!
     But, hell, I’ve also been to Bellevue Hospital, the world’s Ground Zero for COV$D — with no serious side effects from that either.  So far so good.  And I still have one more Kind bar left too.  I shoulda taken that cab.
April 16, 2020:  It’s 2:30 am here in Berkeley!  I finally made it home, but it was never at any point a sure thing.  Caught the last bus of the night from the airport to San Francisco.  A long wait at the Trans-Bay terminal.  Finally the very last night-bus to Berkeley arrived.  Next question?  Do I have time for a hot bath before I pass out?
How does Dr. Merrick even do this?  Gives you everything you need to know about COV$D in record time:
And how to say “Yes, but…” to the vaxx:
And if you need any advice regarding your legal rights in a time of COV$D, here it is:

Then there’s the systematic purge of any of us who do not immediately conform in lock-step:  “For the past 18 months, people who refuse to convert to the new official ideology are now being segregated, stripped of their jobs, banned from attending schools, denied medical treatment, and otherwise persecuted.”

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