Wednesday, March 25, 2020, I was reading the morning paper when the telephone rang. My old buddy, Ted Laborde, was on the line, calling me from his home in New Orleans, asking how bad the COVID virus was in New York City?
Governor Andrew Cuomo had essentially put the state into lockdown beginning on March 22th.
“Let’s take a look,” I told Ted as I switched on TV and found a local news station that had a camera aimed up Sixth Avenue to Central Park from their perch on the corner of Forty-Eighth St. I took in the view in disbelief. Finally, I spoke, “Ted, I am looking at a scene I thought I’d never see. On this ordinary Wednesday, the sidewalks and the streets are empty. There are no people, there are no cars. New York is deserted from Rock Center to Central Park!”
I thought to myself: “And now, let us pray.”
Each of us can think back and recall the moment when we realized that all the panic and all the shouts of, “the sky is falling,” were real and this cockamamie “China virus,” as President Trump, called it, was real with a good chance that it could kill us!
As we approach the second anniversary of COVID 19’s arrival in force and its devastating assault on our Homeland, an assault that changed our lives forever, I am taking stock of what it has done to me and my family and I invite you to do the same.
Early in February of 2020. Before I understood the enormity of what was in the wind, I found myself leaving our local post office. A chap coming towards me stopped me on the steps. He was wearing what we came to know as an N-95 face mask. He looked at me with intensity as he stepped closer to me and said, “If you don’t mask up immediately, old man, you are going to die.”
March First witnessed the first reported case of COVID 19 in New York. The first two deaths came on March 14.
Our last meals in restaurants with family and friends all had a sense of impending doom. Dread joined us at our tables. In each instance, the number of patrons was sparse, the tables were quiet, and the atmosphere was grim. My cousin, Bob joined Mary Ann and me for lunch with his sister, Helen, on March 4 at Savini, an Italian trattoria in Allendale, NJ. Helen, who lives in a nursing home was oblivious, but the three of us correctly realized that this could be the last lunch we would have with her for a long time.
Mike Scott and I had lunch at Foley’s NY the following day, our favorite Manhattan watering hole “where everybody knew our names”. Again, the atmosphere reeked of dread. The owner, Shaun Clancy, was absent. Steffi, our waitress and friend, revealed that Shaun had whisked away his ailing father, affectionately known as “Papa John” home to Ireland. She explained that Papa John was suffering from a bad case of the flu. Mike and I looked at each other and pondered if it was something worse. We feared that this would be our last lunch at Foley’s until the pandemic passed. Sadly, it turned out to be our last meal at Foley’s ever. Foley’s NY ceased to exist three months later, another victim of the virus.
St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Monday in 2020 and the parade and other festivities were cancelled during the week leading up to March 17. Five days later, life, as we knew it, ceased.
The shutdown was complete and unavoidable. Exceptions were few and far between. Supermarkets and other stores that sold food or alcohol could remain open. Many eateries from the famous to the obscure called it quits. Malls were victims, but the biggest losers were travel, leisure, hospitality and entertainment entities.
We settled into our new locked-down reality. Thank God for our two very best friends, Max and Tessie who were always up for a walk. For a time, we seemed to meet up with a young dog named Bean who loved to torture our two old timers. As the weather warmed, new COVID dogs, mostly Labradoodles, made their appearance in our neighborhood and on our walks.
Dog walks also gave us relief from the TV pontifications by our fearless leaders, Andy Cuomo, then a superstar in mid-morning, Comrade Mayor DeBlasio in the late afternoon and The Donald XLV at supper time. Our life centered around the proclamations of the diminutive Dr. Anthony Fauci and later, Dr. Deborah Brix, she of her daily scarf.
Our driving was limited to running errands, grocery and alcohol shopping and picking up take-out meals. The good news was these restaurants still in business could sell take-out drinks that for me would include a split of chianti with my meal from DiMaggio’s Trattoria and a bloody Mary from Sullivan’s Quay. I always included a tip of 20% with my order to help the staff.
Since then, we have witnessed improvement, setbacks, and finally, successful vaccines. Mary Ann and I received our two doses of the Pfizer vaccine in Westchester County in February of 2021and March and our booster shots at St. Francis Hospital that September.
Our joy and hopes for immunity were cut short by the Delta and Omicron strains. Several confusing and conflicting health warnings, prevention measures and restrictions followed in the wake of each variant making sure we remained on edge.
This month, we reached the two-year anniversary of the start of the COVID 19 pandemic. As if by magic, The CDC and our fearless leaders are releasing us from restrictions. Is it real? Is it over? Is it really, really over? Hard to accept and even harder to believe.
As of March 6, over 950,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID 19. That’s a fact and the death toll is projected to reach one million later this year.
Yet, we’re still here.