14 Months Later, We Lastly Visited an Previous Good friend: Our Pre-Pandemic Routine
“We’re doing what ?!” My 8 year old son screamed. “It’s coronavirus! We can’t go to New York! “
We have been sitting in our home in Jersey City, New Jersey for 14 months. Directly in front of our window the yellow ferry sat quietly, absolutely still. No longer busy getting passengers back and forth across the water to Manhattan. Once upon a time our family got on that yellow ferry for weekend adventures including, but not limited to, a visit to the Natural History Museum, a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park, and a breeze in Brookfield placing new ones on our aimless walks Discover slides and swings and of course enjoy sprinkles cupcakes with vanilla icing and lots of rainbow sprinkles.
Now that our life seemed to be slowly getting going again, the yellow ferry was making happy trips across the water again. My daughter peered through the window and shouted, “Mom! The boat is going! It is moving!”
Like many others, my husband and I had patiently waited for our moment to be vaccinated in New Jersey. And now that we were fully vaccinated, we decided it was time to venture out. We planned to meet one of my husband’s best friends, who had traveled to the tri-state region for dinner with his wife and four-year-old twins.
We assured our children that it would be safe to meet our friends. I carried a large shopping bag as if I was going away for the weekend, filled with hand sanitizer, coloring and puzzle books, crayons and markers, granola bars and fruit snacks, ready for any unexpected fit of anger we might get on our first return to town. It was the fastest thing I’d ever seen my kids get ready to go anywhere.
My children ran to the yellow boat, ran ahead, and piled on the seats. My son could not make up his mind where to sit and pointed to the Statue of Liberty and other landmarks that he remembered; My daughter was nervous when she saw the waves crash outside of the boat and grabbed her father’s arm tightly. I looked out the window as the city got closer and closer until we were finally back in NYC.
On a rainy Friday, the yellow ferry took us once more into the streets of Lower Manhattan, which were much emptier than expected. I held my breath as I looked around and marveled at the tall buildings and yellow taxis zooming around. My daughter squeezed my hand as we smelled hot dogs grilling on a nearby truck, waiting to cross the street. I unexpectedly found myself a tourist in a place that not so long ago I had been navigating like it was my second home.
While we were waiting for our friends, my children rediscovered the escalator. They used to love going up and down escalators on a Sunday afternoon. My daughter was intrigued and overwhelmed – she had forgotten how to use an escalator. She was afraid to put her feet on the escalator. My son didn’t want to touch the railing; he reminded me that I should have brought disposable gloves. I noticed that he kept his hands tucked in his rain jacket for most of the trip.
We went to Del Frisco’s. I felt tense as I saw flashbacks of pre-pandemic crowds and people waiting to be seated. Instead, I was received mostly calmly: a voice muttering from the TV screen, glasses clinking at the bar, and a friendly hostess putting together menus as she checked our reservations. We went to a long table and sat down at the luxury I had once taken for granted: a table that was already set and clean, our glasses were filled with water, and for once someone asked me what I wanted to eat.
“May I order chicken fingers, french fries and a lemonade, please? Thank you very much, ”my son said to the waitress. He clung to the menu like he’d just won a gold ticket from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was the first meal as a family in a restaurant in 14 months.
The children were initially calm, reluctantly taking off their masks when their lemonade arrived and wide-eyed as others enjoyed their meals in nearby alcoves. Ten minutes later, they shared their favorite jokes: What is a witch’s favorite subject? Spelling of course. They miraculously shared fries, caught up on lemonade, and told our friends how old their dog was in human years.
For once, I was the one who was served at a table without worrying about where I would keep the leftovers, worried whether the kids were eating enough carrots, and hoped there was still a box of dishwashing tablets under the sink. We spent most of the meal just joking and giggling, listening and sharing stories. And in the end we gave in to the screens so the adults could enjoy one last Moscow mule and a cappuccino.
And with all the excitement, my kids didn’t even ask for dessert.
When we said goodbye to our friends, my children rediscovered the revolving doors. They couldn’t remember which direction to push, got stuck in one place, pushing too quickly and then too slowly. They annoyed a number of guests waiting to get into the restaurant. At some point my husband had to intervene. Even a pandemic couldn’t change some things.
We were all exhausted when we drove home and boarded the yellow ferry again. Spending time with people other than ourselves. Eating too many fries. About reuniting with a city we’d been thinking about, worried about, and waiting to look again.
“I can’t wait to see you again soon, New York City,” my daughter said as she crawled into bed.
New York City, we can’t wait to see you again soon. We’ll try to be back next weekend, and probably the weekend after, with masks and hand sanitizer in tow. Like any relationship that we want to rebuild, we will take it step by step and slowly make friends again over time. We missed you old friend. We’ll see you again very soon.
Mita Mallick is Head of Inclusion, Equity and Impact at Carta and loves living in Jersey City with her husband and two young children.