NEW YORK CITY—On Thursday, lefty protesters began pouring in to New York for the Republican Convention. On Friday, liberal Manhattanites began pouring out. A doorman named Danny, who works at 565 West End Ave. on the Upper West Side and was wearing a white button-down oxford and striped tie, reported a heavy stream of political refugees. "People are saying on the way out, 'I gotta get away from the Republicans,' " he said. As of noon Friday, he estimated, only about 35 percent of the residents remained in his building.
Down the block at 515 West End, another doorman, Bobby, who prefers black pants and has no front teeth, said his building was at 50 percent occupancy and falling rapidly. "The majority of them in this building are Democrats," he said. "They take the family, the kids, the dogs, and they're outta here."
The GOP Convention has given New Yorkers plenty of reason to flee. First, there's the heightened threat (on top of the usual elevated threat) of an al-Qaida attack. Then there's the lurching traffic and street closings—which New Yorkers, quite honestly, probably fear more than al-Qaida. Combine the unwelcome Republican intruders with the normal August downers—muggy weather and the eau de crap rising from the Dumpsters—and Manhattan may reach its lowest resident population in decades. We wanted to know how many of the 1.5 million residents could possibly skip town, but the city's population experts seemed to be, well, long gone by Friday afternoon.
August is a sparse month on the Upper West Side, the city's bastion of limousine liberalism. As the doormen tell it, the late-summer routine is for residents to wave goodbye to them on Friday afternoon, on the way to Southampton or Woodstock, and promise to return Sunday night. (The late shift Sunday is the doorman's peak time.) This week, by contrast, residents have been waving goodbye and promising to return on Labor Day, 10 days from now. "This Sunday will be extremely slow," said Danny of 565 West End. Danny hopes not to get stuck with the Labor Day shift.
Mass exodus from New York is rare but not unprecedented. "When the city was much smaller—it basically ended at Wall Street—there were several outbreaks of yellow fever, and malaria was pretty common," said Peter Salwen, author of Upper West Side Story: A History and Guide. "The outbreaks drove the people out of downtown and into this village on the west side called Greenwich. And that's how Greenwich Village was created."
What about political migrations? "During the American Revolution, I suppose, the city fell into British hands because it was basically indefensible," said Salwen, who was now clearly stumped. "And after the war, a lot of Tories left here. They weren't coming back. They were going to Nova Scotia. But that's not what you're talking about." Salwen, an Upper West Side resident himself, added that he and his wife don't expect to mount a retreat this weekend. "We may go, conceivably, but it's very unlikely. It would be much more interesting to hang around. Maybe protest a little bit."
In the midst of the liberal Dunkirk that is Manhattan, four actors were rehearsing for Thalia Follies, a left-leaning cabaret, at an Upper West Side theater Thursday. The show debuts Sunday night—unless, of course, there's no one left to buy tickets. "I don't believe it," said Isaiah Sheffer, the show's director, of the rumor of empty high-rises. "We're selling tickets. I hear hundreds of thousands of people will be in the city." But what if those hundreds of thousands are black-clad anarchists armed with puppets and rocks? "Well, then they gotta come up here and have a few laughs. What else do you do after you throw rocks?"