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Coronavirus In New York City, Part 2 – Shut Down


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ASTORIA, New York City- The bar owner stood up in front of everyone and revealed the credit card that he pays for everything connected to his business with. He then cut the card up into small pieces with a pair of scissors. As the shards sprinkled upon the bar he declared, “I ain’t paying for shit.”

He said he wasn’t going to pay the landlord. He wasn’t going to pay his suppliers. He wasn’t going to pay his staff. He was done.

And so it has begun. At 8pm tonight all bars, gyms, movie theaters, and casinos have been shut down in New York City. Restaurants can only do take out. At 8pm tonight tens of thousands of New Yorkers were instantly laid off. Boom. They would no longer be paid and were told to go and seek unemployment compensation. However, when they went to the website to do so all they found was this:

NY Department of employment website crash

There was so many of them they crashed the site.

I asked around the bar how much people can expect in unemployment compensation. About $350 a week one guy said.

“That’s not enough to even pay rent.”


This is what social distancing (i.e economic collapse) looks like outside of Twitter. While snowflakes pat themselves on the back for hashtagging #flattenthecurve everywhere the most economically vulnerable people in their city are feeling the brunt. Perhaps they don’t know what it’s like to not know where rent money is going to come from? … let alone health insurance, food for their kids …

But that’s all moot now. The decisions have been made and we’re all entering the quarantine life whether it’s a good idea or not.

Me too.

My wife had Zoom meetings with her work all day today. To make this short: she will be paid for the next five days. Then she can take her paid time off. Then that’s it. Furloughed. No more pay. She can go to the Department of Labor website and apply for unemployment like everybody else.

I went to the gym one last time. It was almost gruesome how normal it all seemed. People were lifting and grunting like they usually do, seemingly unaware that in a matter of hours the entire place would be shut down indefinitely. There were ads on the screens all over the place promoting tickets for the upcoming Rangers games, which, of course, have all been cancelled. A gruesome sort of mocking.

I did chest flies and watched the president talking on one screen and real time charts of the crashing stock market on another. Wasn’t that the guy who just yesterday Tweeted that the market was higher that it’s ever been? WTF. Up to here the guy’s presidency has gone smoothly — too smoothly. It was almost a potent of something big to come. But we never could have guessed that this would be it: a pandemic right at the crest of an economic wave — the most volatile time for such a hit.

I feel as if we’re making decisions which are making the situation 100x worse and that “flattening the curve” will lead to the deaths of exponentially more people via the chain reaction that is being caused. But I know that it really doesn’t matter how I feel. I’m just another quarantined son of a bitch pounding my frustration into a laptop.

The USA is not China. It’s not Italy. It’s not Spain. It’s not Israel. The USA cannot endure a lock down similar to these countries because … what do you know, we do not have a widespread state-sponsored healthcare system. Italy, Spain, and Israel have universal healthcare; China’s healthcare system is public (and cheap). In the USA, most people’s healthcare is directly connected to their employers. If they lose their job they lose their coverage … and hardly anyone can afford to pay for the medical care they need out of pocket. So when we talk about coronavirus related deaths let’s keep this in mind. #flattenthecurve.

As of now I’m overreacting. Who knows what will happen, but our government’s decision to bail out companies by throwing trillions into the stock market over the past couple of days (which lasted about 15 minutes before traders gobbled it) is not an encouraging sign that they give a shit about laid off bartenders who can’t pay their rent.

As I was sitting at the bar for one last time I had doubts that this shutdown would last for as long as we’re projecting. There would come a point where the authorities would need to choose between continuing the quarantine or complete, for real, economic collapse. They may push it to the limit but they won’t push it over the edge. Right?


“What will you do?” I asked the bartender before he poured his final drink before closing. “I think I will get a keyboard and sit in my basement apartment. Maybe I will learn Spanish.”

I asked the guy to my left. He works for a labor union and he said he’s getting paid to stay at home and do nothing.

