Before the pandemic, I took the subway in NYC all the time. It was always my first choice for transportation. Then there was the pandemic. If I needed to leave my neighborhood during the pandemic (usually only for a doctor’s appointment or the occasional Covid shot), I would resort to a bus or, sometimes, a taxi. Taxis have a very reassuring plastic barrier between the front seat and the backseat. As a senior citizen, I really appreciated that. It wasn’t that I was that concerned about Covid transmission on the train, since I knew ridership would be way down. I was much more concerned about crime. Fewer riders to me meant more possibilities for criminal behavior.
Since March 2020, and with all the dramatic news stories involving subway incidents, that concern hasn’t dissipated at all. I’ve spoken to some friends and acquaintances, who are also senior citizens, who don’t have any problem riding the subway. Although some said they’d seen passengers on the trains and platforms who looked a bit “unstable,” they said they were “harmless”.
I’m not sure I can summon the courage to see for myself and am wondering what it’s going to take to get me to go down those subway stairs again.
There are, unquestionably, many benefits to volunteering. Some of the ones that are most often mentioned are: it provides you with a sense of purpose; it provides a sense of community; it teaches you valuable skills (including social skills). As a senior citizen, it helps you meet new friends and provides a bulwark against loneliness. That’s especially important during this pandemic, as many of us who are senior citizens are spending more time, isolated, at home.
I live in NYC and I’ve had various volunteer jobs over the years. Some lasted longer than others because some I enjoyed more than others.
I decided at the end of last year that I wanted to add a new volunteer commitment to my schedule so I Googled “volunteer opportunities”. I could search in countless ways for volunteer work (in NYC, in my neighborhood, by type of work, etc.). It was somewhat overwhelming.
With all the bicycles and scooters coming at you, from all directions, on city streets and sidewalks, you’d think it’s safer to walk in the park. Think again. It’s apparently the Wild West there, too.
A few days ago, as I was taking a morning walk along the east side of Riverside Drive, adjacent to Riverside Park, I forgot to look behind me when I moved over a few feet to the left to avoid a fallen tree branch. I heard a bicycle bell and and then felt the rush of air of the first bicycle as it whizzed by me, narrowly missing my left side by a few inches. A second bicycle followed, again narrowly missing me. These folks weren’t just leisurely pedaling along. They were going at breakneck speed.
I definitely think there’s a market in New York City for eyeglasses with rear-and-side-view mirrors.
I do worry that pedestrians are losing ground against cyclists here. I heard on the news this morning that Democratic Mayoral candidate Eric Adams is also an avid cyclist. Perhaps we also need full body armor.
I got my 2nd Covid vaccination early in the morning of Saturday, February 13th at the Armory in Manhattan. It goes without saying, it was an enormous relief. I was looking forward to that day for a year.
I’m now 3 weeks past that date, with the awareness that I have about a 95% efficacy against getting Covid. At least the old form of Covid, that’s been around since last winter. But these new variants are worrisome. So, even fully vaccinated, my life looks and feels pretty much the same as it did before.
I’m still walking around with 2 masks and put over them a face shield whenever I walk into a store. I try not to go into stores if I can help it and, when I do, I don’t stay very long. My Purell bottle is always in a pocket of my coat.
I haven’t eaten inside or outside in a NYC restaurant in over a year and will not be joining other New Yorkers at the movies or in museums, when they are allowed in at modest percentages.
Like most of us, I wonder when we’ll ever be able to go back to the way it was.
Inertia is a powerful force. We may be sitting on the sofa reading the newspaper or a book, and finding it an extremely pleasant way to spend the time. Especially if it’s raining out. Also, if you went to the dinner you were invited to attend, you’d need to change clothes. Yes, you RSVP’d that you’d attend, but now, upon reflection, were you really that excited about spending time with group of people who were acquaintances but not really close friends? All these thoughts may go through your head and keep you sitting on the sofa while plotting some convincing excuses for why you can’t make it.
However, this is a pitch to recommend getting up off the sofa, changing clothes and getting out — even if the people you’ll be meeting are not your BFF’s.
It seems pretty obvious that as we get older, there’s enormous value in socializing and spending time with other people, especially if you live alone. We’ve all read that having a network of friends can help us live longer. Apart from the human companionship, there’s quite a lot to be said for changing it up and doing things that are different. I’m no expert on the human brain but those synapses in our brains like change and get all fired up when we do novel things. Perhaps meeting at a new restaurant, trying something different to eat, having some interesting conversations or meeting some new people would all help to keep our brains sharper.
