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No, New York is not dead.

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No, New York is not dead.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 9 months, then you know that Covid-19 has really taken a toll on the world and local economies, and one of the first casualties was one of the greatest: New York City. 

It was almost a perfect storm of unbelievable proportions, a huge city with flights and travel connections to every continent, and almost every major economic city around the world. Add in an incredibly fumbled and delayed response by the Trump-led US government – who continued to claim that it would just “go away” and that it was of no concern – and you find one of the greatest cities now almost deserted for months, with what seemed a tittering economy. 

Our friends over at The NYC Post recently published an article from an author, comedy club owner and former hedge-fund manager, James Altucher, titled “NYC is Dead, Forever.” 

Well, that’s slightly morbid.

This journalist, aviation lover, world traveler, and self-proclaimed “foodie” has to say, while we were fascinated to read the piece, and respect your right to your own perspective Mr. Altucher, we almost completely disagree with all of it. 

Yes, I do, and yet I do in fact believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion. A difference of opinion leads to great discussions that can yield great results, and mine is that “NYC is Dead Forever” is… a bunch of hogwash.   I am however glad it was written, it gave me time to reflect back on what has happened, not just recently, but since I have all this free time, to learn in more detail about the history of the City of New York, what this city and it’s citizens have gone through. 

No, New York is not dead.

Photo Credit: Phillip Rodriguez

When I started this, I wanted to lead with, “But then again, what would I know?”

However, I now think it’s more of a, “But then again, what I should know is…” 

I’ve spent over a decade living here, and as any true New Yorker will tell you – transplant or native – we all have a love/hate relationship with this concrete jungle of a city. It’s monstrous; overwhelming at times, but also, absolutely breathtaking, and gratifying at other times. There is always too much going on to take part in everything you want. Sometimes unknowingly missing the events you wanted to see or attend due to the distractions of others. Too much of a good thing?

I should be honest with you, dear reader:    I never wanted to live in New York City.

Far from it. 

I was raised for most of my childhood and adolescence in the small, quiet city of Charlottesville, VA, then a city of only 20,000-30,000 people. This was long before Charlottesville took center stage to be known as the small blue dot of equality and liberalism, in a sea of conservative red, fighting off racists from around the country. As a kid, I loved playing in the woods and in the creeks with my friends, most of whom lived in rural areas. It gave me a respect for nature and animals, and how everything is connected, I understood that we had to respect the environment and nature. I was raised by my mother to treat others how I wanted to be treated, and others did the same. I knew very little of what New Yorkers would call a “city life” or even the use of public transportation in a city. I should point out however, I was however fascinated by the idea of subways: trains that ran underground! It just seemed so futuristic to me as a kid.

Photo Credit: Phillip Rodriguez

However, I fell in love with airplanes, which would land me a job with the airlines as an adult. That passion pushed me into a number of different positions and roles within many different airlines over the years, ending with coming full circle back to that of operational management for the airlines some 20 years later. It was however when I worked as a flight attendant and had layovers in New York City that I began to understand the pull that NYC had on a person. New York isn’t just any city, it is THE City. It has a skyline like no other, a diversity like no other, food like no other, architecture like no other, museums like no other, fashion like no other, ambiance like no other,  experiences like no other, and some of the most impatient people – like no other. 

My first week in New York, I watched two random people get into a shouting match on the street, a man and a woman. I thought it was going to get ugly, but they went their separate ways. Moments later, the woman fell hard, almost being hit by an oncoming car. The same man that I thought was surely ready to deck her, was the first one to rush to her side, help her, and make sure she was ok. 

This dear reader is who New Yorkers are: Tough, resilient, almost borderline frightening people, who at a moments notice put their personal differences aside to do what’s right for each other. It’s quite inspiring at times. 

Oh, and for what I said earlier as for being a kid, thinking subways were so futuristic, that was a bit of a let down when I moved here… It was still neat, but the NYC subway system is over 100 years old, and let’s be honest, she’s been showing her age for more than a few years now.

It wasn’t until the airline I was working for closed down some of its operations and advised me that I would be offered a displacement. I now realized I had a tough decision ahead of me. I had a choice of moving to Kansas City, Philadelphia, or New York City. I had lived in Philly already, I had no interest in living in middle America, but the thought of moving to New York City was daunting and overwhelming. Who did I know there? Could I really live there? Could it work? It just didn’t seem possible. New York City is quite big and scary to people who have never lived there, and still somewhat scary to people who are just visiting. My best friend Paul, said, “Let’s do it!” Ummm… I was just turning 30, what did I have to lose? If it didn’t work out, I’d go somewhere else.

