Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Walks Through the Changing Landscape

During this pandemic, I've been lucky enough to continue working without interruption.  I've been doing it from home primarily, though necessity dictates that I go into my office once or twice a week.  I can do most of my job from home, but not absolutely everything, thus accounting for the office trips.  I work in a large city-owned building (the Municipal Building, located in lower Manhattan just next to the Brooklyn Bridge), and at this point, in order to gain access to the building, I have to take a brief questionnaire through my phone in the morning certifying that I've had no temperature above 100.4 degrees within the past 10 days, that in the past 10 days I have not tested positive from a COVID-19 test, and that to the best of my knowledge I have not in the past 14 days been in close contact (within 6 feet for at least 10 minutes) of any other person while they had COVID-19.  It's an honor system test, really.  Once I answer these questions, I get an auto-generated email sent back to me approving me for access to the city office location I intend to enter.  I take a subway to work (about a 30-minute trip) and then at the Muni Building entrance, I show a guard the approval email I received and he lets me into the building.  

My elevator ride lasts 22 floors. I step out, walk down a hall, and use a card key to enter a large deserted office suite.  About twenty desks, cubicle partitions, a small kitchen area -- a typical office environment save for the fact it's completely deserted.  I walk past desks and cubicles to my own personal office within the general office suite, and there get to work, doing what  I need to do in absolute silence and solitude.  To be there alone, like a ghost, a phantom consigned to work in a place once full of living people now no longer in existence, felt odd at first, but I've gotten used to it.  And of course, I am not only alive, but so are my fellow workers, people in my particular unit, who I'm in touch with every day as they plug away at their jobs from home.  

It's all part of the "new normal", as the phrase goes.  And so, I suppose, is the acknowledgment of change, loss, the demise of so many familiar establishments in the area where I work.  It's going on everywhere, of course, and all you can do is observe and pay a silent tribute to a store or watering hole or restaurant you took pleasure in frequenting.  


I stopped by the office yesterday and then took a leisurely walk around the area.  I noticed yet more losses to what has already gone for good: the big Irish bar where we had a few retirement parties for people; the other bar I'd spend an hour in during the last World Cup to catch the second half of a game; the Thai restaurant that was there for twenty-four years, a cheap and fast lunch spot that had excellent food; the tiny informal French place that had a huge selection of wines and such a tasty croque monsieur.  I could go on with the list and I'm sure the list will only lengthen.  Every perambulation now becomes a tour through a zone of casualties.  It's not a literal war we're going through, but to see parts of your city fading before your eyes makes it feel, in certain ways, like a war is taking place.  Instead of ruins, you see signs saying VACANT, CLOSED, THANK YOU FOR  YOUR YEARS OF SUPPORT
.

What can one do? Not much. Except, as a writer, as a human being, steadfastly pay attention as much as possible. A changing landscape may not be pleasant, but it is not, shall we say, uninteresting.  Now that we know without a doubt that this situation is going to last a while, I'm trying to adapt myself to the new environment and I'm starting to jot down notes.  I find that it's good for my mental health, and cold though it might be to say, we have to work with what we're given.  So there's mourning, and remembering, and there's keeping both eyes open to see, in the areas I inhabit, what comes next.

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