Every so often these days, I have a down feeling, as if I am under a black cloud. I call this mild Covid depression, a covpression. I fret about when the pandemic will end, but before that happy day I wonder whether I will be able to return to the life that I enjoyed. I expect that many of the joys of New York City will not immediately, if ever, return. So, for example, before Covid I had been going to the theater dozens of times a year. Broadway may come back, but I especially enjoyed small, often experimental, theater productions. I was amazed how many of the companies could exist, and I expect that at least some of them will have folded by the time vaccines and herd immunity will make it safe again to sit in a place with barely enough space for a hundred seats and a stage so small that the actors had to be careful not to bump into each other.
I worry about more than the theater in a future New York. New York City may headquarter large corporations and have powerful investment and legal firms, but my New York is a city of small businesses. On my walks, I enjoy looking into the storefronts and browsing in the cramped stationery and book stores, popping into an ethnic or upscale food place, or having lunch in an establishment not much bigger than a living room. I value the convenience of getting screws at the local hardware store, milk at a corner grocery, and wine from an establishment all within a few blocks walk from home. But, I fear, that many of these small businesses will not have survived by the time I can stroll without a mask.
I do know that the experience in my local bar will be different even if gets back into full operation. Before Covid, I went five or six times a month to a nearby biergarten. I didn’t go to drink much. Most times I would have one or two beers and never more than three. Instead, I went on the days when I had not done some other New York activity, for I believe that every day I should do something in the City. When I had not seen a movie or play or had lunch with friends or gone to a museum or the library, I would go to the bar. I always went with a book and was content to read, but I was always hoping that I would get into a conversation with someone I would not ordinarily talk with.
I got to know some of the staff and had regular conversations with them, and although I have only seen one of them outside of the bar, I would label them friends. They, however, were laid off when the bar could only serve outdoors. They have had to find some other way to make an income, and it seems unlikely that they will return to bartending and serving at this establishment when, or if, it can fully reopen.
Some of the people who were at the bar frequently have become friends—the Buddhist chaplain raised in an army family from New Orleans; the mixed-race public defender raised by a white mother in Brooklyn who went to law school in Wisconsin—each with a cute kid. Will they be back, or will they have found some other way to spend that occasional hour or two?
These thoughts make me hesitant about returning to the bar. I know that these absences will make me sad and will perhaps bring back memories of the pandemic’s bad times that I will, no doubt, be wishing to keep at bay. If I’m going to feel down each time I enter, I may have to give up the biergarten.
I may go back, however, if the place continues to attract people who interest me. It is not a singles bar. It is not in a business area of town bringing in people on the make as they pour out of office towers. Its communal tables encourage comradeship. Neighborhood families, especially with small children, come and feel comfortable. People going to one of the nearby arts institutions or the sports arena stop in before or after a performance or game. However it developed or for whatever reason, the place has attracted an eclectic group of Brooklynites, and Brooklyn has a wealth of interesting people.
Although some of the people I have chatted with are of my generation—a couple from South Dakota; a fireman returning to New York City from his North Carolina retirement home; a father from Georgia waiting to meet his son living in Brooklyn—most I meet are much younger. They are at points in their lives that I have long passed, but the myriad possibilities and paths they present hold a fascination—a writer for CNBC; a commercial real estate leasing specialist; the man with the cover band and a standing gig at a tavern in Manhattan; the advertising guy; the vegan hairdresser; the woman who worked in ESPN films; the trivia-playing woman apparently jealous of me for talking to her pregnant wife. All have offered me glimpses into worlds different from my own.
(And next time, on September 18, a few more examples.)