Fast forward 10 years later to today, I’m still here, but I’m now furloughed from my current airline’s operation at JFK, which I loved. The leaders of our congress are complaining that unemployed citizens won’t go back to work to jobs – Jobs, that do not exist – but instead of staying at work to hammer out a deal – which we elected and pay them to do, they take yet another recess for summer, instead not working for the millions that are counting on them. I am receiving state unemployment which does not even cover my rent and basic bills in NYC. 

I’m now living on a combination of savings and unemployment, and have to make a choice, do I stay in NYC, or do I go?

To any of my friends around the country, or around the globe, the answer is simple: 

   Why stay? Go Already! 

For me, it’s not that simple. 

Remember that love/hate relationship I was talking about earlier? Yeah, I never wanted to live here, but after ten years, I can’t see myself living anywhere else. The diversity in NYC just seems so unparalleled. Everything I need is usually within walking distance. Before moving here I don’t know if I knew how much I enjoyed walking. I have time to actually take in what’s around me. Yet, what isn’t within walking distance I can take public transport to. If Public transport alone can’t quite get me there, there are always rideshare options. I have food options here I don’t have anywhere else. I have shopping options here I won’t have anywhere else. When travel returns, I will have non-stop travel options like nowhere else. I have friends from different places and cultures from all over the world, something I just don’t think I will find comparable anywhere else.

This summer I’ve spent a number of days taking the train, subway, bus – and ferry – to the Rockaways to enjoy the beach. I’ve taken Metro North to go hiking in the mountains. I’ve taken the bus to my favorite ice cream place, Eddie’s Sweet Shop in Queens. I’ve hopped on Amtrak and JetBlue to Boston. I’ve taken the LIRR out through Long Island to see friends. I’ve also spent countless nights in Manhattan sitting outside having food and drinks, creating memories, enjoying, and making the best of our “new normal” life.

I don’t really think another city is going to offer the same access to everything I want and need.

It’s now though, that I have to think back, to think forward. I have been giving considerations to all the not so pleasant things that have happened over the years in New York City, which the city has had to deal with and find a way to bounce back from.

From that article, a point:

“NYC has experienced worse.” No, it hasn’t.

Maybe from your perspective, it hasn’t, but from everything I’ve heard, read, seen, about the history of our fair city, we’ve seen worse in NYC, and probably will again someday. There is an ebb & flow to NYC and it’s residents, that we seem to just understand: we’ll take what comes and make the best of it.

To coin a phrase, “New York and New Yorkers are resilient, period.”

If we go back to the late 1800s to early 1900s, the “progressive era” you can see a trail of history in those who were immigrating into the New World, starting their new lives in New York City. The growing social and economic pressures pushed forward by industrialization, and a growing Manhattan, resulted in violent labor uprisings, wealth disparity, and fears of some type of nonexistent “race suicide” in the middle class. The idea of America and New York was changing, as it always has, with each minority group claiming NYC as their own, and blaming the new arrivals for their woes – completely forgetting that only one generation previous, they too were considered the dirty, illiterate, and poverty-stricken immigrants that they now held anger towards. 

During that period Science and Medicine were only beginning to get a foothold in modern-day culture, but that was considered the progressive era, where a cart no longer needed a horse and a man could take a ride in the air on a new-fangled flying contraption that seemed only to be a novelty fad. Construction boomed, subways and elevated trains sprung up everywhere, and our almost long-forgotten gem which was the truly beautiful Penn Station was completed in 1910. 

Penn Station Completed 1910 – Photo Credit NYPL

But throughout New York City’s history (some of which were pointed out in that article), we had some hiccups, some falls, and some of what was at the time, each considered unthinkable:

