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The seagulls outnumbered the beachgoers waiting to eat Nathan’s famous hot dogs on the Coney Island boardwalk in Brooklyn.
The baseball diamonds were damp and still in Inwood Hill Park, north Manhattan, as park workers cleared puddles.
And the souvenir for visitors to a popular Queens landmark? A Covid vaccine shot.
It was the unofficial start of summer as the city slowly recovered from the pandemic, the test-positive rate fell below 1 percent, and the vaccinated swelling ranks soared. But the rain and cold Memorial Day weekend didn’t quite match the big festival many New Yorkers had been hoping for this year.
Central Park, which was usually crammed with crowds of tourists, was mostly deserted on Sunday morning, apart from a handful of joggers, dog walkers and tourists who had the vast green expanse to themselves.
Still, some New Yorkers were determined to make the most of the damp weekend – if only to show how far their city, once an epicenter of the pandemic, has returned.
Without having an outdoor barbecue with their friends, Alex Mohabir and Vanessa Heredia, both 26, set out for a quiet stroll near their home through the lush gardens of Fort Tryon Park in north Manhattan on Saturday.
“We have become more grateful,” said Mr. Mohabir. “Even the smallest things are a celebration.”
Inevitably there were reminders across the city that the pandemic was not over. In the Unisphere, a giant steel ball in Queens, Sung Mo Yang, 19, and two high school friends took pictures in their masks, next to tents where health workers were giving free Covid shots.
Although everything looked a bit bizarre, Mr. Yang said, “It’s getting back to normal, you can definitely see the finish line.”
Even an occasional downpour – or the Brooklyn Cyclones’ lost record – couldn’t dampen the mood of die-hard baseball fans in caps, who lined up in their hundreds for the team’s home game at Maimonides Park on Coney Island on Saturday afternoon. One incentive was a bobble head from Jacob deGrom, the Mets mug, for the first 100 people.
“I’m just happy to see baseball again,” said John Harvey, 7, who was 16 next to father Sean and walked home with a bobble head.
Lance Neil, 42, brought his son from the Bronx to the first Cyclones game of the season. “Coming here is like going on vacation,” said Mr. Neil. “It’s like a piece of heaven.”
In Manhattan, martial arts students practiced their kicks in a corner of Washington Square Park on Friday afternoons, while nearby picnickers scoured the best spots and a group of would-be sunbathers stretched topless on a blanket.
When the rain set in, park visitors were reluctant to leave and snuggled under umbrellas or took shelter under the marble Washington Arch.
“I think people just feel comfortable talking to people again or just seeing other people,” said LeeAnn Cardwell, 24, who lives in Texas and came to New York to visit a friend.
A few blocks further in the West Village, Brenna Guyette, 26, spontaneously decided to have a drink in a bar with her friend Liz O’Sullivan, also 26, to say the yes they called “summer the”.
“I’m just ready to go out, have a good time, and meet people,” said Ms. Guyette.
“We don’t know what our plan will be,” added Ms. O’Sullivan. “But we know that we will do something together.”
Between showers on Saturday at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, pork ribs and chicken wings sizzled on the grills. Families crowded around picnic tables filled with homemade empanadas, papas fritas, and steaming cups of morocho, a thick, sweet drink.
Last Memorial Day weekend, Luis Lema, 48, a craftsman from Ecuador, said stuck at home in Philadelphia for the first time in more than a decade instead of being surrounded by his extended extended family at their traditional barbecue in the park.
This year Mr. Lema was having a barbecue with his 7 year old daughter. “Now we have more food, more people,” he said. “It looks good.”
In nearby Jackson Heights, the regulars at Cassidy’s Ale House were back in their chairs. Vinny Conroy, 72, and Pat McBride, 78, retired New York police officers, were content to sit with their bottles of Coors and ponder the importance of Memorial Day – in memory of those who gave their lives in the military.
“Last year, especially in New York City, everyone was watching hospital admissions and the body count more than remembering what to remember,” Conroy said.
Anne Butler, 55, whose family owns the beer house, recalled that they barely held out last year. They had to lay off their employees and offer take-away just to stay in business.
“It’s 100 percent better; I am definitely happy, ”she said. “It’s been a tough year, but we’re still here and we’re back – we made it!”
Many people said they welcomed the return of the familiar rhythms of the city that they feared would be lost. Roger Molina-Vera, 37, started his prepandemic brunch routine with friends at the Cookshop in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.
“This is the first drunken brunch we’ve had in a long time,” said Mr. Molina-Vera, pink mezcal in hand, as he waited for Huevos Rancheros on Saturday.
Still, he admitted that “trying to do the same things I did before the pandemic doesn’t feel like growth to me.”
Chase Campbell, 21, said the pandemic had made him more eager to go out and get new experiences – now that he could finally do it again. So Mr. Campbell and three friends took a break from browsing antique shops on Saturday to sample the goods at a Chinese tea stand.
“I’ve missed so much,” said Mr. Campbell. “It’s important to make the most of every day.”
The coverage was contributed by Melissa Guerrero, Téa Kvetenadze, Alexandra Petri, Nate Schweber and Alex Traub.