Back To The ’60s

2020 has been just about the worst year imaginable so far, but over the last few days it has acquired a definite ’60s vibe, too.  With riots happening in the streets of American cities in reaction to the shocking and outrageous death of George Floyd, it’s like 1966 and 1967 and 1968 all over again.  Even middle-of-the-road Columbus has seen its share of disturbances.

636178516108265271-dfpd24221Civil unrest seemed pretty commonplace when I was a kid.  Whether it was “race riots,” Vietnam War protests that got out of hand, reactions to the assassinations of leading figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, or random civil disobedience, smoke in the air and tear gas canisters on the ground were a familiar sight.  Authorities would warn about what might happen during the “long hot summer,” and rioting and looting seemed to occur as a matter of course.  Footage of people throwing Molotov cocktails, smashing windows, and running with armfuls of loot from burning buildings were staples of the nightly TV news broadcasts and morning news shows.  And authorities learned the hard way that when a population gathers in sufficiently large numbers and decides to go on a building-burning rampage, there’s not much you can do about it — without applying overwhelming force and ramping up the tension even further.

Although rioting seemed like an annual occurrence during the ’60s, eventually the riots stopped.  Unfortunately, they left behind areas of gutted buildings and ruined, derelict neighborhoods that in some cases still haven’t recovered, more than 50 years later.  And the small businesses that are typically the focus of the burning and smashing and looting often don’t come back, either.  Drive around modern Detroit if you don’t believe me.

Disturbances happen when people feel that they are being treated unfairly and that they have nowhere to turn for justice.  They protest because they feel its the only way to make their voices heard.  Mix in some people who are looking to gain some cheap thrills and personal advantage from the unrest, and you’ll have looting and arson, too.

The best way to begin to deal with the issue in this case is to let the system work and do justice in the terrible case of George Floyd.  Giving people the feeling that things are getting back to normal, by lifting some of the coronavirus restrictions, might help, too.

Now Among The Tested

The United States has dramatically increased its testing for the coronavirus over the past few weeks.  According to the CDC website, nearly 11 million Americans have now been tested for COVID-19.  Yesterday morning, because I have a medical appointment coming up and getting tested was part of the pre-appointment checklist, I became one of them.

The testing was quick, easy, and efficient.  They’ve set up a drive-through testing facility in one of the rear parking lots of the administration building of the sprawling Mt. Carmel East hospital complex.  Your doctor puts your name on a list and writes you a prescription for the test, and you drive up and wait in your car for your turn.  As people are tested, the car line moves through two lanes of testing that occurs under tents, like cars moving through a toll booth on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  When I arrived shortly after the testing facility opened at 8 a.m., I was probably tenth in line, and all told, I think it took me less than a half hour to make it entirely through the process.

When it was my turn I donned my mask and drove through the tent, which was manned by four nurses who thoroughly disinfected themselves after each encounter with someone being tested.  A pleasant and professional nurse who was fully clad in protective gear — helmet, face shield, gown, and gloves — took down my information and then conducted the test.  It was one of the viral tests to determine if I currently have coronavirus, and it consisted of sticking a long Q-tip swab pretty deep into my nostrils, gathering some mucus, and putting it into a plastic bag.  I was told that the sample tested positive for coronavirus, I would be notified, and if the test was negative I wouldn’t be called and should just show up for my appointment.  I never got a call, so I’m apparently currently free of COVID-19.  (The viral test is different from the antibody blood test, which would tell you if you had the coronavirus at some point in the past and have developed antibodies against it.)

News reports on coronavirus typically report raw statistics on how many people have the illness.  Expect to see significant increases in the numbers, simply because more mobile testing stations like the one I used are springing up everywhere.  Given what I saw, I’d guess that my testing facility probably processes several hundred tests each day, and there are similar testing facilities in Columbus and across the country.  We’re going to start to get a lot more data on the coronavirus as a result.  

Reopening . . . One Step At A Time (Cont.)

Ohio continued on its deliberate path back to a fully functioning economy over the weekend.  Restaurants and bars were permitted to begin serving patrons at their outdoor areas on Friday, and this week indoor service can begin — with appropriate social distancing.  

Fortunately for the restaurants and bars that wanted to get back to business, the weather cooperated for the most part, with some warm weather and only a few thunderstorms rolling through.  I walked to downtown Columbus over the weekend and passed several venues where people were enjoying the chance to get out.  Yesterday Kish and I walked past another popular spot, Lindey’s patio, where you could hear the happy babble of chatting people, just like old times.  

There were news reports of some Short North bars that had seemingly overcrowded outdoor areas, but I didn’t see anything like that.  What I saw, instead, were businesses that wanted to get going again, and customers who wanted that, too.  People seemed to be respecting the social distancing rules for the most part — both at the restaurants and otherwise.  But there is no doubt that things are loosening up.  Soon we’ll start to get some statistics that will allow us to assess the impact.

