Like many other people, I’m starting to have second thoughts about my urban love affair. (See Talking Points.) Growing up in a small and rather dull town in rural England, I longed to escape to the buzz of the big city—ideally New York City, which my TV informed me was somehow simultaneously home to Peter Parker, the Ghostbusters, and the Beastie Boys. So as soon as I had the chance, I bailed on small-town life. I went to college in Brighton (the seaside city you might know from the Who movie Quadrophenia), then headed to London, and nine years ago landed in NYC. It lived up to my expectations: dive bars with great jukeboxes, restaurants serving every cuisine imaginable, endless concert halls and comedy clubs. Being a dad of two young kids meant I rarely got to visit any of these places. But just knowing they were a subway ride away was deeply comforting.
And then the pandemic arrived. Suddenly, all the things that made big-city living a joy were either shuttered or, if they remained open like the subway, posed a health risk. I’ve grown increasingly envious of my friends in the suburbs and the countryside, who routinely post photos on social media of their children gallivanting in front and back yards. Meanwhile, my family is stuck in a second-floor, two-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, the walls of which—much like the trash compactor in Star Wars—seem to be closing in. We spend as much time as we can in a nearby park, but getting there means negotiating sidewalks filled with other nervous Brooklynites. We give each other as much space as possible and, because our smiles are hidden by masks, say thank you to those who step to the side by raising our eyebrows in a friendly manner. Of course, the coronavirus will eventually pass, and social-distancing regulations will be lifted. But the fear that another pandemic might again shut down urban life will linger. This city mouse is beginning to think his country cousins might have the right idea.