People pass through the Endale Arch in Prospect Park as the anticipated snowstorm begins in Brooklyn. Credit...Stephanie Keith for The New York Times
It’s a New York City nightmare: a midweek nor’easter that promised to dump a foot of snow before the morning commute, snarling traffic, shutting down airports and commuter train lines, slowing subways and forcing parents to somehow work around small children thrilled by a day off from school.
But this is 2020. The snow day began nine months ago. And in the sort of reversal that could only happen in this pandemic era, a heavy snowstorm is, to many, a most welcome change, something new to look at from the windows that New Yorkers have lived behind since March.
There is no commute to snarl this year, because for many New Yorkers, there is no office to go to. Boys and girls being stuck at home is not called a snow day anymore; it’s Thursday.
The perennial frustrations of a winter storm — the disruption, the hassle in getting where you need to go — are absent, just as movie theaters and concerts and friends are.
Of course, to essential workers and city agencies, the storm was still a storm, packing the potential for major problems. The police stepped up their outreach to the homeless population to get people off the streets. The Fire Department undertook its standard storm preparations, staffing extra battalion chiefs in some of the city’s more remote locations, like the Rockaways and Staten Island. Snowplows were turning out with smaller than normal crews, in an effort toward social distancing.
Transit officials braced for slowdowns.
“It is going to be a tough storm. If you can stay home, please do.”
said Patrick J. Foye, chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Restaurant workers, coming off the halt of indoor dining on Monday and some outdoor dining ahead of the storm on Wednesday, braced for the first stretch without any business since the spring. Taxi drivers, food vendors — everyone who makes a living in the street — stood to face a loss made greater by the months that came before.
Other businesses found themselves busy on Wednesday. New Yorkers have grown accustomed to empty store shelves, but at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Staten Island, the aisles weren’t empty of hand sanitizer or Clorox wipes or toilet paper. No, the store had sold out, quite suddenly, of sleds.
“This morning. We don’t have any left.”
a worker said.
To anticipate and lean into something fun — to see a colossal storm approaching and think “sled” — felt almost indulgent. Mothers and fathers planned to mute their office notifications before ducking outside with sons and daughters, finding fresh, white hills normally out of reach on a work day.
Those who had sleds got them out, like this cyclist in Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn. Credit...Stephanie Keith for The New York Times
Daniel Lugo and his daughter, Frida, 6, tried two hardware stores in Brooklyn’s Windsor Terrace neighborhood on Wednesday, finally finding what they were after — a long blue sled — on Prospect Avenue.
“Our last one,”
a worker said.
came the shouted reply — and not from young Frida.
“It actually feels good,”
Mr. Lugo said, his glasses fogging above his mask.
Normally, he’d be taking a subway to Manhattan, but now,
“I commute in my socks. I’ll take half a day, take this one out sledding — I’m actually excited.”
He’ll take Frida out, but he’ll have to wait until school ends for the day. In the upside-down year that is 2020, the once-a-century asterisk, it was New York’s public schoolchildren who suffered a great loss on Thursday, without a day off. The city suggested this week that remote learning would quite likely make snow days a thing of the past, perhaps for good.
The result was a role reversal in which grown men exalted over sleds and children sounded more like the grown-ups in the room.
“I definitely want to go sledding, but I have a lot of work. I’m just going to stay inside and do remote work, and when the snow comes, I’ll maybe go sledding.”
Emma Abdullah, in fourth grade in Washington Heights, described her upcoming Thursday.
It could be easy to forget for a moment that hardware stores also sell things that are not sleds. There were brisk sales of rock salt.
said Abdul Alasaid at Continental Hardware in Forest Hills, Queens.
His employee, Paul Dahnpaul, interrupted. And a lot of shovels.
In Morningside Heights, a babysitter in Riverside Park tried in vain to stop her 6-year-old charge from pulling down his mask to catch snowflakes on his tongue. Nearby, Alex Tsang, 46, an architect, walked with his 4-year-old son, the boy muffled to his eyeballs.
“We’ve been sheltering in place for so long,”
Mr. Tsang said.
In Bennett Park in Washington Heights, Tali Adler, 30, a rabbi, said she was looking forward to enjoying the snow with her 4-month-old daughter.
“For me, it is a very helpful reminder that some things are still normal, no matter what’s going on in life. I’m pretty thrilled about it.”
Elsewhere in Washington Heights, Craig Peden, 55, who works in information technology, sought to appear indifferent about the snow —
“He’s got his cross-country skis at the ready!”
But his wife, Lauren, 60, called him out.
Others felt genuine annoyance at what seemed like the year’s latest affront.
“Now I have to worry about getting Covid and slipping and falling,”
said Barbara Gleason, a professor at City College, slowly making her way through the snowy parking lot during a grocery run at Met Food in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
Sabrina Padro, a transit employee in Ridgewood, Queens, loaded two shovels into her shopping cart at Target — one for her, and one for her neighbor who couldn’t find any at Home Depot.
“We’ll get through it. It’s a distraction.”