Public Exercisers

We’re witnessing a new phenomenon on our walks around Schiller Park these days:  the invasion of the public exerciser.

sumo-squatI’m not talking about joggers, or walkers, or even those comically determined power walkers.  I’m talking about people who have suddenly begun to use the park as their own special fitness facility.  They brace themselves on the park benches to do stiff-backed push-ups and extravagant leg lifts.  They lie down on the asphalt of the basketball court and make cycling motions with their legs, then stand up and perform a kind of fitful twisting dance down the length of the court.  They do a lot of squatting, display butt cracks, and duck walk around.  They wave their arms like helicopter rotors, raise their knees up to chest level, and hop, hop, hop.  They lean against the picnic tables and stretch.  Then they put their hands on the basketball hoop poles and stretch some more.  We’d better hope that they’re not contagious, because they’ve touched pretty much every object and surface in the park aside from the Schiller statue — and they’d probably use that, too, if there wasn’t a fence around it.

These people just came out of the woodwork as the weather finally warmed up.  I recognize that fitness clubs have been closed down for two months, and perhaps that’s where they used to do their preening.  But what I find interesting is that they do all of these highly visible — and probably consciously visible — exercises in public, when they could be doing every one of them in the privacy of their homes or in the privacy of their backyards.  They’re not trying to be discreet.  It’s pretty clear that they’re desperate for attention — and probably desperate, period.

Who’d have thought our pretty neighborhood park would also serve as an outdoor gymnasium for attention-seeking fitness fans?  It’s harmless, I suppose, but kind of annoying nevertheless.

Reopening . . . One Step At A Time (Cont.)

Today another German Village business opened its doors to walk-in business after the prolonged coronavirus shutdown.  This time, it’s the Hausfrau Haven, a great wine (and beer) shop that has been a German Village mainstay for decades.  The HH had been open for carryout business — which we gladly took advantage of — but now you can walk in to make your wine selections.  As we spring back from the shutdown period, increased access to adult beverages can only be a good thing.

My guess is that the Hausfrau Haven sign is (no pun intended) a sign of things to come in Columbus and Ohio as other businesses open up.  That is, masks will be required, and the requirement will be enforced by the business itself, out of concern for its employees and its other patrons.  I think most people will happily comply with that.

Next up for Ohio and German Village — a restaurant or bar open for foot traffic and in-restaurant dining.  When G. Michael’s and Lindey’s and Ambrose and Eve and the High-Beck open up to dining and drinking patrons, that will seem like a very big deal.

 

HMD

Some well-wishers left flowers for the statues of the two mothers who inhabit the “Garden of Peace” at St. Mary’s Church in our neighborhood. It’s a nice way to remember Mothers’ Day.

Those of us who have been fortunate to be shaped by great mothers and grandmothers, and to be married to great mothers, can’t really express just how important those women have been in our lives. All we can do is says thanks, enjoy the happy memories, and wish all mothers a happy Mothers’ Day.

Will Columbus See It Through?

I’ve seen this sign on display in several German Village windows, and I appreciate the message.  Our community, our state, our country, and the entire world have been through a lot over the past two months, and in Columbus, at least, we’ve managed to hang together.  Sure, there have been some nuts doing nutty things, but for the most part people have been cooperative, understanding, and respectful of the instructions of our public health officials and elected representatives.

It seems to me that the sign’s sentiment is especially important now, as we move from the shutdown mode to moving down the cautious road back to normalcy.  I feel like there is more of a chance of social splintering now than at any prior time during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Officials have made some difficult judgment calls — and, consistent with the notion that states serve as “laboratories of democracy,” different states have taken different approaches — and now people are going to make their personal decisions accordingly.  Some people think we’re moving too fast, some think we’re moving too slow.  It’s a perfect situation for second-guessing and playing the blame game, both as to elected officials and ordinary folks who might decide whether to go out to dinner — or not.

There’s no historical parallel for what has happened here.  The U.S. has never shut down its economy in response to a global pandemic, required people to stay home for weeks, and then addressed when and how to lift such sweeping restrictions.  There’s no road map.  And we know one thing that we’ve learned about models and predictions during our crash course in coronavirus issues — many of the models and predictions have turned out to be wrong.  No one has a crystal ball.

I’m hoping that Columbus will, in fact, see it through.  If people show some restraint and understanding and hold their criticism, I think we will.  

Reopening . . . One Step At A Time (Cont.)

And speaking of reopening, our neighborhood Starbucks is reopening this morning after weeks of shutdown. I walked by before the official opening and the coffee emporium was ready to go with designated lines, signage, ground tape to show proper social distances, and masked baristas.

I never thought I would say I was glad to see a Starbucks open, but I was. These are extraordinary times, indeed.

Thinking Beach Thoughts

It’s a ridiculous 39 degrees as I prepare to take my walk this morning. It was cold and blustery yesterday, and it’s supposed to be cold through this weekend. It’s kind of a dirty trick to combine working at home and sheltering in place with an unseasonably cold spring.

So today, I’m going to do my part to warm things up — at least mentally — and think beach thoughts. And when it warms up, as it inevitably will, I’ll gladly accept at least partial credit.

