Trapped in New York City

By Alexis Daish

“We have breaking news, the pandemic now hitting our aviation industry – Qantas has announced it’s standing down two-thirds of its staff.”

Standing on Wall Street, I couldn’t have felt further away from home.

I’d been in New York for days, never returning to Los Angeles as planned after Harvey Weinstein’s sentence.

I was going live in thirty seconds, breaking news to Australia that traders on the NYSE floor tested positive to COVID-19. I heard the presenters of our breakfast TV show – Today Show – gasping in shock.

My fiancé and I moved to LA in 2018 – we soon got engaged on a beautiful day in the Napa Valley. Jordan works for Qantas – splitting his time at LAX and Boeing’s Seattle factory. At least he did. Boeing halted production after workers contracted Coronavirus and the disease itself crippled the aviation world. Jordan is meant to be in Seattle delivering Dreamliners. Instead he’s in our LA apartment on his own, wondering whether he’ll get the call that he’s lost his job.

I’ve been in New York for four weeks. I packed for two nights, thinking I’d spend a day reporting on Weinstein, then return to sunny California. When I left for New York, I’d only been back in the US for 24 hours. We’d just returned from a trip home to finalize arrangements for our wedding and I had a bachelorette party with my nearest and dearest. I got dressed up and we drank champagne into the evening at my favourite French restaurant in Melbourne.

That truly feels like a lifetime ago. Now, I almost certainly won’t get married this year, Jordan may become unemployed and our plan to pay for our wedding has become our plan to pay rent and bills.

And all the while, I’m stuck in the US epicenter of the biggest unprecedented health crisis the world has seen.

Every night, I wake up in the early hours with my fuzzy brain remembering where I am. My thought process is always the same: “Oh my god, I’m still here! When will this end? When will I fly back to LA?”

My day starts when Australia goes to sleep, so I have a few precious uninterrupted hours to prepare for another news cycle. When I look out my window, I can see down the length of 3rd Avenue. It is deserted. Every morning, I hope maybe there’ll be more people outside. It feels like someone has pressed pause and we’re all in the same movie, waiting for someone to press play.

And like any movie you watch for the first time, I don’t know the ending.

Does Jordan lose his job?

Do I end up back in LA this month? Next month?

Do we get married this year?

I’m living the story that I’m covering.

Once I’ve gone full circle with my thoughts and accepted this will be another day where I don’t know the ending, I shower and do my make-up in an effort to avoid looking sleep-deprived.

Even though I’m following fresh developments on the pandemic daily, it feels like ground hog day. I’m starting to see how easily people could fall into dark places. And in fact, at times, I have.

I’m going for walks around Manhattan to get fresh air. Most people now wear masks, and if you come across someone on the footpath, they’ll deviate around you to stay six feet away. It feels bizarre. When I try to smile at people, you can’t see their response behind their mask.

This morning, I found a small grocery shop open and went in as I’m running low on food. I went up to the register with my wallet ready to pay– most checkout assistants here are trying to keep their distance and minimize contact with customers. After I’d paid and was putting the things in my bag, the lady behind the counter said “Be careful with your ring”.

I was almost taken aback. When I looked up and made eye contact with her, I realized it was the first time anyone had spoken to me face-to-face, other than my cameraman, in days.

“What do you mean?” I asked, looking down at my engagement ring through the cloudy powdery plastic glove I was wearing to avoid catching the virus.

“Well, I wear these gloves every day, and you have to be careful that when you rip off the glove, it doesn’t pull your ring off!” She spoke with a warm, motherly tone.

The idea of losing my engagement ring was horrifying. I was so grateful she warned me. I thanked her and left.

As I walked around the corner, I felt better. I didn’t realize how little interaction I’d had with people. I felt completely cut off. And my only outlet is live crosses to Australia and writing scripts.

Today, we moved hotels for the fourth time. Hotels keep closing up on us because they’re empty. Whilst it’s a pain packing up my suitcase, relocating has been one of the things that shocks me out of a state of inertia, like pressing a reset button: fresh bed, fresh shower, new alarm clock to navigate.

There is no doubt that this time of silence and stillness has forced us to look inward.

We’re having thoughts we wouldn’t otherwise have.

We’re doing things we wouldn’t otherwise do.

What we’re currently experiencing is life without the normal distractions – unnecessary shopping outings, coffee runs, overpriced cocktails, rushed gym classes, ‘urgent’ meetings that don’t achieve anything, catch-ups we’ve overcommitted to, haircuts we don’t need, spray-tans that’ll wash off in a couple of days.

What we’re proving right now is that you don’t NEED any of these things. They’re things we like to do or feel we should do.

So, maybe there is a silver lining to this moment in history. We are learning things about ourselves we wouldn’t otherwise.

And when this is over, and our favourite restaurants re-open, we might be better for it.

In New York, Alexis Daish Nine News.

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