  • The sinking of the ship General Slocum in 1904 where over 1000 German American’s lost their lives
  • In 1911 when the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory caught fire killing 145 immigrant women
  • The sinking of the NYC bound RMS Titanic where over 1500 people die
  • World War One would see 30,000 New Yorkers leave to fight, with less than half return
  • The Spanish Flu where over 30,000 people died as a result
  • Let us not forget NYC’s first terrorism attack on Wall Street in 1920 
  • The economic downturn of 1920
  • The Stock Market Crash of 1929
  • The Great Depression, which the effects of would last for years
  • World War II where over 43,000 New Yorkers would die fighting for their country
  • 1950’s “White Flight” begins with the mass exodus of the population heading to the suburbs, causing industry and commerce collapse in Manhattan
  • The height of segregation in the 1960s
  • The Blackout of 1965
  • The invent of container shipping, resulting in most shipping moving from Manhattan to New Jersey
  • The 1973 Oil Crisis
  • NYC’s fiscal crisis of 1975, when it barely avoided defaulting on debt
  • The 1966 Strike and Shutdown of the Subway and Bus operations
  • In 1966 the decommission of the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard, a loss of 10,000+ jobs
  • The Stonewall Riots in 1969, starting the Gay Rights Movement
  • The decline of Times Square through the 1970s, a huge rise in crime and corruption through the 1980s
  • The Blackout of 1977
  • NYC Homelessness Skyrocketing in the 1980s
  • The HIV outbreak in the mid-1980s
  • The bombing of the World Trade Center One in 1993
  • We can’t leave out 9/11 where 3000+ lost their lives in the attack and aftermath
  • More blackouts in 2003 and recently in 2019 
  • We had Hurricane Sandy come through flooding most of lower manhattan knocking out power and public transport for weeks, displacing 10,000+ residents in the NYC area

The list I’m sure could be more detailed and go on at length. My point is that New Yorkers are no stranger to adversity. Once the dust settles, we dust ourselves off, pick up from where we left off and keep going, knowing that we will again have adversity ahead of us.

Photo credit: Phillip Rodriguez

In 2012, I worked a memorable flight from Kansas City to La Guardia on a snowy winter evening, where we landed safely in a snowstorm. We taxied to our gate… which apparently was blocked by another aircraft, and when that aircraft moved some 45 minutes later, we found out that our gate was broken. All in all, after a 3-hour flight, we sat on the ground for another 3+ hours. A passenger in first class rang his call bell, I went to see what I could assist with, he had a simple question, “What in the hell is going on? This is ridiculous.” The only response I could muster was, “Have you been to New York before?” Puzzled, he said, “No, why” – to which I responded, “Well, if there is one thing I have learned, is that whatever can happen, will happen, and it will happen in New York City, and at the most inopportune time.” We both had a good laugh about it, but it’s always stuck in my head. 

New Yorkers don’t complain about things, they deal with it and they move on. We’re all too impatient to be bothered with complaining about it, or pretending to be an all-important Karen, and ask for a manager. 

Our friend James Alutcher who published that article, made some valid points about how New Yorkers have been leaving the city in droves, in waves at times to other cities. It might seem somewhat frightening for the future, but this dear reader, is nothing new. This has been happening over and over again for decades, likely since the inception of the city.

From that New York Post Article:

People say, “NYC has been through worse” or “NYC has always come back.”

No and No.

First, when has NYC been through worse?

Well, I think we’ve covered that, see above.

What we see each time is that the law of Supply vs Demand brings NYC back each time. Usually, a stronger, smarter, and better version each time, and will likely continue to do so. Albert Einstein is quoted as having said, “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” Nowhere could be more evident than here in New York City.

By Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine

Let’s be honest here, losing 30,000 people to disease during the Spanish flu certainly pushed a lot of people out into the suburbs trying to get always from it, and start a new life. While doing some research for this article I came across a number of other articles that pointed to the loss of residents of Manhattan and surrounding boroughs during times of economic disparity, the Spanish Flu included. However, as they left the city or passed away, new people looking for a chance at a better life arrived to take their place.

The first notable one I read about was after the revolutionary war, where we, the now new and true Americans finally pushed the Red Coats out of NYC. People again felt safe to leave the city and try their luck and start their own lives in the green away from Manhattan. This resulted in vacant properties previously inhabited by both the British and locals, but also a loss of a workforce. However, new immigrants again started coming over shortly afterward, looking to start their new lives and businesses in the New World, and an economic boom happened again. 

Again, this notably takes place after World War II, in the 1950s, with the GI Bill going into full force. Returning military men and women came back and started new families and had the ability to purchase a house in the suburbs, instead of the city – buy a car, and live outside the hustle and bustle of the city. Only to see a resurgence of NYC life in the 60s due to lower costs of rent for both commercial and residential rates.

Lastly, this happens again after 9/11. A HUGE exodus took place in a number of major US cities, especially NYC and Washington DC with fears of terrorism concerns, post 9/11. This results in businesses canceling meetings, and now doing business over a new technology which allows real-time meetings to take place over a still somewhat new and young internet. 

I should pause here for a moment, I worked for the airlines during 9/11.

Photo: Phillip Rodriguez

It wasn’t fun. 

I worked then for one of Delta Airlines’s subsidiaries in Florida, Comair, managing and coordinating the arriving and departing aircraft. Prior to 9/11, I’d only made a handful of trips to NYC, I loved it, but it was certainly… busy, but I could somewhat understand the appeal.

