10 Ways to See New York Pre-Pandemic, A Sudden History

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10 Ways to See New York became sudden history in 2020 as the coronavirus banished much of what defined the city. Tourists disappeared while restrictions and fear emptied out once busy Midtown sidewalks. This the way we were, pre-pandemic.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

By David Stone

Assorted Ideas, Large & Small

“What comes to mind when you imagine New York City? Times Square? Central Park? The Empire State Building? Maybe, the Statue of Liberty? Here, in a street photographer’s eye, are some other, less obvious choices, but just as true.”

That’s what we wrote when putting together this article, but everything changed. Fears of COVID-19, restrictions halting its spread emptied parks and sidewalks. And tourists no long flavor Times Square with awed enthusiasm.

By David Stone/Photography by Deborah Julian

1. New York City Angst Splashed With Humor

Ways to See New York: I Can't Grow Up Print
I Can’t Grow Up, Street Photography by Deborah Julian

A picture from the Lower East Side, reflecting how New York discouraged adulthood, now as much nostalgia as it was resistance.

Back then, New York came at you without let up. Intensity, we wrote, lessens sometimes but never goes completely away, a claim that no longer holds true.

Some days, you might want to escape or just not face it.

I Can’t Grow Up
 is about conflict, but there was always a angular note of humor.

Related: 1911 New York City Rising

2. Ways To See New York City: Disconnected

In a city as vibrant and full of things to do and see as New York was, you shouldn’t have to dodge people, their eyes glued to cell phones or chattering into mics. But you did. Anywhere. All the time.

The New Normal
The New Normal, Street Photography by Deborah Julian, is more ironic now, the alienation of cellphones displaced by a pandemic.

When I was a kid, I was taught that walking on the curb side of a woman or girl with whom I was lucky enough to stroll.

A guy was expected to take the splashes of rain and slush from buses and errant taxis.

That’s not so necessary today, and sidewalks are less crowded, people on them more aware.

The New Normal found two women on cell phones, leaning against the railing in Carl Schurz Park, oblivious to each other and their surroundings.

3. Peace and Humor Among the Falling Leaves

It’s changed some in recent years. New York’s became more of a year round destination, but there were days when Central Park was mostly New Yorkers.

But in the spring of 2020, the coronavirus made it all New Yorkers.

It was one of the most beautiful of the 10 ways to see New York City. It’s also sneaky funny.

Everyone's a Critic
Everyone’s a Critic, Street Photography by Deborah Julian

Families are out with their children. Everyone feels at home. Tourists are fewer.

Everyone’s a Critic
takes a look at the seasonal parade of New Yorkers in Central Park.

Dads are out with their daughters as the leaves begin to change. Maybe it’s visitation day. Anyway, here, subtle humor emerges.

A living statue perches along the walking trail, portraying a butterfly (I think).

Now, look at the scrunched up looks on the girls’ faces. What are they thinking?

Related: A View of Central Park At Night

4. Walking the Midtown Maze

Mayor Bloomberg limited car traffic in Times Square. Here’s why.

7th Avenue, Broadway and cross streets from 37th to 42nd delivering buses, trucks, vans and cars converged with masses of pedestrians. It was chaotic and dangerous.

Midtown Traffic Maze: 10 Ways to See New York City
Midtown Traffic Maze, Street Photography by Deborah Julian

How many are distracted by the vivid digital advertising running 24/7 on so many billboards?

Congestion is one thing, but as you can see in Midtown Traffic Maze, the intersections of crosswalks, turning buses, bicycles going wherever and in whatever direction they like is a daily hazard

5. 10 Ways to See New York City: the Other New Year in Times Square

A melting pot, New York City was where an elevator ride meant listening to simultaneous conversations in multiple languages, none of them yours.

An Asian Way to See New York: Chinese New Year Celebration Bus
Celebrating Chinese New Year on a Bus Through Times Square, Street Photography by Deborah Julian

If you love Chinese food, heaven awaied you in Manhattan.

Chinese New Year, celebrated on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, usually started in February and lasted for about 23 wonderful days.

But the last party barely preceded the pandemic shutdowns, and whatever comes next will not be as bold.

Our Chinese neighborhoods were rich with parades and fireworks. Chinese New Year-Times Square shows the celebration migrating west down 42nd Street with Chinese and American flags and a brass band on a rented bus in the snow.

Now this area, at the edge of Times Square, is mostly empty with Broadway closed and offices abandoned.

