As protesting, chaos and a nearly fatal attack on police ensued on the streets of Brooklyn Wednesday night, the isle of Manhattan told a different, more eerie story during the curfew.
After seven days of the ongoing outrage followed by some arrests for those out past curfew in large congregations, much of Manhattan became a canyon that only echoed very little.
One of my first stops last night in the post-curfew city was Canal Street near Broadway, where no less than 24 hours earlier I had seen a fire that was started, an upwards of eight looters leap over shattered glass of a Verizon store window while sprinting away from oncoming police, along with other instances of massive chaos that couldn’t be described, but only seen.
Besides a single squad car and other NYPD passing by eastbound, the street was desolate Wednesday night.
Then the rain came down.
Being the sports fan that I am, it’s only natural to believe in omens — and in that dark night this sign was clear as day. The sirens stopped and the helicopters flew elsewhere after the roughly 20-30 minute deluge as then the confusing, anxious sense of lifelessness began to set in.
Driving around Manhattan under those circumstances truly felt a little bit like Grand Theft Auto IV — you could do a lap around the island in a matter of minutes, there were always police in the vicinity, and to be blunt, you only had to quasi obey the rules of the road.
I pulled over on Sixth Avenue near West 3rd Street for a moment to see if there were reports of any protests close by. At that time I looked up, directly seeing the Empire State Building re-illuminated after being turned off for a number of days, returning in a heart-beating, vibrant red before my very eyes.
Then I moved uptown to Times Square, where police had blocks of barriers set up. Some cops stood watch, though there wasn’t very much to watch over.
Conversationally, one officer stationed on Times Square’s north end told me that after everything that had ensued, this was his most quiet night on the job.
For whatever reason, seeing nearby Radio City with its lights down in the emptiness is when things began to sink in.
It wasn’t shocking because you could absorb what you were seeing, you just couldn’t believe it was actually happening.
At that point I almost regretted all the harsh things I’ve said about tourists who once clogged up that intersection at West 50th Street and Sixth Avenue.
I moved downtown to the World Trade Center via the West Side Highway. There was some noise this time: buses moving, construction projects loudly being fulfilled, even some cars on the road.
At that time, New York felt more like its usual hectic self before the protests and COVID-19.
While I noticed that nobody was jogging on the West Side Pier, I also inadvertently stayed at a green light for some moments, naturally flinching while expecting a barrage of car horns that never sounded.
I parked easily on West and Murray Street, getting out to walk around for a little bit.
While photographing the World Trade Center up close, I instinctively jumped out of a bicycle lane I was standing in like that of a basketball player about to commit a three second violation.
No bicycles were coming.
At this point in time, I felt some guilt to having Manhattan to myself in such a way, given what had been going on and behind Brookfield Place is where this entirely strange sensation had reached a new level for me.
The Hudson River was more still than I had ever seen or heard it — even on its most ordinarily quiet nights the sound of water crashing into the concrete sea wall was always audible.
That night the water could not be heard.
I remember only hearing a subway train roll beneath me, a faint reminder that Manhattan’s heart was still beating.
Then I headed home by way of the Queensboro Bridge out to Long Island, taking the FDR Drive northbound.
I was following what had been happening in Brooklyn but couldn’t see a thing besides one high altitude NYPD chopper north of the Brooklyn Bridge, which had its iconic flag wrapped completely around the pole it is hoisted from.
I stopped at Hunters Point quickly just to look in at Manhattan one more time. The quiet tension hanging over the empty island streets was one I hope not to experience again.