The New Normal: Checking in on How Saratogians Are Coping With the COVID Crisis

When Saratoga Living Senior Photographer Francesco D’Amico pitched his idea for a “porch project,” just weeks into the COVID-19 crisis, our editorial team immediately agreed that it was a wonderful idea. Saratoga is known for its grand porches, and we assumed that Saratogians, on lockdown since mid-March, were probably spending way more time on their porches than ever before. Plus, a porch photo gallery could be easily shot from a socially distanced six feet away. It was a win-win-win.

We gave Francesco the green light, along with a list of names we thought would make good porch-gallery subjects, and let him do his thing. A few weeks later, he started sending in his work: Saratoga Mayor Meg Kelly on her porch, SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol not on her porch. Wedding photographer Dave Bigler on his porch, Bailey’s Co-owner Matt Beecher not on a porch. It wasn’t exactly what we imagined we’d get—but in the end, it turned out to exceed our expectations.

Sure, many homes in Saratoga have amazing front porches–but maybe their owners prefer to spend their time in the garden or at the firepit or out back watching their daughter jump on a trampoline. 

In other words, it’s really not about the porches, it’s about the people.

“I was really touched by how levelheaded everybody was,” Francesco told us. “Nobody seemed to be losing their shit. Everybody seemed very Zen about the whole situation, latching on to the silver linings: family, home, inspiration, pets, hope for the future.”

So instead of a story about porches, Saratoga, you get a story about community. A story about a small city that, in these trying times, has turned to the things that really matter. Maybe someday we’ll write a story about porches. But today, during an international pandemic that’s threatening our lives, businesses and relationships, it’s the people who really deserve the credit.

SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol with her husband, Jorge Gomez, in their backyard. (Francesco D’Amico)

Elizabeth Sobol, President and CEO, Saratoga Performing Arts Center

What gives you inspiration during this crisis?
Books. People keep referring to these times as “unprecedented.” But human beings have suffered many great cataclysmic events over millennia—wars, natural disasters, pandemics and much more. There is so much to inspire us and to learn from in poetry, history, science and fiction—so much to remind us of the resiliency of the human spirit in its home on Earth, as long as we do not shrink into fear and aggression.

Saratoga Mayor Meg Kelly. (Francesco D’Amico)

Meg Kelly, Mayor, City of Saratoga Springs

How have you been personally affected by the crisis?
The whole pandemic is so unknown to everyone, and I think that’s the fear and anxiety that we see throughout the city, throughout the state, throughout the country, throughout the world. People are asking me all those questions that I don’t have answers to. So, has it affected me? Absolutely it has. And it’s affecting my family. My daughter is still at school—she didn’t come home because I still have to come and go as mayor, and she is immunocompromised, so I didn’t want her to come home and have to deal with me.

Carly Connors with her son, Nik Bradigan Ritopecki, and mother, Laura Bradigan. (Francesco D’Amico)

Carly Connors, Executive Director, Saratoga Automobile Museum

Have you been doing anything you never thought you’d be doing during quarantine?
I never thought I would be a teacher, let alone a music, art, gym, science, math and English teacher. My poor son will never forget the 4th grade.

Tonya Pellegrini with her daughter, Olivia Lawrence. (Francesco D’Amico)

Tonya Pellegrini, Co-Owner, Pellegrini Events

How have you been personally affected by the virus?
Both of my parents who live downstate had COVID-19. My dad was asymptomatic with mild cold-like symptoms. My mom was hospitalized in early April, and she passed away on May 1. It was extremely hard not to be with her, but we are forever grateful for the incredible staff at New York-Presbyterian Hudson Valley, who cared so compassionately for our mother and our family.

Matthew Beecher with his Bailey’s co-owner, Morgan Grimes. (Francesco D’Amico)

Matthew Beecher, Owner/Operator, Bailey’s

What are you most looking forward to doing when the stay-at-home order is lifted?
Well, for one, just getting back to the norm. I’m all about the scene, so I just want to be around people and share stories with people. I can’t wait to catch up. And two—hugging all my buds for an awkward length of time.

Johanna Garrison, ENL Teacher, Saratoga Springs High School (Francesco D’Amico)

Johanna Garrison, ENL Teacher, Saratoga Springs High School

What do your days in quarantine look like?
It took several weeks to find a rhythm, because the learning curve for instant online teaching was sizable. Despite the challenges, though, parents, students, teachers and staff have done an incredible job of adapting. I think we presumed we’d have more time now that we’re home, but I find the days flying by—even if I do forget which day is which. Essentially, it’s school, sowing seeds, monitoring bees, talking to my plants, cooking, taking walks, reading and watching PBS or Netflix.

Dave Bigler and his wife, Cilicia. (Francesco D’Amico)

Dave Bigler, Photographer/Videographer, Dave Bigler Photos & Films

What do your days in quarantine look like?
I’m a wedding and portrait photographer, so my world has come to a halt (other than daily calls from brides wanting to know what they should do about rescheduling their summer wedding). My wife, Cilicia, and I had a vacation to Greece planned for the start of April (we were doing the IronMan Greece 70.3 together). Instead, we got to do a “staycation” under quarantine and remodel a bathroom!

Garland Nelson with his five-year-old daughter, Imani. (Francesco D’Amico)

Garland Nelson, Owner, Soul Session Edu-tainment, Inc./Musician

Have you been doing anything you never thought you’d be doing during quarantine?
Typically, I’m ramping up to our busy, busy spring-through-winter calendar. But having the psychic space to “be still” is unusual…welcomed, but strange. Bills aside, slamming the brakes has compelled an evaluation of why I’m doing this in the first place, how hard I’m pushing, and whether or not the sacrifices made are worthy of time lost.

—interview questions and additional reporting by Francesco D’Amico

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