In the Age of Social Distancing, Trillion Is the New Billion

Buzz by the Bay Quarantine Edition

Posted In: Culture, ,   From Issue 894   By: Jason Dean

01st April, 2020     0

It feels like Groundhog Day has been extended until the end of April. Life as we know it has slid off the road, into a ditch, and checked into a sleepy little bed-and-breakfast lost in time. Every day we shelter in place as we peer into our light screens, reading up on the latest news and trying to make sense of this new reality. Maybe we go to the grocery store and see if the toilet paper shipment finally came in. Ever since Michigan residents were advised to stay home for several weeks to stem the spread of COVID-19, we go to bed hoping that tomorrow we will wake up to some good news. 

Michigan is among the states with the fastest rate of new cases, and every day brings the crisis closer to home as the number of cases continues to rise. Anyone can get the coronavirus. While chances of survival are normally quite good, there is no cure. And nearly every state is severely unprepared to handle the massive overflow that is expected to confront health facilities in the coming weeks. 

We knew 2020 was going to be a transformational year, but I don’t think anyone anticipated a science fiction mass mortality reality show. Finally, the gravity of the situation seems to be sinking in with every sector of the American public. Millions of people across the country saw their jobs suddenly disappear when waves of businesses were forced to close or suspend operations in response to the growing pandemic. Many Americans’ next paycheck will be their humble sliver of the $2.2 trillion stimulus pie, via direct deposit or mailed checks expected to be sent by mid-April. 

We’ve been reassured that the Federal Reserve will print as much new currency as needed to keep the economy afloat. I suppose that makes a trillion the new billion. 

Here in the Great Lakes Bay Area, as is increasingly the case throughout the country, businesses deemed “essential” are all that’s left, and they’re doing everything they can to adapt and survive in uncertain times. For those lucky enough to still be employed, the prospect of becoming infected on the job is becoming a cruel numbers game. 

It’s not possible to quantify the full impact the coronavirus will have on the American psyche, but life has already taken on a before-and-after surrealness that far eclipses 9/11. After all, that was just one day. We’re still looking for the light at the end of this tunnel.

However, the human spirit is indefatigable. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And the local community has no shortage of Good Samaritans who are stepping in to help those less fortunate. 

South End Mexican restaurant The Taste of Bay Cityis having drawings for free tacos for essential workers. Tex-Mex Grilleat City Market has installed a walk-up window on Adams Street to facilitate take-out business. Some restaurants and markets, such as Coonan’s Irish Hub, Fusion One, 3rdnJohnson,and Castaways, are offering full take-out service as well. Take-out pizza options are plentiful, but you must order your pie ahead; no walk-ins. But many other dining establishments have been closed for weeks. And it remains to be seen who will be left when the cootie curfew is lifted.

St. Laurent Brothersdoing business in Bay City since 1904, has stayed open—albeit with shortened hours—since the stay-at-home order took effect. “Our business is 80% down, but we’re the only local peanut roaster, and we have an obligation to our loyal customers,” says co-owner Steve Frye. “We’re down to me and my wife, two people in back, and two people up front. If someone gets ill, we’ll have to close.”

As we talk, Frye tries to put proper perspective on what he sees as a bit of hysteria ginned up by the 24-hour news cycle. But it’s clear as he describes the precise sanitation ritual that is now a part of daily operations, he is understandably concerned. “[The business] has been through lots of challenging times, two world wars … and we’ll get through this,” he predicts.

Cheese and artisan food purveyor Artigiano relies on platters for special events as a valuable supplement to its Saginaw Street store. “We had all our events for March and April cancel,” says co-owner Kevin Parker. The shop is relying more heavily on e-gift cards that people can purchase through their website. Their Cheese of the Month Club also gets brisk traffic. “We can ship or people can pick up their orders if they are local,” offers Parker.  

Over at Electric Kitsch, Jordan Pries and Jessica McQuarter are keeping a low profile, but the store is open for pickup orders. The day I stopped in, the new Pearl Jam record had come out. “We already sold all six copies that we ordered,” Pries says. “I could’ve gotten more.”

I caught up with Rob and Luann Ervin, proprietors of Bemo’s Bar, on their way back to Bay City to replenish supplies. Shortly after Governor Gretchen Whitmermade her March 15 announcement that effectively closed the bar, “we packed the truck and headed north,” says Rob. “All the campgrounds are closed, so we found some state land in a remote area where we could stay.” After they check on the bar and freshen up, Rob and Luann say they’re heading back out into the wild for a while longer.

“We’re just buying some time,” says Luann. “I feel like none of this is really happening. Who knows how long we can go? But we’re making the best out of the situation.”

With the entire bar scene temporarily cut off, enterprising musicians and artists are hosting livestreams and setting up Venmo accounts so patrons can tip them directly. This is just one example of how the arts and culture don’t need a physical space in order to thrive. People are also setting up GoFundMe pages for all sorts of aspirational goals that require a little cash flow. Creative energy can manifest through any medium, and it surges into new pathways in the most trying of times. 

Come April 30, here’s hoping the shadow we see belongs to the Easter Bunny, hopping into a bountiful patch of May flowers.



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