Martha’s Country Bakery sits quietly on the corner of Ditmars Boulevard. [Credit: Skyler Gausney-Jones]
(NEW YORK) — The hostess stands patiently beneath the black scaffold, her fingers scrolling across the screen of a phone hidden under menus handed out to masked customers if they choose to stop and indulge. Her turquoise hair reflects the beaming sun, radiating an unexpected yet pleasant warmth in mid-September.
“Stop the spread of coronavirus: Maintain six feet distance,” reads a purple and yellow sign taped to a window display inches away from the main entrance, obscuring two uniformly frosted red velvet cakes and a delicately sculpted berry fruit tart.
On the glass patio that wraps around the corner of 37th Street sits a family occupying two tables pushed together, making one. The others are empty and isolated.
Astoria’s Ditmars Avenue, the most vivacious strip in the homey neighborhood of Astoria, is eerily quiet. Traffic isn’t buzzing. There is room on the sidewalk to stroll without the worry of irritating swift-footed New Yorkers. No one seems to be in a rush. It is 2:00 pm on a Wednesday afternoon.
A mother of three arrives, face muffled, perspiration lining her forehead. “I’ll be right back,” she says.
Two presumed siblings sit with legs sprawled out from under the hood of the stroller. The seemingly older one routinely peeks through the perched open door, on the lookout for mom. Their fall jackets hang on the rubber handlebar as a rumination of anticipated brisk weather. Not peering back at her phone until a woman—perhaps their mother—exits the bakery, the hostess is left awkwardly knowing that although the innocent faces are not hers, she is obliged to multitask.
As four o’clock nears, turbulence rattles the calm. A group of five form a line on the opposite side of the black stanchion closest to the street, followed by a man and his panting Goldendoodle who stop at the now barely visible distance markers. “I left my mask in the car, but I’m just here to pick up the cake I ordered,” he says. Restricted from entering the bakery, they wait, the Goldendoodle’s eyes darting from distraction to distraction.
The presumed mom, carrying a taped white box containing an assortment of cake pops hand-picked according to the kids’ favorite flavors emerges from the bakery. The struggle of peeling off tape has been avoided, as the limited patience of children required her to think ahead at the cash register. The box pops open without much effort. Success. Sanitizing before they touch, three hands reach inside, pulling out the one thing that makes a nine-minute sidewalk wait not so bad.