Thursday, June 25, 2020

A Viral Wildfire

I have worked in a police department for 16 years, and I'm as surprised as anyone about that, even though I am self aware enough to realize that I would make an abysmal police officer. I am far too inclined to believe people and hope for the best even though I know the best is an unlikely outcome. Working in dispatch and being a non sworn civilian (we use odd language in here) I have come to understand there is no such thing as coincidence. 
For instance yesterday I got an alarm call advising (funny language we use again) there was a fire alarm at a Duval Street restaurant, and almost simultaneously a responsible person or responding party (odd language  we...) called in a transformer explosion five blocks away on Angela Street. Coincidence? Hardly because as it turned out the alarm was triggered by the power outage following the transformer failure. Despite my instinct to assume I sent one engine to the alarm and another to the transformer. One related to the other, thus is was not a coincidence.  After 16 years of this stuff I don’t believe in coincidences much.  
While coincidences aren't real, and that is as broad a generalization as I can come up with at the moment, unintended consequences are real, very much so. I love unintended consequences as they are  the lesson any living human being should carry around with them. While I am not at all fond of the coronavirus and its tedious intrusion into the spontaneity of my life, I have greatly enjoyed the numerous ironies of the unintended consequences of the new rules for living in a  time of plague. Social distancing? I'm in! Working from home? My wife loves it! That's the easy stuff. It gets much harder from there.
It seems like a lifetime ago but there used to be a rule that you couldn't enter a bank wearing a  hoodie or sunglasses or a baseball cap so when I had to go to the bank to get an actual cashier's check to pay the van factory, wasn't I amused by the requirement I cover my face up. I am not an epidemiologist and I don't play one on Facebook so if the scientists who study this disease say wear a mask I am perfectly ready to do so, at risk of losing my masculinity and self worth in our current bizarre chapter of culture wars. What makes me laugh is how suddenly wearing a face cover no longer poses a hold up threat. Let's rephrase that: Covid-19 or hold up? Which do you think is more likely?  In Key West? Well, I know now the coronavirus numbers aren't at all encouraging. That's not a coincidence either when you know what's been going on.
The coronavirus has opened up a huge crack in the papered over civility of modern life, and that has created unintended consequences which worry me a lot more than before. I find the arguments against mask wearing seem to e rooted in cruelty and lack of consideration that really gets me down. Until I found myself in a wheelchair and later pushing a walker to get around I had never really paid much heed to handicapped parking except when I couldn't park there and the lot was full. Suddenly the little blue square gave me permission to go out and struggle and strain and make my way among the able bodied. 
When I hear people say with the casual cruelty of unthinking certainty that those who are at risk from coronavirus should just stay home I think of my own period of infirmity and how much I valued the ability to get out even though my legs didn't work. Handicapped parking denies most people prime parking spots close to attractions, but they gave me a chance to get out of the house and mingle, even at knee height. I wonder how it is that wearing a mask for the public good has become an act of political submission rather than an act of social solidarity, of being in this together, of looking after each other. I just don't get the glee with which the thoughtless pronounce their indomitable will to hurt their neighbors. It makes me wonder if after Pearl Harbor  they would have sued Japan for peace to avoid having their summer vacations in 1942  disrupted. We are lucky the generations before us knew how to meet the challenge of hardship and deal with it.
Is it any surprise Willie T's bar closed after the reopening owing to coronavirus infection among the staff? Shanna Key has apparently done the same and I suppose more will follow. Sloppy Joe's says they aren't going to reopen July 1st as originally thought... The number of daily reported cases in Florida has reached 5500 and Homestead Baptist Health has reported its ICU is full. Despite, or because of the cataclysm Duval's pedestrian zone is back! This is the weirdest unintended consequence: Duval Mall has been recreated on the lower end of the street. I loved the idea of a pedestrian zone on Duval Street and after some experimentation businesses outside the two block zone last year felt they were losing out so they shut the whole experiment down. It seemed like that was the price one paid for success. Nowadays too many people are crowding the sidewalks of Lower Duval so the street has been barricaded to traffic...whatever next?
So on the one hand you can go into a business, indeed you must go into a business looking like  a bandit, plus you can walk some of Duval Street with impunity to allow social distancing.  But as much as locals struggle to maintain the economy and protect themselves from the idiocy of online epidemiology, infections are going up. Northern states who did their legwork early on now threaten to ban Floridians from their states unless we quarantine on arrival. I can hardly imagine the fun of sitting in the van, the three of us spending my vacation stationary on the New York stateline.
There is an Alice-In-Wonderland quality to every minor decision or choice in life these days. I who have retained my paycheck through it all miss the bad old days of the checkpoints. Now we have an economy limping along, infection rates going through the roof with the median patient age dropping, and a country divided over the simplest of public health actions. I wonder what happens next and how much worse do things have to get? I for one am not going anywhere  near Duval Street during the day and I marvel that Key West maintains the allure of a desirable vacation destination, but people keep coming.  
The stories from the Upper Keys  that we hear are equally hallucinatory of huge crowds coming down from the mainland lining the narrow strips of beach where they congregate without masks and no social distancing and act as though they live in a  state where the virus could never spread like wildfire. I have no idea where this all ends but I have equally no idea about the simplest of things these days. The only thing I can think is that in some indefinable manner things can only get worse. Oh and by the way I don't think the heat is a deterrent to the spread of this thing. At least the 100 degree hell we are enjoying doesn't seem hot enough. Maybe it needs to get even hotter, heaven help us.