Two things stick out when thinking back on that event. 

The first was one of our Ramp Leads who I worked with directly during 9/11, an amazing woman named Jakie Henry. After we watched the second tower fall, everyone was pretty shaken up. With tears in her eyes, she got up and said, “It’s NEW YORK, we will rebuild it – bigger, stronger, louder, taller.” I realized then how proud and how resilient New Yorkers are.  Even after everything we had just watched take place, there wasn’t even a fleeting glimmer to a feeling of defeat. 

The second thing was watching air travel all but disappear during the next month after 9/11, I talked with one of my bosses, Dave, about what would happen next. We talked about the fact that business travel was dead, more importantly, that with the invention of video conferencing, business travel would likely never return. American, Delta, Continental, Northwest, TWA, United, and US Airways – every airline – everywhere were cutting flights, as well as onboard services. No meals, pillows, blankets. Nothing. (and yes young readers, you used to get a decent meal on a 1.5-hour flight in economy from NYC-Chicago!)

Soon, many of my colleagues in the airline industry were being laid off. I got lucky though. There was this little unknown carrier hiring for a ramp position, and I love the underdog. This brand new startup airline promised that in the midst of the economy driving off a cliff into freefall, a huge drop in passengers, and people not wanting to travel, that they alone were going to make travel enjoyable again. They wanted to bring humanity back to air travel. Everyone told me, don’t give up a good stable job with a known airline to go work for some lovey-dovey-touchy-feely airline that won’t be here in 6 months – but I didn’t listen.

However, a few years later, airlines were bouncing back. Travel rebounded. Tourism to New York came back full force. Airlines were soon competing harder than ever for business traffic on the NYC-LAX/SFO routes, each trying to one-up the other. 

Oh, and remember how I was saying in every crisis there is an opportunity? Yeah, that little startup airline that took a chance on me was JetBlue. When every airline was cutting onboard service, they saw an opportunity, they gave away all the free snacks and soda you could shake a stick at to each passenger, and launched live onboard TV at every single seat. Unheard of at the time. 

If you don’t already know, it was a huge hit, JetBlue became a huge success. Now, JetBlue has been setting the bar and is the front running innovator for Business Class on those lucrative NYC-Transcontinental routes, and now American, Delta, and United, are the ones having to try to keep pace with JetBlue. In every crisis, there is an opportunity. 

Photo: Phillip Rodriguez

In thinking about New York though, post 9/11, we editorialsaw rents in New York City had dropped to unseen levels. Commercial buildings that once had no available space to rent, now sat empty for what seemed like forever. Again, as I mentioned, with each crisis, there is an opportunity. New businesses found growth opportunities, and empty shops soon were being filled with a resurgence of independent restaurants and shops, and the economy started again. Small companies got larger and started filling up empty office buildings. 

So, what am I saying? 

Go outside and look, and when you do, wear a mask, and WEAR IT OVER YOUR NOSE and mouth. Look in manhattan, look in the Bronx, look in Brooklyn, look in Queens, and even Staten Island. You’ll see the telltale signs of movement, like Spring after a long Winter. We’re starting over just like we always do, slow and steady letting the momentum build up. Restaurants are doing outside eating and drinking. Shops are slowly beginning to open up again. Life in the city has started with a new normal, it’s just that masks are now no longer optional, we get it and respect it. Science works. 

Photo Credit: Phillip Rodriguez

Look, dear reader, if you haven’t figured it out, it’s not going to be an overnight adventure to get back to where we were. The economy comes back each time, and usually a better version. We see over and over adversity leads to innovation, and that’s where we are at now.

There are a number of companies working on vaccines, and some are getting closer than others. Corona hit us in NYC pretty hard, but we do what New Yorkers do best, we take on whatever is handed to us, and with this particular one, we flattened the curve.  Now if Floridians and a few others could get it through their heads that science works, we could be well on our way to recovery like most of our friends across the pond already are. 

So look, yes, we were huddled up for months. Tons of us were on – and still are on unemployment assistance. Some of us hoarded our money, others of us went out and tried to help the economy. Some of us will make it through this, others will not be able to afford to, and must move away and find their own path, that might or might not lead back here someday. When those who must leave do, there will be another, bright, starry-eyed person with a dream ready to take their spot, and find their way into the New York City life. 

So dear reader, I leave you with this:

New York City isn’t dead, 

it’s just taking a well-deserved nap, 

and the story of New York is nowhere near being over, 

we’re just starting a new chapter, 

and this version will be even better.

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