Friday, May 29
Can you feel it? Or hear it? Can you see it?
It’s like shelves of Antarctic ice sliding into the ocean.
It’s the sound of loosening Corona restrictions. And thawing attitudes. Restaurants are reopening, as well as salons, barbershops and a few “non-essential” stores. Social circles are expanding.
I saw it on Sonora’s Washington Street over Memorial Day weekend. More folks were downtown, going in and out of businesses, window shopping, enjoying beers and burgers at outdoor tables. Many were without masks. It was a tantalizing taste of the good old days.
Which both heartened and scared the hell out of me.
We all crave a return to normal. Don’t get me wrong, I like my dog and cat. But I miss seeing my friends and my kids. Emails and phone calls are not enough.
I want to once again order dinner at a restaurant. It’s something I have not done since Saturday, March 14, at Bobby-Q’s in Phoenix – where I enjoyed an absolutely delicious cheeseburger in the company of old friends.
The very concept seems alien now. In the past two and a half months – with Corona death counts and national unemployment rates skyrocketing – social distancing, quarantining and stay-at-home orders have been our watchwords, our keys to defeating the virus.
Is this the time to let our guard down?
And when will it be over? Who’s going to tell us when it is? One day will we wake up, turn on the news, and find out that we can do anything we want?
The answer is no.
Yes, California and other states may set up stages of recovery as the disease’s toll recedes. We’re still warned, however, that six-foot social distancing standards must be observed.
But these standards are largely unenforceable, as beach and pool parties in a few southern states last week proved. Don’t these revelers know that in two weeks Corona case and death counts in those areas may soar?
The answer is that they might know – and they probably don’t care.
Historians agree that pandemics have two kinds of endings: medical and social.
The medical end comes when case and death counts plummet. The social end comes when people get tired of distancing and confinement, and simply say “screw it.”
This was true even during the 14th Century Black Plague pandemic.
Renaissance author and poet Giovanni Boccaccio wrote that some residents of Florence refused to accept the threat. Instead, their way of coping was to “drink heavily, enjoy life to the full, go round singing and merrymaking, gratify all of one’s cravings, and shrug the whole thing off as one enormous joke.”
I don’t think we’ve come that far yet, but we’re edging in that direction.
A Bay Area college classmate told me he was getting together with 10 – count ’em 10 – friends last weekend. Yes, he added, all had been distancing and would continue to distance at the gathering.
I was still surprised. “Sounds like you’re going to Woodstock,” I told him.
My brother is driving to Tucson with a friend – in the same car. He’s also thinking about returning to his gym for workouts.
Other Sonora friends went down to the Bay Area to help their son and his housemates move from the East Bay to an apartment in San Francisco.
And this week I’ve talked with two different friends about going out to a restaurant – at a distance and preferably at outdoor tables. I’ve even thought about taking an Amtrak trip – because trains are nearly empty and meals are delivered to your room.
What’s more, I’m both going to the dentist and getting a haircut this month.
These are things I would never have imagined evena couple of weeks ago.
Maybe I’ve been lulled by dropping case and death counts. Maybe I’ve been fooled into thinking life on the outside has become safer – when it actually hasn’t.
“There is this social psychological issue of exhaustion and frustration,” Yale historian Naomi Rogers told The New York Times. “We may be in a moment when people are just saying, ‘That’s enough. I deserve to return to my normal life.’”
And medical consequences be damned?
Well, a friend (same one who enjoyed the 10-member Woodstockian gathering last weekend), sent me a well researched news story that lists the most dangerous places to go if you want to avoid infection.
These are venues where viral “super-spread” conditions can exist: Bars and clubs, buses, gyms, buffets, choir performances or practices, malls, offices, crowded churches, sporting events and planes where passengers are coughing.
I’m not going to any of those places anytime soon. In contrast, tentative ventures into local restaurants seem reasonable.
Bottom line: It’s a matter of balance and logic in an ever-changing world.
Something that might have seemed rash, socially irresponsible and medically reckless six weeks ago, could be acceptable six weeks into our unknown future.
Then there’s this question: How urgently do you long for “the way things were.”?
My own post-Corona life has eased into a soothing routine: Get up, brew coffee, watch the news (in moderation), write, walk my dog, write some more, play a two or three racks of pool, read or watch a movie, then go to sleep.
Life has slowed; I’ve been more reflective.
A neighbor offered this advice: “In our rush to return to normal, it’s worth asking what about normal is worth returning to.”
One last question, of course: When will it be over?
This a very tough question, indeed. And I’ll bypass scores of politicians, doctors, shrinks and scientists. Instead I’ll defer, as we all should, to the late, great Yogi Berra:
“It ain’t over til it’s over.”