New Yorkers are nothing if not resilient.

By Alisha Prakash
April 07, 2020
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I never thought I’d find myself missing the New York City subway, yearning for the day when I can stand sandwiched between fellow belligerent commuters, jolting back and forth to the motion of the train, and swiping my feet to safety as performers twist and flip to bombastic music in an attempt to grab the gaze of unfazed riders. After all, I spend as much time grumbling about the MTA (the delays! the congestion!) as I do riding on it.

The lights are still on in the NYC subways, but these days, the cars move from station to station nearly empty. Times Square — ordinarily swarmed with bodies day and night — still beckons with its bright lights, but nary a soul answers its call.

The beeping traffic reverberating off buildings, the buzzing restaurants and bars, the thrum of tourists and locals weaving around one another — all evaporated. In its place lies an eerie, unfamiliar stillness. The city that never sleeps has come to a halt, as if hitting the snooze button for another hour of rest.

Credit: Getty Images

In the last month, New York City has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., with at least 122,000 confirmed cases at the time of publishing. Millions of New Yorkers are mandated to stay home, save for essential workers, in an effort to contain the spread.

But while the streets are bare, the city’s spirit is still alive, its heart still beating — albeit under a separate cover.

I sat in my living room one afternoon, entertaining my daily debate of whether or not to get dressed, when I heard music streaming through the windows. Could it be… Santana? Curious, I stuck my head out to find a woman (whose name I later learned is Sandi Weldon) leading a workout from her first-floor patio for folks in the building. Families, couples, and singles — a packed house — all perched on their own balconies followed her through a series of squats, lunges, and stretches. Stiff from not moving in days, I bolted out to my balcony and joined the flow, going through downward dog, warrior one, leg lifts, and other poses she shouted from below.

Sandi, a retired dance teacher who moved to New York a few months ago, returns every day like clockwork, as do our neighbors, to squeeze in some much-needed movement (and structure when the days seem to blend together).

But she is not the only one bringing people together at a time when we’re forced to quite literally separate. In the last month or so, as shops, restaurants, bars, offices, and other venues have shut their doors one by one, residents around the city have taken to their windows, balconies, and roofs to connect — even if it is six feet apart. New Yorkers are proving their resilience, like they have before.

Clapping Because We Care

It's 7 p.m. in New York. One by one, the claps begin to emerge from apartments up and down the block. At first faint, more hands trickle in until the sound swells into a thunderous, united applause. Although the day melts away in a haze, time is marked by the thousands of New Yorkers in quarantine who make their way to their windows, balconies, and fire escapes each night for a standing ovation for healthcare workers, first responders, grocery store employees, truck drivers, sanitation crews, and all others on the frontlines fighting the coronavirus pandemic. This powerful, city-wide choreography, which erupts for a few minutes, echoes from home to home, from our neighborhood to the next.

Getting Hitched in the Age of Social Distancing

When one couple’s original wedding plans were put on pause due to social distancing requirements, they took their ceremony to the sidewalk. In a very New York City moment, Reilly Jennings and Amanda Wheeler exchanged their vows beneath a fourth-floor window in upper Manhattan, where an ordained friend made things official from above. The impromptu ceremony, which included a reading from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera,” drew cheers from neighbors and strangers, all of whom witnessed the couple tie the knot from a distance of six feet or more.

Singing and Dancing from the Rooftops

If there’s one thing that brings New Yorkers together, it’s karaoke — even in unprecedented times like these. Every night at 6 p.m., Valentine and Erich Carey host a sing-along from their terrace on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. The couple sets up a sound system, filling the street with music while their neighbors sing and dance in their own apartments. The playlist has so far included uplifting (and poignant) tunes like Donna Summer’s “I Will Survive,” and The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” as well as New York classics like Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” Kiss’ “Back in the New York Groove,” and of course, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”

In an Instagram post, Valentine wrote, “Truly wonderful to connect with my neighbors every day through song during this health crisis…So glad to share some positivity during this time. Let’s keep applauding our healthcare and all essential service workers, let’s keep singing and staying positive! We’ll all get through this together.”

The couple was even interviewed by Inside Edition. “I think people really like the positive message and community and unity that music brings. We are trying to get as much joy as we can during this isolating time,” Valentine told the news outlet. Erich added, “It is a lot of fun, I think we are entitled to that. My dad always said, ‘every day is precious,’ and even though we are living in strange times in keeping social distance and being in quarantine and staying home, it is important to enjoy every day.”

Hosting City Sing-alongs

Start spreading the news… New Yorkers planned a citywide sing-along to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” following the nightly clap that takes place at 7 p.m. Organized by the Peace of Heart Choir, the synchronized singing, which spilled out from windows, stoops, and terraces throughout the city, honored the essential workers on the frontlines. If you missed it the first time, don’t worry – the organization has announced that it will be belt Bill Withers’ “ Lean on Me” on Thursday, April 23, and invites you to join in.

Hanging Rainbows and Positive Messages in Windows

Even as people are hunkering down at home, communities around the world are finding ways to connect. As part of a project called Rainbow Connection, children have been hanging handmade rainbows on their street-facing windows in an effort to spread joy to the outside world. The trend, which began in Italy with hand-drawn messages like tutto andrà bene (everything will be OK), really took off in Brooklyn. Google even mapped out the participating homes in the area, leading to fun scavenger hunts for families.

“A lovely reminder for all of us that, in a storm, there is still something to look forward to,” said one Brooklyn resident, who volunteered to map out the rainbows in the neighborhood.

But these colorful works of art aren’t the only things popping up in windows. On Manhattan’s west side, people are posting illuminated hearts, while one eight-year-old girl, Amy Mahoney, taped a “hi” and heart in her window on the Upper East Side, starting a conversation with her neighbors.

The information in this article reflects that of the publishing time above. However, as statistics and information regarding coronavirus rapidly change, some figures may be different from when this story was originally posted. While we strive to keep our content as up to date as possible, we also recommend visiting sites like the CDC or websites of local health departments.