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Work in the Time of Coronavirus: Tour Guides Struggling in an Empty City

An NYC tour guide is enraged over the current situation. Capitalism’s “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality won’t help workers put food on the table and pay rent, especially not during this crisis.

Left Voice

March 21, 2020
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Image: Vanessa Carvalho/Shutterstock

I am a tour guide, and I have no idea how I’ll get through this. For us who give tours, work is very seasonal. We push through the winter and the worst of the hot summer months by living off our spring and fall income. I also survive off the winter-time payments for spring tours. But now that it’s all being cancelled, customers want refunds. So not only am I not earning a paycheck, but every day I get emails asking for money back like I’m the bank on Black Friday. I have a refund fund that can never cover that, I have neither the benefits of an employee nor that of a company. I am also a single mother and I’ve just come out the other end from a bankruptcy. I know all this stress is not good for my health either, and the cheap food we’ll rely on will be another steep price on our well-being. But I don’t even have a vocabulary to express my terror, my anger, my confusion, at this sudden deterioration after years and years of pulling myself up by the fucking bootstraps – because what else was there to do? I don’t even know how to turn this on myself in a good capitalist fashion. What bootstraps am I supposed to pull on? How am I to “stop being lazy” and go work or something? 

I realize now that I’ve made do in our cruel world by turning it on myself and demanding of myself to work ever harder, smarter, better. I always could tell myself that it was my own fault, and at least that way I had some control over the situation: tomorrow, I’ll work harder. But the demand that I not go out and work for weeks has exposed the truth about the myth: that absurd New York City costs of living have nothing to do with my laziness and everything to do with a system in which I’m completely helpless. That the lack of a safety net for rough times is not a problem of the individual but of the social. But what good does facing this do? Anger at the big man takes too much energy, and I don’t have it.

—Frieda Vizel

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Left Voice

Militant journalism, revolutionary politics.

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