Listening for familiar sounds in the city

On a typical Mid-March afternoon dozens of men and women take their lunch break on the wide and inviting steps of the Lincoln Center. The fountain and courtyard in the middle is like a bees nest of activity and stillness. The natural echo amplifies the thousands of sounds that swirl around the city and into it. It’s a people watchers paradise. 

I remembered one evening last summer watching an opera on a huge screen right there in courtyard. The only reason I was there was because I heard the music walking in the neighborhood. I stayed for the rest of the free performance. Walking past there one recent afternoon, and seeing the barricaded courtyard and only one person with her dog, there was nothing but silence. An eerie sound that has lingered over New York city since the pandemic outbreak.That night was typical of any night in all five boroughs. Music, traffic, construction, people yelling, kids laughing, the back-up beep, horns near and far, and sirens. Each area, and neighborhood, has a distinct vibe and sound. But everywhere, from Pelham Park to Coney Island, from Jamaica to Westside Hwy. one sound is constant. Sirens.

A police cruiser outside a temporary Covid 19 hospital erected in Central Park

I wouldn’t call it white noise. but it’s everywhere. Of course, there are a few kinds of sirens too. Police, fire, and emergency all have different cadence and tones. Even at night when the city whispers, and not scream, sirens announce themselves for safety. Lately, during this crisis, the city’s sounds are hushed. Rarely have I heard a vehicles horn. No construction. I did hear what looked like a brother and sister belly laughing about something in Central Park. Even then, those two echoed around a quite park.

The sounds of New York City aren’t silenced. Just a bit different. Now the neighbors squeaky door over powers most horns. Music comes out of windows instead of a stack of amps. Church bells have become more than just part of the noise, sometimes it’s the only noise. And birds. The birds were always here, but you had to listen for them. Church bells and sirens are the constant noise now. And more and more, it’s been just emergency sirens. Paramedics and ambulances. It’s like a signal to remind people what’s going on, and to be safe. 

Ambulances are parking on the streets outside of city hospitals

The Big Apple’s buzz will return. Most likely soon. Frankly, I’m looking forward to the musicians in the subways, the cabs honking, the foreman echoing down the alley to his charges, and the back-up beep. I’ll walk through The Heights as salsa music bounces  off  the old buildings. Times Square hawkers and vendors will do their best to be heard over the carnival that surrounds them. Cheers and boos will spill onto the streets around Yankee Stadium. All that, and more will crash through the sounds of silence that now ring in our ears.

And maybe then the sirens will seem normal again.



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