A startling article in the New York Times presented new information on the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City. I learned that I was in Times Square and Manhattan when the COVID-19 virus was growing and becoming established. It appears I dodged a bullet but its been unsettling as well. While I am a Washingtonian because of this shared common bond I also consider myself a New Yorker as well.
“I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
“You don’t build a bond without being present.”
James Earl Jones
Stage for Moulin Rouge
On the evening of February 14, 2020 I drove up to New York City from Washington, D.C. It was a trip encouraged by a grief counselor as I process my parents deaths. After checking into the Hotel Edison I went to bed and looked forward to seeing the musical Moulin Rouge the next day. The musical is about a love story involving the famous night club in Paris, France that was a movie with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor in 2001. I chose it because I knew my Mom would have loved it. The following day in the early afternoon I walked a couple of blocks to the Al Hirschfeld theater on W. 45th Street. The theater has a capacity for 1,424 people. When I arrived I checked in my coat and went to find my seat. The theater was decorated like a night club. And a few women wearing next to nothing sat on the stage or danced provocatively. I later learned that the director wanted to give the audience the feel that they arrived at a night club and not a theater. Moulin Rouge is brand new to Broadway and was open for a few months. It still had its original cast of Karen Olivo, Aaron Tveit, Danny Burstein and Tam Mutu. When I found my seat it was tight and in the center of the row midway. I made the mistake of dropping my cell phone and it slid about three rows in front of me. That was embarrassing. But the show commenced and I took it in and enjoyed it. All the performers were quite gifted and Aaron Tveit is one of the best known performers in modern musical theater. Immensely gifted with a strong voice that came off well in one song called “El Tango de Roxanne.” The soundtrack recording does not do it justice. That Broadway show was the start of a trip to try and deal with emotions and feelings that had surged in me after losing both my parents in 2017 and 2018. After I came back to D.C. a few days later in a couple of weeks the first breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic started to occur in New York City. I thought I had beat the pandemic and was on the end of the safe period. I wrote about that in, “Being on the Cusp of the COVID-19 Crisis in New York City and Reconciling What I am Seeing Now.” It turns out that I was wrong. With new information I learned that I was in the middle of the pandemic, and it was starting but I didn’t know that yet.
Look at how packed that theater is during a pandemic that was not common knowledge.
The COVID-19 Pandemic Starts in Mid-February
On April 8, 2020 the New York Times published an article that stunned me. In the article it discussed what researchers discovered at Mount Sinai about the COVID-19 virus. The first genetic work revealed that the strain which hit New York City came from Europe. And it was also learned that the COVID-19 virus had come to New York City much earlier than previously thought. The virus had already arrived in mid-February and was spreading and becoming established. When I read the article I was shocked. It means the virus was growing and established when I was in Times Square and Manhattan. The night I read the article I had problems sleeping because of how troubling it was. I didn’t realize the risk, I didn’t know what was going on. When the outbreak took off in New York City it appears as if some people who performed in Moulin Rouge came down with COVID-19. One of them was Aaron Tveit. You can read about it in this Chicago Tribune article. If you would like to read that New York Times article you can do so in, “Most New York Coronavirus Cases Came From Europe, Genomes Show.”
Did I Dodge a Bullet? And How I Became a New Yorker
The question has been haunting me for the last couple of days since I learned this news. Did I dodge a bullet? Did for some reason the virus never attached to me? Am I one of the asymptomatic people with COVID-19? Or was I someone who was deeply lucky with this situation and didn’t pick it up? Just to give you some perspective take a look at that picture above that I took from inside the theater as the musical was ending. Look at how crowded and packed it is. Originally I would think of the place as a theater. Now after reading this New York Times article I look at the theater more like a petri dish. A breeding ground for COVID-19. And this was the first of three Broadway shows, museums, restaurants and more. I don’t mean to be difficult but you read what they say about social distancing and the danger of groups. All that was violated at the theater. Now to be fair it was no one’s fault. People didn’t know and the information now known was previously unknown. That is what science does in that it fills the gaps and learns and grows. This is another reason why I am a strong proponent of science.
So did I dodge a bullet? I am tempted to say yes. But now that I know I was in New York City when the pandemic was starting and growing it has changed my thinking. I feel more of a bond and affinity for Manhattan and New York City. I feel closer to the city because of realizing this information. I have long thought of myself as a Washingtonian because I have lived in the Washington, D.C. area for 15 years. But since I was in New York City when the pandemic was starting I also feel an affinity for New York City. That makes the images and stories coming out of New York today very difficult to process. I love and respect New York and feel that attachment of a shared experience. At any other time I would not feel that but in this situation I very much do. Because of this I consider myself a New Yorker. I long to see the city return to normal and be the city it always has been. This post is one of personal reflection as I processed this information. I have also discussed this with a few people as well.