It was Friday the 13.th At day’s end, I joined the happy hour crowd at a local establishment. The place was packed.
“Social distancing” had not yet become the phrase of the year; masks were something worn by the Lone Ranger and germaphobes in Asia. We had all heard reports of a viral outbreak in Wuhan, but that was half a world away, and only sporadic cases had surfaced in our country, mostly in Seattle.
In Dickens’ phrase, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Just four days later, on St. Patrick’s Day at 5 p.m., the state’s bars and restaurants were shuttered (except for takeout) for what would become a 2½-month ordeal. Hardly anyone had anticipated how vast and rearranging the pandemic impact of the novel coronavirus would be.
Even for those of us who have not suffered severe health effects or death, the sudden suspension of so many daily routines and rituals has been compared to a wartime effort. Ironically, we cannot even see our enemy. Like rabbits, we find our best defense against the predator is to hide.
Schools closed, classes went online, many parents were forced to add the role of part-time teacher to their virtual resume. Record numbers of people were suddenly unemployed. Those who still had jobs were told to work from home if they could. Much of the world, it seemed, was now happening only virtually, via online platforms such as Zoom. We celebrated a daughter’s birthday March 29 via Zoom and were thankful our grandchildren were not exposed to pornography or hate speech via what came to be known as “Zoom-bombing,” as had happened during one of our church’s virtual events.
Two weeks into the shutdown, grocery shelves were still empty of … toilet paper? One of the strange mysteries of the pandemic. Gasoline, on the other hand, was plentiful and cheap. With far fewer cars on the road and planes in the air, unleaded plunged to historic lows; if you had enough reward points at some stores, they maybe had to pay you to fill up.
TV was running detailed videos of how to properly wash one’s hands. Easter Day, April 12, brought a winter storm that might have canceled church services if most church buildings had not already been closed by COVID-19.
As of this writing, I’ve been spared from actually contracting COVID-19, although Michael Osterholm at the University of Minnesota, one of the world’s leading infectious disease experts, says 60% of us will eventually get it.
Many remember when Osterholm came to Mankato in 1995 to help us deal with a meningitis outbreak. He has long been predicting a pandemic.
My wife looks at me and says, imagine if this were ebola. Ebola and bubonic plague, which killed one-third of the population of Europe in the 14th century, have much higher death rates than COVID-19. But it seems deadly new diseases are coming around more regularly these days – HIV, ebola, MERS, SARS, H1N1, all in the last 40 years. (I mention this just to freak out other hypochondriacs like me.)
I admit I’m luckier than most. Retired now, my COVID routine suits me: get up, drink coffee, read, eat, play my guitar, write my Mankato Mag column, have a glass of wine, watch the evening news (yes, that venerable institution has had a big resurgence in the Age of COVID), maybe watch some Netflix, then go to bed.
Speaking of TV: anyone else weary yet of all the TV commercials in which corporate America oozes with sincerity and concern? I’m gonna ask my doctor about that expensive new drug because they really seem to care!
It’s late May: I’m missing sports on TV but not as much as I thought I would. Still waiting for my cable provider to offer a rebate because much of what we pay is for ESPN and other sports channels, and there’s nothing to watch.
We order takeout food from our favorite restaurants at least once a week to try to help them through this economic calamity. One positive effect of the pandemic: for some reason, fewer telemarketing calls.
Early June: ventured gingerly out to a sidewalk café for a beer with my musician friends (who are still without live gigs). Left a big tip for a waitress who’s been out of work. Wearing a mask – not so much a political statement as it is like buying insurance.
I do note that some of us resemble our dogs when we wear masks. What about countries that outlaw burqas but require masks? Arguing with a colleague: Which year in our lifetime is most traumatic — 1968 or 2020? A tossup? But 2020’s barely half over…
I’m more and more convinced, this is a long slog. If you haven’t already, it seems now would be a good time to start your own journal.
Longtime radio guy Pete Steiner is now a free lance writer in Mankato.