Here Is New York, 2020

Bob Varettoni
3 min readMay 22, 2020
St. Patrick’s on Sunday morning.
Click here to hear its bells ring on May 17, 2020.

This past Saturday, I returned to New York City for the first time following a 9-week Quar time absence.

The New York Times had just posted this story: “Where New Yorkers Moved to Escape Coronavirus.” Statistics showed mail-forwarding trends from people who have fled the city.

On Saturday, I was heading in the opposite direction — a quick car trip into Manhattan from my home in New Jersey, to pick up my daughter who needed to be somewhere that evening, returning on Sunday morning.

Most of those who had fled New York had been living in upscale neighborhoods on the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan. I saw the evidence of this on my drive: no traffic, no tourists.

Looking south on First Avenue, Beekman Tower blocking the U.N.

My route took me past my workplace on the East Side, where everything on my desk is likely just as I left it Friday, the 13th of March. Back then, I expected everything to be back to normal (the commute, the tourists, the office) on Monday morning, March 30. Today, I hope to be back at my desk, and expect everything to be very different, sometime before the end of the year.

E. B. White’s “Here in New York” once described three New Yorks.

First are those who are born there. I can never claim that.

Second are the commuters. That’s my ordinary self.

Third are those who were born somewhere else but who come to New York in quest of something. That’s who I am when I’m my best self.

In White’s words, the third city “accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements.”

That’s why I look forward to coming back to New York to work. That’s why I’m so proud my daughter lives there. That’s why I stepped out of my car to capture these images.

Times Square, May 17, 2020.

Of all the people I read about in The New York Times on Saturday, I most admire Roman Suarez, who lives in the Bronx.

Mr. Suarez is a fourth New York. He’s worth the whole damn bunch put together.

Here is what The Times wrote about him on Saturday. Here is New York in 2020:

He picks up medication and groceries for about three dozen family members who live nearby. “I just stayed and made myself available for my family,” he said.

His neighbors, many of whom work for the city, or in health care, stayed too, he said. His neighborhood, just east of the Bronx Zoo, had fewer than a quarter as many mail-forwarding requests as the Upper East or Upper West Sides.

“My father was a cab driver. My mom was a hairdresser, so I understood service to your community,” Mr. Suarez said. He recalled living through other challenging times in the city, from Hurricane Gloria in 1985 to the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001. “Whenever New York goes through stuff, the best thing to do is just be there.”

Grand Central Terminal: my last photo before leaving New York City in March.

Originally published at



Bob Varettoni

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