The Roar Over Brooklyn Is Back After Months of Silence

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Editor’s Note: No city is more important to America’s economy than New York, and none has been hit harder by the coronavirus. “NYC Reopens” examines life in the capital of capitalism as the city takes its first halting steps toward a new normal.

When the shutdown came in mid-March, my ocean went away.

Well, it’s not really an ocean. It’s the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, known to all as the BQE, the six-lane highway that Robert Moses decided — to great controversy — should cut through neighborhoods in South Brooklyn before swinging into Brooklyn Heights and further into B and then into Q in the 1950s.

Living just a few blocks from it, as I have for the past 25 years, the non-stop hum of the thing has been drummed into my skull. It has a low roar to it, maybe more a low whoosh, and it always sounded like the ocean to me, except for the periodic shrill made by trucks braking, which doesn’t sound like the ocean at all, of course. It’s always there, even in the wee hours when I start work each day.

The Roar Over Brooklyn Is Back After Months of Silence

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And then it wasn’t, and I remember sitting on our little house’s stoop one of those nights early in the pandemic and thinking that the last time it was this quiet was probably the ’40s when there was no BQE, and maybe back then, the only sound in the wee hours was a streetcar on Smith Street. I had never heard it so absolutely quiet, and might have been in the woods of Vermont instead of Brooklyn.

This bucolic trance lasted a good 10 weeks. I knew it was about to come to an end when my other friend returned a month or so ago. Along about 3:30 in the morning, a big jet comes into JFK, maybe it’s from California, maybe from England, signaling the real beginning of the day. Now of course JFK dates from 1948, when it was called Idlewild, so all this quiet was a good 80 years removed. When I heard that jet coming in, I thought, well, hello old friend, and welcome back.

And then a couple weeks ago, New York City went into its Phase One reopening. (Phase Two began yesterday.) And one night that week — I can’t remember which now, but I think it was Monday night — as my head hit the pillow, I realized, hey, the BQE’s back. The cars and the trucks and the taxis are humming again.

Commerce has returned to New York City.

In my elation, I’ve begun to picture the time I might be able to walk into Frankies over on Court Street again and order a cold beer or perhaps even a dry martini. And I'd sit back and sip it slowly as I took in the whoosh of the ocean.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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