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New York, Anew

With text and images by Phil Penman
As the city emerges from long pandemic hibernation, New Yorkers tell how they survived it and what their hopes are for the future.

XUE YANG LIU

Cellist with Sonophonix, Private Tutor, Composer

Phil Penman

Xue Yang Liu, Manhattan, July 6, 2021

“As a performer, we can play and put our sorrow or sadness and all the emotions into playing music for people. As a composer, it was difficult to be inspired or create right away. When you were watching the world falling apart, and people were dying, it took a little while to reflect and be creative again.

“My concerts have all been cancelled but I’m grateful I can still teach—not that it’s easy to teach little children online. Most of our friends who have kids actually moved away. It’s made me think, what should I do? Living in New York is not easy, the rents are so expensive, especially when you have kids and you want to find the best place to support your family.

“I love New York and it’s my home. I moved here from China when I was seventeen. I remember taking the train and crossing Brooklyn, seeing Manhattan, and thinking, I’m really here, it feels like a dream!

“You work so hard for your career; the city drives you in that way.” 


ERIN CHERRY

Actor, Producer, Talk Show Host

Phil Penman

Erin Cherry, Manhattan, July 1, 2021

“I didn’t know if I was going to have a job once the pandemic was over. When Broadway shut down, I knew we were going to be in this for the long haul. If theater shuts down, and this is all I have been doing since I was seven years old, then what the hell am I going to do with my life!?

“Currently, I’m on a show on Amazon—it’s called Riley’s Unforgettable School Project—and we were unable to shoot our series during the lockdown, but we did shoot a special episode. All the cast members were separated.

“The producers sent cameras to our homes, and people came by and set up the lights. The director and the producer shot from a laptop, my home was turned into a set by moving couches and other furniture. We did it pandemic style!

“It was nice to be working, and to act; it came out really well.”


VINNY LUPI

Senior Project Manager for the 9/11 Museum

Phil Penman

Vinny Lupi, Manhattan, June 30, 2021

“Early on in March [2020], we had to close the museum. As a result, we lost 50 to 60 percent of the organization, people who were either laid off or terminated. For the staff that directly report to me, we went from fifty to about nine people. We are now back to about thirty, which gives you the hope to move on.

“The site is so meaningful for so many people, and just about anyone that visits here. From when we closed till today, we still maintained it as if it was open every day. It had to be taken care of meticulously, from the stone, the trees, the inside, to the pools. 

“We are seeing visitors increase on a regular basis. New York is coming back to life and it’s hopeful to know that it will be what it once was.

“I live outside of New York, and was born and raised there, but I love coming to the Memorial Plaza every day to work. Working here at the 9/11 Memorial and what we made of it, and how we are representing that tragic day, I think that, in itself, gives you hope.”


JANET VASQUEZ

Waitress, Skylight Diner

Phil Penman

Janet Vasquez, Manhattan, June 25, 2021

“Come March, we were all out of work. You do have your savings just for back up, but I got scared because I did not know how I was going to get through. We had to tell our landlord just to give us a few months in advance to keep up with the rent, just so we could get through.

“Depression was a big factor; I live with my family, so we were all trying to deal with it. You see each other before work, but now, living all living together again, you just fight and argue.

“But it’s also good because you get to spend time together, and it makes you appreciate them more—as lots of people did not survive the pandemic.

“The money will hopefully go back up, but we have been through a year of this, and maybe we have two or three more years before it’s back to normal. But you have your health and you survived it. Money ain’t everything!”


CHARLIE COLLETTI

Owner, Stanley’s Cobbler Shop

Phil Penman

Charlie Colletti, Manhattan, July 3, 2021

“I did okay, except for a couple of members of my family got Covid. But we pulled through. 

“Business is not good anymore: I used to have six employees, now it’s just me and a part-time gentleman that comes in to help me. I’m trying to do my best to keep it going. My only goal is to hopefully get this business back on track somehow. If I could get it back to 50-60 percent of what I used to do, then I’ll be happy.

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“People care: some customers have mailed me shoes to repair. I’m hoping that continues, and once people get back into the offices, it will be okay. I’ll just continue to pay my bills and keep moving forward. I think it will all come back.

“I think this made me a little stronger and a little wiser too. Your outlook on life changes after a pandemic like this. I thank God for what I have.”


