Our Town: Manhattan becomes ‘Sleeping Beauty’

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"Manhattan, our great and glorious Sleeping Beauty, slumbers on and on"

I’ve been curious to see what Manhattan looks like on shutdown. I imagined it would be like the opening scene from the film “Vanilla Sky” when Tom Cruise wakes up to a Manhattan with no people around and runs through Times Square in a state of panic and dread.
In order to satisfy my interest I gathered my camera gear and off I drove early Sunday morning at 8:04 a.m. Immediately I could see this was going to be an easy, breezy drive in. In fact, the only thing that was in any way disturbing on the way in was all those heinous expressway signs with greetings such as “STAY HOME, STAY SAFE,” “OUTSIDE WITH NO MASK: FUHGEDDABOUDIT!” or “COVER YOUR FACE IN PUBLIC.”
But within no time I was in Lower Manhattan at 8:33 AM. That ride was only 29 minutes, which is a new record for me by at least 16 minutes. My plan was to go up Third Avenue to 57th Street, go cross town, park my car and stroll around Central Park.
Driving up Third Avenue was a wonderment. I had always known that the lights in Manhattan were timed to facilitate the easy flow of traffic, but in fact I had never experienced this so called ‘flow.’ It has always been more like stop, start, curse, clinch teeth and stop again. But without cars on the road I eased on up Third going about 35 mph the whole way. I made a left on 57th, got across town and parked near Sixth Avenue.  Many, many parking spots were to be had. I had only seen about five people on the streets, but like a good citizen I put on my mask and sauntered on up to the park.
As I walked toward the park, I began to notice all the restaurants and hotels in Midtown. When you walk down a street in Manhattan, you usually spend your time dodging other pedestrians and have no time to look at the buildings. Not this time. There was only about one person per city block on the sidewalk and no sounds of traffic or sirens.
I got to Central Park and went in. The first thing I did was to climb up a path where that little gazebo stands atop the big rocks (see photo) and lo and behold there was all that beautiful nature in the foreground and the skyline of Manhattan rising up in the background. Central Park is a magnificent place to be and it was amazing to me that no one was around. I was beginning to feel like Tom Cruise in “Vanilla Sky” but without the good looks and six pack abs.
I moseyed back to my car and made my way down Broadway to look at Times Square. I parked along a side street and walked by all those closed theaters. Billboards announcing “Phantom of the Opera,” “Chicago,” “The Book of Mormon,” “Diane,” “Frozen” all have gone dark. Sad but true.
I took some photos of an empty Times Square , got back in my car and made my way over to the East Side to make my exit out of New York City. As I traveled down Second Avenue, just before I got to the Midtown Tunnel I was overcome with a strange feeling.
This was the first time I have ever driven through Manhattan without feeling anxious, anger and stressed. Instead I felt calm and cool and collected. How odd and how unexpected! I entered the tunnel with a newfound appreciation of exactly how special Manhattan is with its skylines, its Central Park, its museums, its restaurants, its hotels and its Broadway.
So many are wary of the city because of just how challenging it is to negotiate. One must maneuver around the traffic, the lights, the parking situation, the cost of parking, the tidal wave of pedestrians, and the sheer energy of the place.
Who knew that lying dormant under all that stress and strain lies a true beauty that has rightfully earned the reputation of being the greatest city on Earth. Let us pray our sleeping beauty wakes up soon and comes back to life. In the famed fairy tale, an evil fairy puts a curse on the princess where she must sleep for 100 years. She is finally awakened by a handsome prince. We have this story playing out now. Manhattan plays the sleeping beauty, the evil fairy is called COVID-19 and now we await the handsome prince to come forth and awaken her. So who will be the handsome prince that saves the day?

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