6. The City Meets Its Match

10 ways to see New York City… threatened by a thunderstorm? In 2020, wouldn’t it be quaint if a thunderstorm were our biggest threat?

In an exciting match of wills, Racing the Storm shows blackening clouds as menacing as anything in the Wizard of Oz, building up over the Upper East Side of Manhattan in Yorkville.

Ways to See New York unlikely to change: Racing the Storm
Racing the Storm, Fine Art Photography by Deborah Julian

Because we live along the Atlantic Ocean, floods are impossible except for storm surges, but when thunderstorms hit hard, they fill the streets with water racing toward overwhelmed drains.

Umbrellas are made useless by steady winds curling around tall buildings, exaggerated by the storm.

An advantage of so many hard surfaces is that storms are forgotten quickly. And as long as you’re not on the water, as these boats racing for safety show, you’re not in much danger, no matter how wet you get.

7. A Wall Full of Sexy Hair

Fifty years after her death, Marilyn Monroe‘s looks still sell, but in COVID-19 stilled Midtown, there aren’t many buyers.

Sexy Hair, Street Photography by Deborah Julian

In an ad for Sexy Hair, a photo of Marilyn tosses a sultry glare down a gritty side street in Midtown Manhattan.

“Every woman wants to feel sexy so I put it in a bottle,” says Michael O’Rourke, the company’s founder, setting a new standard in clunky marketing phrases.

And it did seem odd in a city blessed with many sexy women working and living that they’d pick Marilyn Monroe as an icon. She’s a legendary beauty who, as a comic actress, played sexy for fun.

But her beauty undermined her. She found it hard to get serious parts, and her career foundered.

Marilyn Monroe died a suicide after numerous unsuccessful attempts. Smart men adored her, but she couldn’t stay married. Her unhappy life ended in tragedy, making it all the more strange finding her image still exploited, a half-century later, selling beauty that never did her enough good.

8. Unexpected: New York City In Ice

New York is known for finance, entertainment, glamour and more. An often overlooked segment is its industry, but we remembered it among our ways to see New York City.

The business of being a big city continued all year. Unnoticed by most visitors, tugboats the city depends on make their way along the tidal straits separating Manhattan from the other boroughs.

In Tugboat Winter, one tug pushes a tanker north through mid-winter ice along the East River while a second follows as a backup.

Tugboat in Winter
Tugboat in Winter: East River, Fine Art Photography by Deborah Julian

The tanker demonstrates how invisible much of the city’s support systems and industries are. More than twenty feet of depth hidden beneath the surface of the icy water, held low by its cargo.

The powerful tug is much smaller, a tiny concentration of power. Later, this tanker will make a return trip, empty, its hull towering high above its tugboat escort.

9. 10 Ways to See New York City: Fresh Air In a Not So Fresh City

Tourists found it an attraction, an escape, but for us Central Park was a people’s park, a relaxed zone that made the streets quieter and fewer.

More somber Ways to See New York: Day Dreamers, Central Park, Fine Art Print
Daydreamers in Central Park is its own kind of ironic nostalgia.

If you didn’t know this article is about New York City, you might never guess that these girls are at ease on an autumn afternoon about one-hundred feet from Fifth Avenue.

Behind them, if they turn around, they see the Sherry Netherlands Hotel, the General Motors Building, with a packed Apple Store in front, and the Plaza Hotel.

But sheltered under Central Park’s old growth trees, they find all they want in the calm reflections of The Pond, part of Olmstead and Vaux‘s original design for a retreat from city life.

Central Park offers the pleasures these girls enjoy all year. I’ve spent more hours than I can count wandering the trails. In times good or bad, like every other New Yorker, you can always go there to get refreshed.

10. Up, Up But Not Quite Away in New York City

Let’s close like we started with something a little whimsical with an urban twist.

Balloon Girl, Street Photography by Deborah Julian

Balloon Girl is a from a summer day in Tribeca on Manhattan’s lower West Side.

That summer, an advertising promotion had balloon girls stationed all around the city, handing out leaflets. For most, it was probably a freer than usual way to earn some extra money from a summer job.

It’s a phenomena in New York City that even the most striking of sights, in a bright pink dress and high heels, might as well be invisible sometimes.

You had to try hard to get noticed here, the background noise turned up high. By the look on this balloon girl, she no longer had much taste for the job.

Sudden History in Ways to See New York Wrap Up

The city of eight million originals sometimes seemed like it would take that many images for a complete picture. It may again some day, but in the long pandemic shadow, it’s fewer.

And nobody knows when, if ever, and what conditions will rise again.

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