The guy next to him said that he’d always be aright. I initially thought he was indicating that he was independently wealthy. He was actually just a consultant practicing positive thinking.

The guy to my right said that he worked for a small business investment company. He’s basically been fired and was milking every last moment that he could drink away his misery until the clock struck eight.

I said my goodbyes.

“See you … whenever,” one guy said as I walked out the door.

The bar may open again in a week. It may never open again.

That’s not hyperbole.

Filed under: Epidemics, New York City

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

23 comments… add one

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  • Rob March 17, 2020, 2:43 am

    We are in interesting times. I can’t think of anyone/place who is doing well these days and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

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    • Wade Shepard March 17, 2020, 10:10 am

      It’s difficult to understand given the death toll. It’s really not that high even in places where it spread rampant when we compare to other diseases.

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    • Wade Shepard March 17, 2020, 10:10 am

      But it is interesting that the entire world is in this together.

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  • Trevor March 17, 2020, 8:19 am


    Here in small town Kenya they seem nervous of me. 3 days on the trot i go to the same small restaurant for Ugali and beans. Today they asked me where i was from.
    So you brought the coronavirus with you?

    No. I left England when the virus was still only in China.

    She seemed satisfied.

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    • Wade Shepard March 17, 2020, 10:05 am

      Dude, you better get to a city. That shit could get nuts. People can get crazy in times like this. Idiots are fighting over toilet paper here.

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      • Trevor March 17, 2020, 1:05 pm

        Feel ok here…. no need to panic…. im semi self isolating. Daily temp checks….

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        • Wade Shepard March 18, 2020, 9:22 am

          Cool! Keep your head down!

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          • Trevor March 19, 2020, 8:09 am

            I just thank my lucky stars that i got out of west africa. Almost all countries there hav suspended flights. Many borders r closed. Imagine being stuck in Congo and paying 100$ a night in a hotel. My daily costs r less than 15$. No internal travel ban here yet and can get a visa extension apparently.

            And of c i got no where to run to. Here is just as good as anywhere.

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            • Wade Shepard March 22, 2020, 1:01 pm

              Very true. There is nowhere to go anymore. Reading reports of travelers who are stuck out there in countries where they are shutting down the hotels. Where are they going to go? Nobody knows.

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              • Trevor March 22, 2020, 1:24 pm

                Yup.. where would we go? Just paid for 5 nights. Kenya Uganda border is firmly shut. No more flights from 25th. No where to run to… i mean, no family nest, safe or otherwise, to run to… a traveller, sticking it out, alone in a foreign land. I got what i wanted.

                But MRP survived 1 month quarantine, i’ll survive too. And can add it to my ‘palmeres’

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                • Wade Shepard March 23, 2020, 8:59 am

                  Haha, yes, something bonkers — that is the travel experience we’re after.

                  Read MRP’s quarantine story. Dude was stuck in a parking lot for a month. That’s nuts.

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                  • Trevor March 23, 2020, 12:41 pm

                    MRP hes just one cool dude, and my travelling hero… but i think he was living in his van by choice…. am sure he could have got a room at Hotel Quarantine ..
                    he’s been robbed and drugged, drugged and robbed, arrested and survived a cyclone… whats being quarantined?

                    I am not in forced quarantine… i could backpack all over Kenya if i wanted.. there is, as yet no travel ban, just self isolating myself.. who knows what tomorrow will bring.

                    And all my SHIT stories happen in Africa. 4 military convoys, attacked in Cape Town, nearly drowned in Lake Malawi, and now mixed up in COVID. . 7 more African countries and them im outta here…

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                    • Wade Shepard March 23, 2020, 1:36 pm

                      Haha, yeah, dude lived in a freaking parking lot for a month. That’s nuts. Do you know where he’s at now? LOTS of anti-foreign / outsider sentiment in China right now. It’s probably a crazy time to be driving a van around there.

                      Go collect some more adventures for me! I’m stuck in New York.

