Documenting Covid-19 in NYC – LILIGI

March began with symmetry. On a Sunday. The film & TV lighting and grip warehouse where I work was, thankfully, starting a break that week. Our warehouse’s biggest client, one of the longest running network TV shows in America, had declared a two-week hiatus, which was not unusual, and we were grateful. The week prior, we were run ragged, loading truck after truck, six in total I think, until the sky grew dark. Afterwards, as we all rushed out to miss the rain (or having to stay any longer than we needed to), I joked that we might as well close the place down until all of the trucks came back. There wasn’t much left to rent out anyway. 

Lower West Side, March, 2020
Sleeping Pedicab Driver

Off-show weeks were slow(er), but this March began a bit too slow. A few fixtures and rags went out on Monday and Tuesday. Tons of returns came in. Lots of downtime. While on my computer, I’d edit a few things for my acting reel. Sift through my headshots. Every now and then, I’d check out the news on my preferred independent media outlets where I had been keeping abreast of the situation in Europe and Asia. More often, we’d get the update from the front desk secretary who would frequently come into the warehouse to discuss the latest. Things were bad in Italy. Very bad. What’s worse, pundits were saying that soon the U.S. would begin to look quite similar. Some part of me knew that NYC would be one of the first and hardest hit places. What I didn’t know was that by March 1st, Covid-19 was long since here.

My coworker and I took a break during lunch. Walked around the block to hit the local supermarket and bodegas. I was wearing rubber gloves. Few others we saw were doing the same. That part of Long Island City was packed full of restaurants, but we bypassed them all. It was chilly and gray, and we weren’t that hungry, not having had enough physical exertion at work to inspire a decent appetite. 

Man with Headphones, LES, March 2020

Things proceeded even slower the following week until Thursday the 12th when, after lunch, the secretary rushed in again spouting that two cases of Covid-19 had presented at two different schools in the Bronx. “The Bronx?” I confirmed with her. The Bronx. Where I lived. But the Bronx was not yet labeled a “cosmopolitan” borough. How could it have presented a case so early when really only those who lived there traveled there?

Of course it was a naive estimation in hindsight. Upon inquiring which schools had seen the infection, it turned out that one of them was four small blocks away from where I lived. I reeled. A pre-recorded broadcast was blaring from the front desk computer. Governor Cuomo was now instating a city-wide ban on the gathering of groups over 50-people and the running of businesses where such gatherings took place. 

When the workday was done and I walked out into the cold and gray, the air was different. People were scuttling. Rushing across roads. Hurrying to catch the train into the city and onward home. Knowing my local supermarket would be packed by the time I got back, I opted to pick up a few essentials at the tiny local grocer by my job. They were already packed, too, and by the time I would arrive at my home grocery store, the lines for the register threatened to trail out of the doors. More people were wearing gloves. A few, myself included, now donned masks.

Grand Central Terminal, Main Concourse, March 2020
Grand Central Terminal, Main Concourse, March 2020

The next day, Friday, our empty warehouse was full of returns, cancelled orders, and whispers. NBC had cancelled production on 35 of its shows. Our biggest customer, that long-running network show, had extended their hiatus for a month. Netflix had ceased all production. No equipment was going out. Word was that all the warehouses were like this. As I was an applicant worker for Local 52 Film & TV workers union, I would receive an email soon after. It would state that all non-union members were being let go as there was little need for them now with no real production happening in the city. More whispers. It was the same on the west coast. The entire industry was dead.  We were glad for it everyday we had work after that point, but none of us were shocked when, on the third week of March, we all filed into the meeting room/kitchen. The situation was very plainly explained, but an explanation wasn’t necessary.

There were no shows to provide for now or in the foreseeable near future. All but one warehouse in the city had gone through this process, and our time had come. It began as the reservation of a two-person skeleton crew. It ended the following week when the entire warehouse shut its doors as the “spread” became a “crisis” and a statewide shutdown was formalized for all “non-essential” businesses. 

Two Boys Outside Grand Central Station, March 2020

Quarantining isn’t so difficult for me, having had experience with long, mandatory periods of time indoors. I do miss the gym with a passion, and find no comparison doing endless pull-ups over my bedroom doorway. Books are being read. Video games are being played, and every now and then when the curiosity grows too unbearable, I grab my Fujifilm X-T2, every zoom lens I’ve got, my old fisheye, some gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer, and run out into the subway.

NYPD Officers Standing by Cruiser

I’ve never seen New York City like this. Empty in all the wrong places and at all the wrong times. Barren trains during rush hour. Nowhere to stop, rest, or eat. Shutters and silence pierced only by sirens and the two cars zipping down the asphalt. There is a sense of danger one gets in the city at night. Perhaps walking down a tiny street away from the center of town. I remembered getting that feeling the first time I went out to photograph after the full shutdown. I was in broad daylight, walking through midtown toward Time Square. It was surreal. Passing anyone on the street felt like an event. I had to fight the urge to turn back toward the subway, glad I hadn’t removed the multi-tool I carried in my pocket for work. Police and military are frequent sights now. All of the mask-hidden faces make them uneasy, I can tell. I can understand. But they say nothing. Just stare. I stare. Civility feels as if it hangs by a thread these days.

Man with Bag Walking Across Empty Street, Midtown, March 2020
Part 2

Time Square looks pretty much as the rumors say. Completely empty save for the occasional car and the few curious or hungry enough to have a reason to be standing there.