Enforcing Distancing

During the first few weeks of the shutdown, it wasn’t unusual to see people shooting baskets at the Schiller Park basketball courts, or even playing a small pick-up game.  Some people objected to it, and made a big stink about it on social media sites.  Now the authorities have taken steps to make sure that no one can play basketball there — even if they bring their own ball and are shooting hoops by themselves, without anyone else within six feet.

During these extraordinary times, is sending some worker out to put wooden blocks on a basketball goal to prevent people from playing the game or shooting baskets a prudent health care initiative, or a weird government overreach?  Does anyone know how likely you are to contract coronavirus from playing a game of basketball?  How many of the older people with multiple health care conditions, who statistics show are most at risk of serious health consequences if they contract COVID-19, are out at the park shooting hoops and ready to be selected to play in a pick-up game?

Of course, you can argue that the young kids who were shooting hoops and playing in those three-on-three games might bring the virus home, where it might infect at-risk people.  Still, blocking the hoops seems awfully Big Brotherish to me.  What’s next?  Removing the picnic tables and their benches because people might congregate there?

Reopening . . . One Step At A Time

Some Ohio businesses reopened today.  The sign in the photograph above was on the finely carved door of Winan’s, a chocolate and coffee emporium here in German Village that is reputed to sell some of the finest candy, and coffee, you can find anywhere in Columbus.  

Winan’s reopened, subject to the limitations stated on the sign, just in time for Mothers’ Day.  I took the picture above shortly before the store opened, with new hours, and when I passed by the store later in the day it was at its maximum capacity of four customers, and another patron was waiting patiently outside for the chance to go in.  Interestingly, although the Winan’s shop was open, the Starbucks near our house was still closed.  I imagine businesses are making individualized decisions about the reopening process.

I’m inclined to patronize as many German Village businesses as possible now that they are reopening to help get the economy back in gear, and I was encouraged to see that Winan’s was getting some traffic on its first day back.  Some chocolate and coffee sounds pretty good, too, don’t you think?     

Increasingly Online

Even before the coronavirus shutdown, our economy was increasingly moving into more of an internet economy, where a lot of consumer commerce was done through online ordering.  With the shutdown, that process has accelerated to warp speed.  We’re to the point now where Amazon, Fed Ex, UPS, and U.S. Postal Service trucks are an everyday sight in our neighborhood, appearing at all hours.  And when you walk down the street you see packages left on a lot of doorsteps.

It’s been a godsend during the shutdown, when the “brick and mortar” stores are for the most part closed by governmental order and people have turned to the internet to supply everything from groceries to clothing to shoes to whatever might help to keep their kids entertained while they are cooped up indoors.  It’s hard to imagine what this period would have been like without the online economy to fill the void when the traditional stores were shuttered.  That’s the reason you see signs in many places, like the one above, thanking the hardy delivery people for playing such a key role in helping people to make it through this extraordinary period.

But . . . what’s going to happen when the reopening occurs?  Are people going to go back to the real-world stores, or will the shift to online shopping be permanent?  That’s a crucial question, because while the online world is convenient, it employs only a fraction of the people who worked in the brick-and-mortar retail world before the shutdown.  If the American shopper goes into full online mode and the local businesses close, we’re going to have a serious, systemic unemployment problem.  And there’s also a local, community element at play.  The online behemoths are usually located far away — and perhaps overseas — the stores in your neighborhood typically are small businesses, owned by people in the community who have an interest in the community.  I saw a sign recently that read something like “Amazon won’t sponsor your kid’s baseball team.”  There’s a lot of truth in that sentiment.

Like everyone else, we’ve done our share of online ordering during this shutdown period, and have appreciated having that option.  But when the shutdown ends, I’m going to focus on trying to buy from the local businesses and brick-and-mortar stores that have been so hard hit by the shutdown, and perhaps even be a little more generous than normal in my spending.  These parts of our community are going to need help to get back on their feet.   

The Leading Scooter Indicator

They’ve put the scooters out around Schiller Park. I’m going to keep a close eye on them, because I think scooter use in the coming weeks may give us a lot of telling information about how things are going to be, post-shutdown.

Here’s my reasoning. Last year, scooters really made inroads. Lots of people, of different ages, were using them to move around town. Then the scooter weather ended, winter came, and then the coronavirus shutdown hit before scooter weather returned. Now we’re on the cusp of scooter weather again, and the scooters are out. Will people use them?

Of course, scooters are a pretty basic example of vehicle sharing. And, in post-shutdown America, the key word there is “sharing.” You can’t ride a scooter without touching the handlebars. Will people be willing to do that? Or will we see scooters standing idle due to fear of COVID-19?

And that’s why scooters are a kind of leading indicator. A big question for the post-shutdown economy is whether people will be too freaked out by the risk of infection to return to the pre-shutdown norm. If the Scooter Brigade — by self-selection risk-takers, since riders are willing to go zipping through vehicular traffic without any protective shielding — is willing to go back to scooting, that will tell us something about people, and the economy, bouncing back.

What if the Scooter Brigade doesn’t ride? Well, that will tell us there’s a lot of work yet to be done in the social confidence category.