My window was open, and I heard a cacophony of celebration pour in from outside. It didn’t build but exploded all at once as if the entire neighborhood had found out simultaneously. I knew immediately what it meant: Donald Trump had lost. People hung out of windows banging pots and pans, cheering and screaming while a rhythmic pulse of car horns blared up from the street in all directions.
I live at the very top of Manhattan in Washington Heights, a mostly Dominican neighborhood, and decided to ride my bike all the way down the island to witness the varied celebrations.
A few blocks south revelers had taken over an intersection on Broadway. A parked car blared merengue and a hundred people danced in the street, many of them sipping from bottles of Presidente beer. The crowd grew quickly and a pair of men appeared with cases of champagne, which they handed out. People were shaking the bottles before popping them and spraying bubbly wildly into the air and onto each other. The atmosphere was drunk. Everyone continued to dance, some people had brought their pots and pans out and were banging them to the music’s rhythm.
The exact scene seemed to be shaped by the neighborhood it took place in, but everywhere it was jubilation. New York has been defined by isolation and protest this year and everywhere the pendulum had swung hard in the other direction. It was communal, celebratory and cathartic. It was the happiest I’ve ever seen this city. It was a New York transformed. Every noise became a prompt for celebration. Car horns, always the bane of city living, would elicit cheers from crowds on the sidewalk spilling into the streets. Drivers would slow down and stick their fist out the window, the widest grin on their face. Lots of people seemed to be driving around blasting a song I had never heard before but was the soundtrack everywhere, the chorus was ‘Fuck Donald Trump.’
In Harlem people lined up empty bottles of champagne and children wrote in chalk on the streets. In Columbus Circle hundreds of strangers sang Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York.’ In Times Square some dressed up in costume, others snapped photos of Donald Trump in handcuffs or lined up to take pictures next to cardboard cutouts of Joe Biden. Vendors sold out of American flags and ‘Fuck Donald Trump’ pins as the sun set.
Continuing down, at Herald Square I stumbled upon a pack of hundreds of bicycles streaming uptown, so I turned around and joined them. They were mostly teenagers, no one wore a helmet and the bikes had small frames and wide tires. They speed through traffic popping onto one wheel or sitting on their handlebars. It was chaos. Everyone cheered as we passed. No one had signs or bells, there was the occasional FDT screamed out, but no chants. It was all about riding. Sometimes a trick would go wrong and the rider would spill on the street but the mass pushed on, split and rejoined later in midtown traffic.
Eventually we merged with another pack of hundreds of cyclists outside Bryant Park. This group was much older and more organized. Lots of road bikes, everyone wearing masks and helmets and people in bright yellow vests stayed on the edges to keep the formation tight and protect the mass against errant cars. The second group held back after a block and split off and I went with them. Some people had signs and there were frequent call and response chants. It was a protest that happened to be on bikes, while the first group were bikers that happened to be protesting.
With both groups I passed through Times Square multiple times. People lined the streets on both sides and cheered us on. With the second group they joined in on our chants. Eventually we left midtown and headed farther south. All along the way people on the sidewalk cheered us and drivers yelled out their windows in support. When there were rows of restaurants with crowded outdoor dining, people stood up from their tables clapping and whistling. It was a parade of joy.
At Washington Square Park I left the cyclists to get some food and witness the party in the park. Inside thousands were drinking and dancing. The whole neighborhood was basically a giant party with smaller gatherings at various intersections near the park.
I went home exhausted but with a new appreciation of this city. I’ve seen camaraderie and jubilation before but in smaller or isolated groups, never as an entire city of millions.