By BOB VICKREY
I find it comforting that the lockdown order is no longer referred to as “shelter in place,” and is now simply designated as “stay at home.”
Staying at home sounds so much more civil and less foreboding than the image of crouching in a corner of your living room with hands covering your head. It’s nice to see that government officials are making strides in the public relations department.
However, either way you slice it, we’re still trapped in our bunkers even as officials talk of reopening the city.
When it finally dawned on me recently that Mondays had become the highlight of my week when I take out the garbage cans for pickup, I decided it was definitely time for a midweek outing to escape my demoralizing routine in confinement.
I put on my surgical mask and took a stroll through the deserted Palisades Village that looked more like some eerie scene from a Twilight Zone episode. Even though the stores were closed, the ever-present piped-in music continued playing gently in the background. Rod Serling could always seem to capture those post-apocalyptic images in his iconic television series, and I know that he could have had a real field day with this haunting scene.
On the way to Erewhon Market, which was about the only business open in the Caruso center, I spotted only two people—and both of them were security guards assigned to the property. Each business had a sign on the door from the owner expressing hope for a quick return to business as usual.
The ghostly emptiness all around me triggered a flashback to Swarthmore Avenue just before developer Rick Caruso began his makeover project about five years ago. Empty storefronts had become commonplace along the once-thriving street in the heart of the village. I remember standing on a Swarthmore sidewalk with former retailer Roy Robbins, who summed up the untenable retail situation: “All we’re missing now are the tumbleweeds.”
After my mid-week jaunt, I knew that I needed to get out more often. But when I returned that weekend on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I found scores of people leisurely strolling through the center, and children playing in the nearby park, as if nothing had changed in recent months.
Storefronts remained shuttered as mall visitors sat at tables once occupied by diners on restaurant patios. Others sunned themselves in chairs along outdoor mall corridors.
Obviously, housebound life had become intolerable for many local residents as they searched for a return to some semblance of “normal”—even if it meant a restricted normal. After two months of quarantine, gatherings like these were bound to happen in a city the size of Los Angeles, even if those spontaneous meetings took place in a shuttered shopping center.
Many of the visitors wore masks, and most of them were abiding by the social distancing guidelines. But the herd instinct eventually prevailed within most groups gathered there, and guidelines were ultimately disregarded. Masks came off, as those sitting at tables leaned closely toward one another and began talking quietly.
The prevalent attitude among the crowd that particular day seemed to be, “Coronavirus be damned!” Sitting six feet apart is an unnatural habit for young people who have the urge to mix and mingle. I was reminded that it is difficult to harness that willful force called human nature.
The big debate continues daily in Los Angeles regarding the importance of prioritizing public safety versus reopening businesses in order to stimulate the economy. Mayor Eric Garcetti has, thus far, opted to err on the side of caution with the implementation of city safety measures, and has predictably faced public criticism about his reluctance to allow more businesses and public spaces to reopen sooner.
In recent days, the city has begun moving toward reopening slowly while maintaining many of the same protocols about the wearing of masks and social distancing.
You’re probably like me and thinking about the first thing you’ll do when we are all finally released from the constraints of the quarantine. After looking in the mirror recently, I think a trip to the barber shop should be at the very top of my list. (In the meantime, thank goodness for baseball caps.)
What became very clear to me after observing that crowded scene in the village last weekend was that everyone is missing family and friends and seeking a return to our normal lives when we can once again sit down to meals together, share our stories, and renew our friendships in person.
The local shopkeeper’s message on the front door expressed a common desire for many of us with its hope for “a quick return to business as usual.”
That wish is probably a bit optimistic for the foreseeable future, but we can always dream a little, can’t we?
Bob Vickrey is a longtime Palisades resident whose columns appear in several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle and the Waco Tribune-Herald. You can read more of his columns on his website: http://bobvickrey.net/