Brett Tiede stood by himself Wednesday morning in the cavernous main hall of Grand Central Station, tossing his hat into the air with one hand and catching it with the other.
As an usher for the Metro North commuter rail line, he is used to being jostled, yelled at and badgered for directions by many of the roughly 750,000 transit riders who rush through the station on a normal day.
But the coronavirus outbreak had turned Grand Central into a ghost town, its famed celestial ceiling looming over just a handful of masked riders and two National Guard troops stationed in front of a shuttered ticket booth.
New York City was missing its people — and Tiede wasn’t sure whether they would all come back.
Life here has always been a grind, a trade-off in which space and privacy are sacrificed for endless cultural offerings, food from all over the map and the feeling that you’re in the center of it all — in the bright, beating heart of the universe.
But as New York began the first phase of its reopening this week and residents cautiously began to emerge from lockdown, they found a changed city.
Key drivers of the economy — Broadway, museums and many hotels, shops and restaurants — remain closed.
Subways and buses are still largely empty, bereft of office workers, students and tourists. In neighborhoods where Black Lives Matter protests have been occurring daily, stores remain boarded up to protect from break-ins.
Many of the city’s wealthiest residents left long ago for their country homes. Now the less fortunate are contemplating whether there is still a place for them here.