A Year Since Normal
Remembering the last few days of normalcy and the moment we realized the pandemic was about to hit
NPR host Lulu Garcia-Navarro posted a tweet this past week, which resonated with many of us. A year into this COVID-19 pandemic, she asked, “We all have #TheMoment when we knew things were going to be different. Where were you and what were you thinking a year ago?” A remarkable cascade of touching and emotional stories followed—all the more humanized when you could see familiar figures and friends responding to her question.
Lulu’s prompt certainly struck me because as a street photographer, I spent much of the first few months of the pandemic photographing everything on long walks to keep myself from going stir crazy and even making short-form videos about the impact of COVID-19 on the city, as well as more specific experiences related to the pandemic.
To think of a specific moment, though? … Yes. Yes, I could.
I’d been taking photos like this subway shot since early March, when so many of us were still going into work.
It was March 3rd and this lonely rider on the subway wearing a mask with so much space around her was already becoming a familiar scene on the NYC subway. I’d taken photos of other little signs, too, such as a sad, little crushed bottle of Purell hand sanitizer on the street outside the building where I worked on Hudson Street in Manhattan. We’d all been noting little indicators like this. The pandemic was already creeping up on us.
One specific day does stand out for me, though.
Taking a long walk to the subway on Monday, March 9th, I saw a long line of people waiting to enter Bowery Ballroom on Delancey Street. It felt odd.
A little research reveals they were waiting to see Tamino, a Belgian singer, musician and model. In retrospect, no one in line is wearing a mask. But few people were then. I certainly wasn’t.
So I’m certainly not judging anyone in that line. I’d been to see the fantastic Georgia band Drive-By Truckers myself in Brooklyn two nights before. But at that time, even a couple of days worth of news seemed to make a difference. This same day, officials had just announced a total of 21 coronavirus cases in New York City. The City had announced plans to “reduce overcrowding” on public transit. Mayor Bill de Blasio had just tweeted a string of safety suggestions the day before, including the suggestion that people begin working from home if they could. That’s where we were.
Right on the cusp.
In retrospect my long walk to the subway and home that day looks like something out of Children of Men. And that was before stuff got really bad.
Further down Delancey, I took this photo: A man rummaging through the trash behind a digital sign with breaking news: “Stocks plummet amid coronavirus fears and oil-price crash.” Things were starting to feel apocalyptic.
Prompted by the memory of these scenes, I searched my iPhone and scrolled through images from that same day.
It’s eerie to see them now.
That morning: The vape shop outside West 4th had been advertising hand sanitizer. I have multiple photos of how the sign evolved over time.
Here I’m about to leave work where they had placed signs about washing our hands in the bathrooms.
Walking through Nolita and I saw someone’s fresh graffiti rebuking us — already — for fear of the virus. I wonder, what does that tagger think now after all that has happened since?
And upon exiting the subway at 4th and 9th, this abandoned sign greeted me a short distance from home. “God, you are still good.” Was it addressing God, I wonder? Or the reader?
March 12th ended up being our last real day in the office.
Several us had stayed later—for fun. We’d set up a post-work gaming night and were sitting in a conference room playing Counter-Strike. We all received an email early evening saying that we needed to start working from home and should only come into work the next day to pick up our laptops. Since we were already at the office, we swung by our desks, picked up our laptops, a few pieces of paperwork and headed home. We figured we’d be back a couple of weeks or so.
We haven’t been back since.