“My workers are very leery of New Yorkers,” he said.
In the fickle calculus of what defines fashionable, New Yorkers have always been a constant, the seen-it-all sophisticates whose idea of normalcy includes riding an impossibly overcrowded subway and inhabiting a ridiculously overpriced apartment.
But now America’s largest city is pandemic central, and New Yorkers have become the face of the fearsome infection — virtual pariahs whose potential arrival has spurred anxious demands for roadblocks up and down the East Coast.
President Trump fed the apprehension last weekend with talk of quarantining New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Florida’s governor suggested ID checks on Interstate 95 and at airports. Rhode Island’s governor sent the National Guard house-to-house to identify New Yorkers seeking cover in her state.
“Many people consider New Yorkers lepers,” a woman wrote on the Facebook page belonging to Betsy Billard, a financial analyst who cried as she read the post the other day in her apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
“It is the ultimate in scapegoating,” Billard said by phone on yet another morning when the city’s newly unceasing soundtrack — ambulance sirens — wailed from the streets below. “I was sad and extremely angry.”
Three hundred miles north, in the Maine oceanfront town of Old Orchard Beach, Scott Eccleston described himself as a “Christian man” and said, “I want to be understanding and kind. I try to fight off being afraid.”
Yet Eccleston, 64, a photographer who has lived in Old Orchard for 30 years, cannot help but notice that houses in his neighborhood that are normally empty in spring now have two or three cars in the driveway.
He sees out-of-state plates everywhere. In the parking lot at Landry’s Shop ’n Save. On the road when he takes his five-mile walks.
It can only mean one thing: The New Yorkers are coming.
“At any other time, I’d say, ‘Welcome to Maine,’ ” Eccleston said. “Now I want to say, ‘If you’d turn around right now, I’d be so happy.’ ”
'There's so much fear'
Mike Andrews, the manager of a Maine construction supply center, thinks of himself as a funny guy who likes to post funny memes on Facebook. Searching Google for images of covid-19 recently, he found one he liked: a cartoon of a man tagged as a New Yorker shaking hands with another man, who is simultaneously sawing off his right arm, presumably to avoid the coronavirus.
“It went ballistically crazy — never had anything go nuts before,” Andrews said, delighted that the post had been shared 100 times.
Andrews, 41, lives in Camden, a seaside town of 5,000 residents. He insisted that he has nothing against New Yorkers. But he admitted feeling rattled by seeing their cars in the parking lot at the local Hannaford supermarket.
“These people from New York have a lot more chance of having it. So you don’t want to get too close to them,” he said before letting out a big cough — which, he quickly explained, was unrelated to the virus.
Among those who shared the cartoon Andrews posted was a woman named Becky Lynn, who lives on Cape Cod, where more than 12,000 people have signed a petition asking Massachusetts officials to shut down two bridges they fear will deliver an invasion of sick outsiders, many of them from New York.
Lynn works at the Wellfleet Marketplace, where grocery sales in March reached June-like levels because waves of out-of-state shoppers showed up, everyone slipping on vinyl gloves that the store provides at the entrance as a precaution.
“There’s so much fear,” said Bob Medeiros, the store’s general manager, who said New Yorkers are easy to spot because “their accent is very different from the New England accent.”
He has told his employees that New Yorkers — all out-of-staters, for that matter — “have every right to be here. Don’t give them a hard time.”
But Medeiros doesn’t prevent his workers from expressing their opinions. In a recent post on Wellfleet’s Facebook community page, Lynn wrote that she wanted to “jump over the meat counter and slap” a customer from New York who said she wouldn’t submit to a period of quarantine after leaving the city because she’s not sick.
“They have ZERO respect for us locals,” Lynn wrote.
The threat of being identified as a New Yorker is motivating Kevin Foley, 59, a Manhattan business executive, to leave his car at home when he drives south this weekend to pick up his daughter from a friend’s house.
Instead, Foley plans to use his mother-in-law’s car, which has Connecticut plates, “because he doesn’t want anyone on the Eastern Shore of Maryland running him out of town,” said his wife, Donna.
“It would be unthinkable to take the New York car,” Foley added. “It would be like driving around Europe in the ’60s if you were a German.”
One getaway that apparently welcomes New Yorkers is Litchfield County, Conn., where real estate broker Graham Klemm said he has rented 20 houses in the past two weeks to Manhattanites paying anywhere from $3,000 to $45,000 a month.
“They were saying, ‘If I wire you money tomorrow, what can I get today?’ ” he said, describing the frantic calls. One couple moved in the same day they signed their lease, driving up from the city in a car filled with belongings.
Klemm said there has been no resistance from locals, who are accustomed to New Yorkers visiting year-round and who live in hamlets so small “you could fit them on cruise ships.”
“Not that anyone would want to go on a cruise ship these days,” he added.
The Frydmans — she is a marketer, he is a crisis communications consultant — bought their home in Sharon 11 years ago, mainly using it on weekends. They have New York friends who also own second homes in the area. Everyone had been planning to get together Wednesday for a tailgate cocktail party at a town parking lot.
“We all miss each other,” Liz Frydman said. “All of our cars are going to be six feet apart.”
But on Wednesday, there were news reports that a scientist had warned that 27 feet — not six feet — was the minimal distance needed for safe interactions.
The party was canceled.
'The center of death'
Mitchell Moss, a New York University professor, has no interest in fleeing the city for the purported safety of the Hamptons, the Berkshires or Vermont, where many people he knows have migrated.
“I don’t go places that have no sidewalks,” he said, speaking by phone as he walked the deserted streets of Greenwich Village. “My brother-in-law invited us to Connecticut. No thank you.”
But he was infuriated that some states would consider turning away New Yorkers who fuel their summertime economies. “Rhode Island is a sneeze between Connecticut and Massachusetts,” he said. “They should be careful not to bite the hand that feeds them.”
Disparaging New York is a time-honored tradition that flourished during the city’s 1970s fiscal crisis and 1980s crack epidemic. “The Rotting of the Big Apple,” Time magazine proclaimed at the peak of the mayhem.
Yet, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as the city emerged as a symbol of the nation’s recovery, Americans embraced New York as never before.
“9/11 was the Pearl Harbor of that generation,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York political consultant, referring to Americans who were alive in 2001. But with the coronavirus, “whatever good will we had has now been lost. New York is now the center of death.”
As he spoke, Sheinkopf, 70, and his wife were at their Hamptons beach condo, having decamped from the city two weeks ago. At the supermarket the other day, the woman ringing up his groceries volunteered that the virus was a “hoax and would be over in a couple of weeks.”
“The message was, ‘Those who think we’re so smart are ill-
informed and should go away,’ ” Sheinkopf said. He added: “Hey, if I wasn’t a New Yorker, I wouldn’t want to be around one, either. Why would I want to be around people who could make me sick?”
Robert Johnson, 66, a photographer, was at his place in Wellfleet until March 11, when he returned to Manhattan. He and his wife planned to go back up north last week but changed their minds when they saw that the arrival of New Yorkers was causing alarm on the Cape.
“We can’t demonize each other,” he said.
If Cape Codders were to show up at his door, Johnson said, he would welcome them in. However, he said he would probably feel more comfortable if they agreed to wear surgical masks and rubber gloves.