  • Lawrence March 19, 2020, 10:16 pm

    Yea, I keep checking everyday to see how things are going with you Wade. So far we are under ‘lockdown’ Australia style. Which means my wife and me have been sent home (with pay) and I have pretty much been fishing everyday and drinking a bit too much. We don’t seem to have the lockdown that the States and Europe have….yet. It might come here, but I guess living out on a massive lake in a pretty nice house is the best I can hope for, not hundred percent where I would want to be but this is it for now.

    It is hard to see our governments readily handing all this power back over. I mean that got it all now, that worries me a lot and also that our policies do seem to be led by the most scaredy cat dipshits known to man. People on social media here are basically begging for the police to arrest them, arrest people at the beach, OMG he made a joke about corona virus! Arrest him! Little Stalinists everywhere.

    Again out on the street is different. I went and bought beer and three people in shop talked about how overhyped all of this. People on facebook cry and act scared, regular people in the real world just seem to be getting on….don’t know why one seems to be leading the way.

    Where do you think all this ends up…I mean besides the yuan being the default global currency.

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    • Wade Shepard March 22, 2020, 9:57 am

      Yes, the mob mentality is getting insane. Nobody cares about the actual data … but nobody really understands math anyway even if they did care. Trump shaped shifted his position so now the place is full of all these little vigilantes thinking they are saving the day telling people they should stay inside their homes. They don’t seem to realize that we don’t get out of this until 80% of people develop immunity either through exposure or a vaccine. A vaccine probably won’t be ready anytime soon … We can’t hide from nature. When we come out of hiding coronavirus will still be there.

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    • Wade Shepard March 22, 2020, 12:58 pm

      Where do I think this ends up? I don’t believe this will end well for China. This is the calm before the storm for them. The CCP just put out their worst financial report since they opened up to foreign investment and it’s only going to get worse. Although their economy is transitioning they are still heavily reliant on exports. Now that the entire world has shut down the decline in orders for made in China products and international companies that manufacture in China going under / down sizing / moving production will probably have a decimating impact. The financial crises of 2008 and 1999 hit China way harder than what they let on. But at those times a huge amount of urban workers could simply go back to their homes in the countryside off the economic grid and live off cabbage. This was essentially the country’s safety net. They can’t go back anymore because a huge amount of these villages no longer exist. Now the state has to support its population. This is going to get ugly there before long.

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    • Jack April 2, 2020, 10:01 pm

      Fishing sounds good. I’m going to get myself a fishing license and go out fishing with the kids. That’s a good way to get away from everything.

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      • Wade Shepard April 3, 2020, 10:31 pm

        Good call. Where are you these days?

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        • Jack April 5, 2020, 12:08 am

          I’m in Iowa. My wife is spending some time pursuing some of her goals. She is in management for a major store chain. I get to stay at home with the kids and work online.

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          • Wade Shepard April 5, 2020, 9:56 am

            That doesn’t sound too bad. Iowa seems like the kind of place where the apocalypse could happen and you’d never know about it if you didn’t watch TV. Sounds good to me!

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  • Lawrence March 19, 2020, 10:18 pm

    Also wanted to add that I know real people who have lost their businesses and job and almost everything. It’s a real problem

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    • Wade Shepard March 22, 2020, 9:59 am

      Yes, we’ve turned something bad into something worse. Now we have economic collapse + coronavirus. It’s not a choice of one or the other.

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  • Trevor March 27, 2020, 3:04 am

    Hi….. MRP is with wife on the road in Yunnan some where, in his van …

    I heard they closed the borders to foreigners even with residency permits… fake news or? Not sure on those already in country..

    Im on lock down… been told to stay put here.. no going out. There is a curfew too for everyone else 7pm til 5am. 31 cases 1 death . Where is better with all the stats reported… .? Deffo not Europe. My dad is on lock down… no going out.

    Have sudoku, kindle books, my blog, ‘2 week traveller’ sent me his book for free… ;)))

    Enforced lay up… interesting times

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