Meet Riley Goodside: The Man Behind the Mask, Goggles, Gloves and Glasses

Riley Goodside near McCarren Park (Image via Ben Weiss)

Riley Goodside, 33, woke up early on the brisk morning of March 15th and was “disgusted.”  

Just four days earlier, the World Health Organization had formally declared COVID-19 a pandemic, but many people in New York City were milling about maskless in the streets, seemingly unaware that 329 people had tested positive for the coronavirus in the city alone.

“I saw this perfect storm brewing,” he said in an interview with Greenpointers

While his fiancée was still sleeping, he slinked out of bed and donned his elastomeric respirator, slipped on black nitrile gloves and strapped on clear, indirect-vent goggles. He then trudged over to the northern entrance of McCarren Park, where a number of Sunday brunch-goers were enjoying what would be their last mimosas out for months.

In full regalia, he stood in quiet protest. A photographer then snapped a photo of him and the impromptu sign he was carrying made out of an Amazon delivery box. 

It read: “CANCEL BRUNCH.”

That photo inaugurated Goodside’s rise as the pandemic poster child of the city. His signature getup—part theater, part protection—has graced social media and accompanied articles published across the country, from Miami to Alaska. Goodside’s image traveled internationally, too, appearing in publications based in El Salvador and Tajikistan.

Before his post-apocalyptic garb earned him international recognition, Goodside, a programmer who specializes in machine learning, explained that his accumulation of a wardrobe of personal protective equipment (PPE) began as an experiment. 

Prior to being laid off in March because of the pandemic, he worked at a company that culled information from the internet and sold it to military and intelligence agencies in the U.S. and allied countries. One of his larger projects was tracking the severity of and interest in what was then known as the “Wuhan flu.”

“I was aware of and actively studying the pandemic since November of last year,” he explained. “I had been worried for a while that this could be quite bad in New York.”

Goodside, who describes himself as “pretty geeky,” started sampling various masks, goggles and head coverings out of caution and curiosity. He began wearing silicone and nylon-based elastomeric respirators, the kind used to prevent the inhalation of wood shavings at a construction site.

Riley Goodside’s complete array of PPE (Image courtesy of Riley Goodside)

But as the pandemic made landfall in New York City, he grew alarmed.

“It didn’t seem like the message had hit anyone yet,” he said. “I was a bit outraged.”

That’s what prompted Goodside to protest brunch-goers on March 15th with “CANCEL BRUNCH” sign in hand and respirator on face, merely hours before Mayor de Blasio closed schools, restaurants and bars across the city.

“It seemed a bit too on the nose, but at that point nobody had photographed or interviewed him for an outlet yet so I just went for it,” said Gary He, a freelance photojournalist who regulary contributes to Eater.

However, Goodside’s first appearance in the media wasn’t his last.

After the city and state went on “pause,” weeks turned to months and crowds began flocking to Domino Park as winter turned to spring.

Goodside was, again, alarmed. Clad in his pandemic outfit of choice, an elastomeric respirator with pink pancake filters, goggles, gloves and an aqua-blue, elastane balaclava, he walked loops around the park to remind people that, despite the weather change, there was still a pandemic raging through the city.

“The reaction that I always really liked the best was when people saw me and they immediately thought ‘Oh I need to put my mask on’,” said Goodside.

And once the city drew social distancing circles on the park’s lawn, he noticed that the press was congregating nearby, taking photos.

Goodside decided to be photographed to raise awareness of the severity of the pandemic as well as point out alternate forms of PPE. He sat down in one of the circles and read The Book of Why, which he chose for its inscrutable title as well as its relation to epidemiology.

Kathy Willins, a staff photographer for the Associated Press, took the bait.

“I saw this guy wearing all this PPE, wearing this absurd amount,” she said.

Willins took his photograph, which combined the park’s newly added social distancing circles, Goodside’s “absurd” outfit and the Empire State Building looming in the background. The Associated Press then distributed the image, and publications across the country and globe used it in their articles on COVID-19 and New York City.

“It was amusing to me that it went this far, and it confirms some of my suspicions about the symbiotic relationship between people taking these photos and people wanting to be photographed,” he said. (He was also slightly annoyed that Willens attributed the photo to “Ridley Goodside,” not Riley.)

Now, Goodside has adapted his outfit to the heat, forgoing the blue balaclava but still wearing the respirator. Meanwhile, New York City has flattened the curve, and the city recently allowed restaurants to commence outdoor dining. 

Brunch is officially back on, but Goodside remains cautious about the idea of going out for mimosas. He, however, remains optimistic that, at least for now, New York City is past the worst of the pandemic.

“At least for the next few months, New York City will be one of the safest places in the country,” he said.

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