In early March, I left my apartment in upper Manhattan and drove to Ontario to visit my elderly parents. For a few days while I was there, the number of reported cases of the novel coronavirus was rising in Toronto at about the same pace as they were in New York City. As the numbers climbed in both cities every day, my grip on my rental car’s steering wheel got a little tighter.
At first I had been leaving the car at my AirBnb and using Lyfts and Ubers to bypass the gridlock of Toronto’s suburban parking lots. But as the case numbers ticked into the double digits, I started driving everywhere, to limit any prolonged contact with strangers. Back in the US in time to see New York’s Covid situation turn catastrophic, I looked into keeping my safe, metal pod, but it was too expensive. Instead, I leased a Ford. Then I found a small house to rent in a tiny upstate community clinging parasite-like to a state park. My spouse and I eventually moved out of our New York top-floor walk-up completely.
I had valid reasons for all of these decisions, but it’s not without shame that I admit to them. Like many people, I fell in love with New York partly because its density made walking—the most democratic form of movement, as British author and filmmaker Iain Sinclair puts it—a joy, while the cheap subway made owning a car unnecessary. Though the crowds and broken signal delays were often maddening, I admired the vast underground system for what it symbolized, the ability to move and mix 5.5 million commuters of every social strata, members of every community, the young, the old, people with and without disabilities, daily, for a fare of $2.75 per person.