About the time a bat was emerging from its cave to change the world by sharing with humans its coronavirus, I attended an Andrea Bocelli concert in Madison Square Garden with about 20,000 other Bocelli fans. That morning, two friends, Rosa and Ruth, and I had taken a packed Acela train from Philadelphia to New York’s Penn Station.
Ruth quieted me as I muttered about the circuitous route the taxi driver was taking toward my favorite New York lunch spot—Indie Food and Wine, at Lincoln Center. After lunch, we shopped in the Metropolitan Opera’s gift shop, where I found the red “Metropolitan Opera Diva” tote bag I had in mind. I barely managed to stop myself, for the sake of my budget, from seeing if a ticket remained for Andrea’s February 2020 Met recital (since postponed twice).
At St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I bought Christmas gifts in the tiny, teeming gift shop, and we mingled with the other tourists bottling holy water and taking pictures next to the life-size creche. Other tourists offered us, “Do you want me to take your picture?” “Oh yes please—thanks!”
We oohed over the Saks Christmas lights, joined the crowd admiring the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, and watched the skaters. Exceedingly extroverted Ruth chatted with an equally uninhibited young man selling jewelry outside for a nearby shop. She introduced him to me as if he’d been an old friend.
Ruth, Rosa, and I were cold and a little hungry by then and so stopped for an early supper at a less-than-inspiring TGI Fridays, where Ruth told the host that he looked like Eddie Murphy. Pleased by Ruth’s warmth and ways, he joked that he’d take us (clearly seniors) to the section where the “young people sit.”
After Ruth bought a knit cap from a street vender to ward off the intensifying chill, we turned onto 45th Street to head over to Seventh Avenue, figuring it was time to start back toward Madison Square Garden, where our concert would begin at 7:30. I was cold, too, but refused to buy a hat since I didn’t want hat hair. By the time we arrived at MSG, hat hair would have been a great improvement over the state of my locks.
Part way along the block on 45th Street, Rosa said, “It’s snowing!” The day had started out sunny, with no forecast of inclement weather. “It’s your fault,” she said to me, teasing. Rosa and I had driven to New York in February 2019 to hear Andrea at the Met, and we’d driven in heavy snow during the second half of our late-night trip home.
By the time Rosa, Ruth, and I turned south on Seventh Avenue, the snow squall was underway in full fury. Rosa’s phone squawked a warning (a bit late) about an impending snow squall, and the next day, we watched replays of the storm on the national news. Within five minutes, Ruth, Rosa, and I looked like lost arctic explorers who’d fallen into a snow drift.
Hordes of cold, wet people wandered along the avenue, grabbing up every cab. Ruth and I were worried about our friend Rosa, who was gamely keeping up as we tried to locate a cab ourselves. Ruth was considering asking for help from a police officer whose car we’d spotted nearby. I finally prayed aloud and fervently, “God, we need a taxi!”
Zip, a taxi pulled up. Chatty Ruth told the driver, “We were about to get the police.”
“I am a police officer,” said the driver, “but I’m retired.”
Madison Square Garden let us into the building more than an hour before our tickets said we could enter. Eventually someone showed us a bench on which we could wait. Rosa and I talked and rested, and Ruth exchanged recipes, gardening tips, and life stories with a woman from Hungary who sat down next to us.
Finally, we were invited into the nearby elevator, and after a walk to the correct side of the stadium, we found our seats for the concert.
I think of New York and New Yorkers now and wonder how the city I visited a little over a year ago could have transformed so rapidly and radically. I question how the New York that Ruth, Rosa, and I visited could ever have been. We were not oblivious to the suffering there then, too. But that was a time of immense crowds and vibrant living for those blessed as I am. I wonder how long it will be before the New York of swirling crowds, honking horns, and magnificent cultural arts will be able to return. Maybe by then, the homeless people we saw in Penn Station and all the other New Yorkers who know want will find greater welcome, human warmth and dignity, and freedom from hunger, danger, and inhuman suffering. I wish the same for everyone everywhere across our planet.