By: Joel Epstein

The City and the George Washington Bridge from the Palisades.

Who knows? That’s seems to be the common refrain. And even the medical profession’s wisdom. When will this end? When will we achieve herd immunity? When will there be a vaccine?

I didn’t flee the City like so many others during the worst of the ongoing pandemic. I’m not judging those, like me, who could have. At 59, I thought about it but it just isn’t me; a walker in the City. New York is home. With an empty nest, I am comfortable in my apartment and even under the Covid-19 cloud I am enjoying the quiet of my green and leafy neighborhood. The non-motorized sounds of West Harlem. Gone for now are the squads of chucklehead motorcyclists with their custom mufflers keyed to wake up the entire city. Sure, there are still the occasional car washers who think their lousy musical taste at ear-splitting decibel levels is everyone’s idea of a good time. But by and large, the streets are quiet and I can hear the birds more often than I hear the roar of the trucks and cars plying Saint Nicholas Avenue. From a socially distant six or more feet, I can eavesdrop on conversations in English and Spanish and West African French and Kreyòl Ayisyen. And the nightly cheer for the healthcare heroes continues though it seems as if for now we have flattened the curve.

My days are hardly exciting but I’ll take them. I work mostly from the couch when my racing mind lets me. And I get out for a walk or bike ride when my mental health or the cupboard demands. Monday it was a bike ride from Sugar Hill along the Palisades to Englewood, New Jersey. I can’t believe it took me all these years to bike across the George Washington Bridge but better late than never. I have been biking a lot. Initially on Citibike and then to allay my doctor father’s fears of catching the coronavirus from the handlebars, on my own bike though it involves schlepping my wheels down four flights of stairs. More exercise never killed anyone I tell myself.

Someday soon I expect I will be back in the saddle of a Citibike and better yet, it won’t require a 20 block walk to 129th Street to pick up a bike. Thank you Citibike for finally coming to my ‘hood. Just yesterday I saw signs for a new station coming to Bradhurst Avenue at Jackie Robinson Park. More new stations on the west side of the park can’t be far behind, and I can’t wait.

Citibike’s expansion, the quiet of the City and the opportunity to improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers by expanding safe streets where pedestrians and bike riders can safely socially distance are the upside of this terrible pandemic. And I am sure the epidemiologists and public health professionals are documenting the positive impact of increased physical activity in cleaner air on rates of asthma, obesity and diabetes among us for the day we again have in office a competent president and Congress who will make public health and science our policy priorities.

Still I worry about the ongoing killings of black men by police and plain vanilla racists in Minnesota and Georgia. And in New York, about the likes of Amy Cooper calling 911 to report being “threatened” by an African American birdwatcher. “O Canada! Our home and native land…” If you are going to send us immigrants please let them be woke folk who don’t further bloat the white privilege ranks of Wall Street.

We are far from out of the woods on so many fronts. In early May, the U.S. unemployment rate soared to 14.7 percent. According to the New York Times, “More than 40 million people — the equivalent of one out of every four American workers — have filed for unemployment benefits since the coronavirus pandemic grabbed hold in mid-March, the government reported…, an astounding tally that rivals the bleakest years of the Great Depression.”

How will these newly unemployed, many of whom were already living hand to mouth, feed and house their families?

I count my blessings every day. None of my family or close friends are sick, most of us are still working and I only know one person, Bill Helmreich, who was taken from us too soon by Covid-19. For you Bill, I walk on; as we did all of those times in New York and in Los Angeles. I hope that no one else is taken. I miss you and your books and am sure you would approve of my walking plan.

Wear a mask! Stay safe everyone!

Yours in transit,

Joel

#covid19 #pandemic #citibike #sugarhill #billhelmreich #harlem #newyorkcity #newjersey #losangeles #woke #blacklivesmatter #racism #newurbanism #whiteprivilege #wallstreet #unemployment #wearamask #socialdistancing #greatdepression #cities #publicspace

Joel Epstein is a New Yorker and an advocate for public transit, livable cities and public space.

A walker in the city.

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