Will the Commuters Return?

When New York City is great, it’s great. Musicians entertain you, while you wait for the Uptown A train. But lately, the subways and the streets of the city have become a dumpster fire. Or, as happened this morning, a suitcase fire. Some nut job wheeled a suitcase onto a subway, lit it on fire, and jumped out as the doors shut (on local tv news, no link). A few weeks ago, a woman was pushed on the track and killed. Friends tell me about their college kids, who are getting mugged or hassled outside Fordham and Columbia campuses.

Prior to the pandemic, there were nearly 1 million commuters, people like Steve and my neighbors, coming into the city every day from Jersey, Long Island, and Westchester. People in the boroughs took the D train or the 7 train into downtown Manhattan. But for nearly two years, all those folks stayed home, and it’s had a huge impact on New York City and other cities, where most workers live outside the downtown area.

There has always been crazy people walking through New York City. In the mid-80s as a young college graduate, I walked through Columbus Circle and passed a person with panty hose over his face. Because that situation was only a 2 or 3, rather than a 8 or 9, on my personal alarm scale, I knew that I had became a true New Yorker.

Without commuters, the people with with mental health issues walk around unchecked. The craziness is purer, undiluted. And businesses that served the commuters — everything from food trucks to the shoe shine guys — are gone. Those business owners kept the streets sane, too.

Empty and weird city streets are something out of a sci-fi novel. It’s upsetting.

Now, the workers may be going back. The Mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, is pushing for it. Big businesses want workers back. I just dropped off Steve at the train station for the first time since mid-December. He’s going back three days a week now; his staff will join him next week. Can they change the dynamics on the streets and subways? We’ll see.

The return to work should change the dynamics here at home, too. Remote work was fun for a while, but we’re all ready to get out of the house. There’s a certain energy that comes from moving so early in the morning and making that mental shift from home to work. I think a lot people are getting bored at home and are ready for change. I am.

We are moving to a post-pandemic world at warp speed right now. I mean we’re all still going to get sick from covid at some point. Covid isn’t going away. But the pandemic rules are over for both scientific and political reasons.

Are you ready for these changes?

PICTURE: I love New York! I want to be on a subway platform listening to a busker.