Letter from New York – Robert Ball (C1 1954-58)

With a population the size of NYC, about 16 million, it is not surprising that the virus infection rate gathers a lot of media attention here. Despite the very significant disruption in the City’s economy some businesses are doing better than ever – for example the supermarkets, groceries, and pharmacies, with long lines to get into them. Others are almost dead – like restaurants, hair salons, Broadway theatres and cinemas, and many small businesses. The streets are quiet and traffic reduced only to essential vehicles. The buses and subways now are running almost empty. People on the street and in public places stand apart from each other the regulation minimum of 6 ft, and most wear face masks. The banks have closed most of their branches, so any banking you have to do in person requires standing in lines. Items most in demand are cleaning materials and toilet paper – all quite a problem to find until quite recently – and home improvement stores like Home Depot are doing terrific business as people take the opportunity to buy materials for work on home projects.

There is complete disruption of the nation’s sports, so no baseball etc to keep the people entertained. Instead of sports scores we are now fed endless statistics of the infected and, the deaths – and often varying forecasts, most of which are wildly overestimated. The biggest lesson of this epidemic is the realisation by the U.S. of just how VERY MUCH the country now depends on China for supply of many basic strategic pharmaceutical and medical products – and many other important items too. There is talk now of incentives by the Trump Administration to repatriate American companies with factories in China – especially those making particular products essential for the nation’s health.

For me personally things have not been bad at all. For exercise I can go for walks in Central Park, very pleasant now in the Spring – with flowers blooming, trees sprouting leaves, and the animals and birds going about their business undisturbed by the usual crowds.

For a Senior Citizen the NYC Administration provides many advantages. I have Meals-on-Wheels once a week with a delivery to the door of the apartment of a box full of provisions courtesy of the City. Whatever else I need seems to be freely available in the two nearest supermarkets and pharmacies. I try to live as normally as possible – and despite the lock-down order and being almost forced to stay in the apartment, I go out when I feel like it into the empty streets. I don’t wear a mask, as I believe they are more useful to stop me infecting others, than the other way around, but I get strange looks from some people who turn away from me !!

I find the best entertainment is watching crime documentaries on TV !

I can’t wait for life to return to a more normal state. I think everybody will be quite surprised at how fast the U.S. will eventually recover from the downturn. I am quite optimistic because the majority of the people are used to WORKING – and, however pleasant it sounds to be “taking time off”, when you are FORCED to stay at home not working is actually not that much fun!

Robert Ball (C1 1954-58)