On Wednesday, things started getting real. That morning, Mayor Lightfoot cancelled both St. Patrick’s Day parades. Bummer. Is that really necessary? I wondered. Dublin and Boston cancelled St. Paddy’s festivities. Maybe Chicago was only following suit as to keep up appearances? That one expert said outdoor gatherings were okay. In Chicago, we wait all winter for St. Patrick’s Day. It’s the signal that we made it through another year’s slushy, heavy coat slog. Time to celebrate. Losing St. Paddy’s is significant. I shrugged it off and wondered what would happen next. That’s when the NCAA officially announced they’d play March Madness games without fans. Empty stadiums? Madness indeed.
My onetime colleague Dave Williams shared a link to Joe Rogan’s podcast featuring a pandemic expert named Michael Osterholm. Game-changer. Osterholm laid it all out. Scary stuff, at first, but ultimately very helpful.
I already had planned a trip to Jewel that evening, but the Rogan podcast doubled my intentions of stocking up on food. Everything was fairly normal at the Jewel on Ashland and Wrightwood. The canned foods aisle was more crowded than usual. Skippy was on sale, so I bought 5. I grabbed a couple cans of Hormel Chili. Figured I’d give some of that stuff to my mom, because she likes chili. Grabbed a case of Coors Light and 2 bottles of cheap Chianti. If I’m gonna be home a lot in the near future, I want to have buzz options. 2 DiGiorno frozen pizzas and some hair care products completed my shopping. While I waited in line at checkout, my buddy Beagle hit our text chain with breaking news (he’s a news anchor in Las Vegas.) Tom Hanks tested positive for coronavirus. Holy shit. The sources were legit, as Beagle would have already checked. (Days before, false reports of Daniel Radcliffe having coronavirus hit social media. False.) My cousin Casey texted me moments later. The NBA has SUSPENDED THE REST OF THE SEASON. This is getting real. I looked around and no one seemed to be panicking. Maybe they hadn’t heard the Hanks news. I put my stuff on the conveyer belt and the girl had to call over a dude to check my ID for the wine. The blue-haired 23-year-old gingerly explained to me that my license was expired. I pretended to be surprised by this revelation. Was hoping he wouldn’t check that hard. Both of the checkers apologized as they set the Coors Light and Chianti off to the side. Oh, well. Guess I’ll have to drink whatever is in the liquor cabinet.
I went home and read about the NBA and Hanks stuff and my mind started racing. A pro sports league stopping play because of a disease? I’ve never seen that before. No more Coby White scoring outbursts? What the heck am I gonna watch?
Thursday after doing a morning show from the comfort of my home office, I figured I’d better go complete my shopping. I had hamburger buns, but no burgers. I still wanted beer. I stepped up my food collecting at Mariano’s on Western in Roscoe Village. Bought some canned veggies and Chunky soup. Two more Skippy peanut butters, too. I’ve now got enough PB to last me through 2020. Picked up 4 Home Run Inn frozen pizzas and 2 10-packs of Billy Goat burgers for the grill. At self-checkout, the gentleman permitted me to buy a case of Miller Lite and 2 bottles of Chianti. These bottles were more expensive than I thought. Like $17 a piece. But I got the go-ahead to buy liquor so I wasn’t about to turn back. I @ ‘d notorious Twitter character Chicago Party Aunt and she was kind enough to retweet:
I felt good about my supplies. Hank the dog and I are set on food at the house for the considerable future. At my Jewel and Mariano’s, toilet paper was available. But I noticed some excessive buying. That is happening nationally. Multiple reports of Targets, Walmarts, grocery stores completely sold out of hand sanitizer, hand soap and toilet paper. Some assholes are hoarding these items to re-sell online. Scummy move. Some people are just panic-buying. I get it. But acting as a society is important. We’re all in this together. I tried to remember to smile at everyone I encountered. Keep it civil and happy. I don’t really understand the toilet paper thing. How much do you need? I guess it’s comforting to know you won’t be without it? But, buying all the packages and leaving none for anyone else? That’s fucked up.
I called my sister Meg Thursday evening to check on her. She told me she went to the doctor that day and suddenly realized she had no reason for going. Her doctor even asked her what was wrong until she admitted, to herself and the doctor, nothing was wrong. I think the online panic got her brain going too much. She was at Small Cheval having a beer to calm down. I told her to grab me a burger and fries and meet me at Corner Bar. Small, local places are still good to go, we’ve been told. Support our local places, while practicing social distancing. I brought Hank with me. There were 8 or 9 other dogs at Corner Bar when we arrived, much to Hank’s chagrin. He’s likes people, but fears other dogs. He sat on my lap as I drank a Pulaski Pils from the tap. A guy at the bar heard my voice when I ordered and recognized me from the radio – a Cicero cop named Gabriel. He and his cousin were in the neighborhood picking up some furniture and stopped in for a beer. He thanked me for keeping him entertained in his squad car and bought me a beer(actually more than one.) Meg brought my burger and we hung with Gabriel and his cousin for several beers. The CDC recommends avoiding handshakes in favor of knuckles. I have trouble not shaking someone’s hand when it’s offered. My contact that night was limited to the handful of people at Corner. I washed my hands a lot. The owner/bartender expressed concern about attracting customers/paying bills as the pandemic continues. I understand the uncertainty. We’re all feeling it right about now.
Friday morning Mayor Lightfoot held a press conference with several Chicago restaurant leaders and Grubhub CEO Matt Maloney. Maloney announced they won’t take fees from restaurants for the foreseeable future, sacrificing up to $100 million in revenue. The purpose is to support independent restaurants and people inevitably veer towards delivery and takeout as opposed to dining in. The restaurateurs seemed truly appreciative – stand-up move from a Chicago-based company. Paying workers will be a challenge in the coming weeks. Livelihoods are at stake.
MLB shut down spring training and delayed the start of the season. Italy is on lockdown. China and Korea seem to be recovering? The global pandemic of coronavirus COVID-19 has hit in the United States. Washington state is bearing the brunt of it at this point, with death totals in the teens. Seattle took drastic measures to keep it from spreading around the city. The national government has done little to inspire confidence they are prepared for the pandemic. President Trump belittled the disease recently, before finally coming around and declaring a National Emergency on Friday. Dr. Fauci from his team is the one with credibility. The most important thing is to not overwhelm our hospitals and clinics. I’ve listened to and read the opinions of experts. They vary on some of the details, but the one thing everyone appears to agree on is “social distancing.” If we avoid large crowds and minimize our contact with others, the disease spreads less quickly. Fewer get it at once, and fewer have to be treated by medical professionals. Coronavirus survival rate is high if the serious cases receive proper medical care. Eventually, immunizations will be developed.
All we can do is listen to actual experts and support one another as Chicagoans and as human beings. Perhaps we should count our blessings that this disease still allows us to go outside and drink from the tap, etc.
Hopefully, as Mike Ditka once quoted on the occasion of his firing by the Chicago Bears – “This too shall pass.”