SUBWAYMore than 1 million children went back to school in New York this week. In America’s largest school district, the return seemed vaguely normal from a distance. For a year, the children of the city who had opted for face-to-face learning – just 350,000 – he had experienced a strange version of school, with some classes at Zoom and the vast majority of his classmates still learning remotely. Less than 15 children attended my children’s first grade class. Compared to the complete shutdown, it was a luxury, of course. But it was still a disconcerting and reduced experience.
This Monday, the scene at the school gate felt like the resumption of a life that many of us had forgotten how to lead. Before summer break Bill de BlasioThe Mayor of New York announced that distance learning options would be withdrawn in September; the entire student body, with the exception of children with particular health needs, would be required to appear in person. This was a good thing, ending the division of resources and programming the nightmares of hybrid learning. It was also a shock. That first morning, parents, still banned from school buildings, lined the block to drop off their children at the gates. School buses, back at capacity, stopped bumper to bumper. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of public sector workers in New York, ordered to return to work in person, resumed the daily commute. The feeling was of an entire city in motion.
For those who had worried at the height of the pandemic over New York’s death, this was a wonderful reversal and test of the city’s resilience, neither of which made the reentry any less brutal. Had it always been so loud in the morning? Is this really how we had lived, seemingly without thinking, in the years leading up to the pandemic? There were always so many roadworks, the subway was always this rammed down, and 30 kids in a second grade class always seemed like such an outrageous number? The city has returned to a version of what it was before, but, of course, the people have changed.
Unlike many parents with young children in the city, I never wanted to move to the suburbs during those weeks of being locked up. At the time I attributed it, absurdly, to a combination of loyalty to the city, lack of opportunity to leave, and, as I saw it, my own superior tolerance for discomfort. Now that the place is bouncing again, I realize that a much larger part of the experience had to do with the changing dynamics of the city. If the confinement provoked feelings of claustrophobia, these were offset by the strange, and it cannot be denied, the exciting experience of living in an empty city. New York devoid of visitors was a different, and somewhat easier, place to live where, even at rush hour, you could time your movements around the city in 10-minute increments instead of hours. Those numbers increased but, during an endless summer of few tourists and modest plans, the spell remained largely uninterrupted.
For businesses, Broadway, city finances, and the rest, this September boom is welcome and necessary. Yet at street level, struggling to have space on the sidewalk or an inch of space on the subway, it’s hard to avoid wondering why we live like this. The lack of air of the confinement, when no one could get away from their families, has been replaced by a feeling of proximity to the 8.5 million inhabitants of the city, all trying to get to the same place, at the same time, in the same bus. .
On Monday after school, I picked up my kids and we made our way down Amsterdam Avenue to stop at the bus stop, where 15 other people were crowding around waiting. The bus was full when it arrived, but we all jostled. Somewhere in the back, a woman screeched. Someone else yelled to keep the doors open. The bus jerked to a stop every two blocks and, after converging with traffic on Broadway, came to a complete stop. A woman huddled next to me apologized for pushing and said, “Watch that guy in black, he just touched me and said, ‘You look good.’ New York was back, as they say. It may take us a while to adjust.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism