The pandemic eliminated the ability to pass time

Mar 12, 2021

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I’ve been thinking extensively about time during the pandemic. We went from our time being so limited and our days so heavily regulated to seemingly having all the time in the world.

Even if we had loads of free time, we rushed to fill it with activities. I’m not sure if the pandemic ruined the act of passing time, but it has definitely changed it.

I met up with a friend a few weeks ago to enjoy a socially-distant day around New York City. We didn’t have a strict itinerary, but we did have reservations for a museum tour in the Meatpacking District and an outdoor dinner at an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village a few hours later. 

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We both spent our college years in Washington, D.C., where it isn’t unusual to spend an entire day exploring a museum. We expected the tour to take at least two hours but were a bit miffed after wrapping up in just under an hour.

With our tour complete, we turned to each other as if to say, “now what?” We had hours until our dinner reservation, and there was no way to rebook an earlier time slot as the restaurant didn’t even open until the late afternoon.

Finding something to fill the time between activities would have been relatively simple before the pandemic, even in the cold. But now, not so much.

After months indoors, we quickly realized how challenging it was to find things to do in a city still partially shut.

I love window shopping and browsing. Pre-pandemic, it wasn’t unusual to spend hours between activities with friends wandering around Sephora, trying on clothes at Nordstrom or skimming a novel at a bookstore. We’d waste time inside of a store, take silly photos at a photo booth, try on shoes we didn’t plan to buy and shop for home decor.

But now, casual window shopping feels a lot less socially acceptable. Businesses — especially mom and pop stores — took a hard hit from the pandemic.

Nearly one-third of small businesses in New York and New Jersey closed in 2020. Even the bigger chains suffered; more than 1,000 New York City chain stores reportedly closed last year. And so it feels a bit icky to aimlessly wander around a store while waiting to do something else. Plus, these days I try to limit what I touch when I’m shopping. 

(Photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

My other go-to when trying to burn time before the pandemic would be to hang out at a coffee shop with my laptop. I’d buy coffee and a pastry, find a corner, and spend an afternoon writing, listening to music and catching up on work.

With hours left until dinner, we figured we’d shave off at least 15 minutes by walking over to a nearby coffee shop. But indoor dining was still shut down in early January when we met, and besides, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable spending much time inside a cramped restaurant. So although coffee shops are among my favorite places in the world, we sadly had to leave. 

After coffee, we figured we’d wander around the neighborhood until dinner. It quickly became hilarious trying to make up errands to complete just because we didn’t have anything else to do. 

We popped into a CVS, bought makeup we wouldn’t have usually bothered to buy, and then came back a little later to buy gloves and mittens. We managed to kill an hour by stocking up on weekly groceries from Trader Joe’s. We figured by that point we were closer to our reservation time. We were not.

With more than two hours left before dinner, we decided to exhaust our last option: the New York City subway. I’m pretty comfortable taking the subway during the pandemic as it’s pretty empty, and most passengers are good about social distancing.

Related: A love letter to New York City

We decided to take the A train, because, at over 32 miles, it is the longest line in the city. The A/C trains are usually wrought with delays, even when it’s not a pandemic. We hopped on the train in lower Manhattan and rode it to the last stop in upper Manhattan. That took at least 45 minutes. 

By the time we got off the C train back in lower Manhattan, we were pleased to find out it was almost time to head to dinner.

Even after all of that, we still arrived 15 minutes early.

Featured photo by Darwin Fan/Getty Images

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