SCOTT SAVORY

Real Estate Broker

Phil Penman

Scott Savory, Manhattan, June 22, 2021

“During the middle of Covid, one lesson learned was just how much pessimism there was compared to optimism. No one expected, during the panic selling, things to drop as much as they did.

“But that didn’t really last long. When we think of 2008 and the financial collapse—and what New York did was it survived. 

“As a New Yorker, for all those people that left the city, I feel like the joke’s on them now. For the people that stayed and toughed it out, and saw this city become desolate and boarded up, we are now seeing it flourish again—which makes you feel pretty great!

“New York feels like the phoenix rising from the ashes—but seems even better. It’s like New York 2.0, and the first one was amazing before.”


SANDY KANE

Street Performer (the Naked Cowgirl)

Phil Penman

Sandy Kane, Manhattan, June 16, 2021

“Let me tell you, I worked last winter during the Covid bullshit, and I made some money here, so God bless Times Square.

“I’ve worked here all my life, when things were tough, I came back here.

“I’m happy I’m working, and God bless Times Square, and all the people in America coming to visit Times Square. I thank all the people from Florida, from Texas, from California, visiting Times Square and supporting the crossroads of the world.

“They say they cleaned up Times Square; they say they cleaned up New York? You’ll never clean up New York!

“We are still here, keeping it sleazy!”


SEAN RINGGOLD

Actor, Producer

Phil Penman

Sean Ringgold, Manhattan, June 10, 2021

“Unfortunately, I got Covid, with my son and my wife. My son has sickle cell anemia, and had to be hospitalized for a week. Myself and my wife had to take care of our daughter. 

“But we’re strong, and from New York, and by the grace of God, we got through it.

“Even though we’re going through challenging times here in New York City, and in the United States, we’re bouncing back from the last four years: another breath of life!

“I’d rather be optimistic than negative, and things are turning around. I just hope that it will get back to the way it used to be, with less hate and more love.”


JUAN TRUJILLO

Coffee Vendor

Phil Penman

Juan Trujillo, Manhattan, June 15, 2021

“I used to have a lot of customers that would buy big coffees. I still have all these customers, I appreciate them, but now they are buying smalls. But it’s okay.

“I have to work more harder for a little more money, but I got no choice.

“I have to work, I have to support my family, I have to pay my rent, I have to pay all my taxes, plus I have to support my child. My child right now is in college, in their first year.

“It’s hard for me, but I can do it.”


VASHTI DE VERTEUIL

Fashion Accessory Designer, Teacher at Parsons School of Design

Phil Penman

Vashti de Verteuil, Manhattan, July 2, 2021

“I like to go away in the winter to the Caribbean, but after fifty years living here, I call myself a New Yorker.

“All my friends said you should leave New York, I told them, New York will bounce back.

“I walk this city. That was one of the biggest things I missed during the pandemic, not being able to walk around it. 

“I tell my students: when you don’t have ideas, just walk around the city and you will find inspiration from the people and the buildings. All the big designers used to come downtown just to see how people dressed.

“You can get inspiration as soon as you leave your door in the morning!”


CORDERO TRISBEND

Bike Messenger, Model, Skate Coach

Phil Penman

Cordero Trisbend, Manhattan, June 23, 2021

“I had to switch from pharmacy deliveries to food deliveries from April 2020 till today. Before that, I was doing modeling, but the pandemic shut that down. I also teach children how to rollerblade; that also got shut down. 

“During the lockdown, I was just trying to maintain myself. I had saved up some money, and was quarantining myself regularly to make sure I wasn’t getting sick. 

“As a New Yorker, the creepiest thing is that I’ve actually seen the city sleep! 

“Now the city has woken up again, and once it wakes, it doesn’t stop moving. I just want to get back with the pace of things, and keep going.”

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MICHAEL TAN

Personal Trainer

Phil Penman

Michael Tan, Manhattan, June 9, 2021

“I was unable to work as a personal trainer because gyms were closed. Thankfully, my wife had kept her job, and she worked from home, and essentially kept us alive until gyms re-opened.

“Now I’m seeing stores opening, and everyone’s getting vaccinated. Masks aren’t required indoors at most places.

“It gives me hope to see people again, especially when I walk my dog. During the pandemic, no one was petting him, though he wanted to jump on them. 

“Now I’m back to having conversations with strangers, letting them pet my dog. It just feels more human now.”


This project was assisted by Brian Yong. An earlier version of this article misspelled Vinny Lupi’s name; it has been updated.

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