Have you noticed how difficult it is to have a normal conversation in many NYC restaurants these days? It seems that many restauranteurs are placing tables closer together, presumably, to maximize income. Many also favor hard surfaces on walls, ceilings and floors so sound doesn’t get as readily absorbed. Some even play background music. I’ve heard that higher ambient noise levels are markers of hipness and trendiness. The consequence of all this is that people have to talk even louder to hear each other across the table and have a normal conversation at the estimated 60 decibels. Just by way of reference, decibel levels above 85 are considered harmful and warrant earmuffs, or earplugs, to protect your hearing.
Of course, there are very posh Manhattan restaurants that favor quieter surroundings, with tables spaced further apart and softer surfaces to absorb sound. But they come with much higher price tags for a lunch or dinner. It seems we pay much more for quiet.
My friends have favored frequenting popular Manhattan restaurants at off-hours to try to avoid both crowds and high noise levels, with lunches planned for 2:00 pm or dinners at 5:00 pm. Of course, with that schedule, you really couldn’t work up much of an appetite if you did both in one day.
I have even known people who sat across from each other at a NYC restaurant and communicated in text messages, because verbal communication was extremely difficult.
If you’re really curious about restaurant decibel levels, you can buy a low-cost meter on Amazon for less that $20. However, it’s not entirely clear what you’d do with the high reading at any favorite restaurant, except avoid going or seeing what their Early Bird Special looks like. We could also look into bringing back the old-fashioned ear horn.
Look around the sidewalks of the city sometime and it seems as if everyone is carrying a coffee cup. They almost seem like fashion statements. In one hand you hold a go-cup and in the other hand your smartphone.
Actually, I need to revise that ubiquity statement because I think most bearers of the coffee go-cup aren’t yet having their doctor’s visits paid by Medicare. In other words, they’re younger.
I’m not quite sure why that is but maybe it’s because at a certain age all that caffeine keeps you up at night. Or perhaps it’s because we didn’t grow up with Starbucks on every corner and we didn’t form a habit of drinking coffee and walking. Or maybe we just need to juggle handling too much other stuff — bags, a cane, a walker. I certainly haven’t seen anyone pushing a walker holding a go-cup but I’ve seen plenty of people pushing a stroller and handling a cup of hot coffee.
Honestly, the other oddity is the fact that the people who are drinking coffee on-the-go are the same people packing big water bottles to maintain their daily hydration numbers.
But here’s where we have a problem. New York City simply doesn’t have that many readily accessible public toilets. Starbucks is helpful in that respect but then you just go in, use their bathroom and buy another cup of coffee.
Like most of us, I fall into routines. I get up at roughly the same time every day. My breakfasts of fruit, cereal and coffee don’t differ that dramatically from one day to the next. But I’m trying a new strategy to try different routes to get to places I might routinely need to get to in Manhattan–especially on foot.
What this new approach does is to provide opportunities for constantly changing sights, sounds and experiences. It’s especially nice when these new routes have older buildings that evidence the city’s history. They’re certainly shorter. Most of them are going to be brick or stone, to have survived fires. Some of them might even have an old sign embedded in the masonry.
My new walking plan not only makes it much more fascinating to walk around but gives me a chance to reflect on New York City’s incredibly interesting history. Plus I’ve found some great new places to stop to have a coffee and a muffin on the way.
Folks, this isn’t a challenge of aging in society today. It’s bigger than that. It’s the mysteries we all encounter in bathrooms in restaurants, airports, theaters, stores or wherever there are sinks, faucets, soap and paper towel dispensers. There’s no uniform standard for how all of these work so we’re left on our own to figure it out, especially if there’s no one at an adjacent sink who’s figured it out and can give us advisories.
Otherwise, we stand in front of the sink waving our hands in all directions until we know exactly how everything works. There are also the occasions when we think we’ll activate the faucet by hand waving only to find that it’s the old fashioned kind that actually needs to be turned on. “Duh,” I usually say to myself.
Somebody will someday calculate the lost productivity hours caused by this bathroom confusion, unless some legislative body legislates uniform standards for faucets and soap and towel dispensers. No doubt that will cause a revolt by all those who are the bathroom free spirits who like plumbing design diversity and don’t mind the challenges it poses.