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Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

Empty Chairs at Empty Table

There’s a grief that can’t be spoken
There’s a pain goes on and on
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone

                                         Les Misérables

There are so many levels of sad these strange days. We don’t miss what we didn’t have but we do miss what we took for granted as “always” having.  It is a loss of freedom that does not layer evenly across the country or even the states.  In talking to a friend in Northern California today, they are not allowed to drive anywhere.  They can only go to places that they can walk or bike to.  All beaches, parks, trails, and outdoor recreation areas are closed and enforced. Yet here, in the southern California desert, we have so much more room to breathe and escape.  Yes, parks are officially closed but trails leading into them are still available and many are talking advantage of the access in responsible ways.  We cannot park in lots, gather at trailheads, etc. but we can now utilize golf course (but not clubhouse), bike the many miles of interconnecting bike/walk trails.  We can go to stores as we need and life does plod on though with an overlay of nagging fear attached.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

Message boards and social media are blowing up across the nation as people debate the relative merits of locking down vs. opening up; wearing face masks….or not (more on that later). We assuage ourselves with obsessive hand-washing, wiping down, and wrestling with the glove issue (wear gloves or not? Discard after each use ala hospital protocol or reuse?  If we reuse how many days should they sit, letting potential virus die before we try them on again).  The volume of what we don’t know is legion and lacking any substantively serious, fact-based, guidance from ANY national-level authorities, we are each left to our own opinions and devices.  Disaster looms.  Again.  Fear is the only common denominator. It is making us schizophrenic and leaving us with head-snapping realizations and jarring images of a world put on hold with no plan for how to un-pause it.

But when we do go out into the world, it is a world unlike anything imagined except in the worst of the sci-fi fictions that humans in Hollywood have thrust into our consciousness time and time again.

Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

My specific world is one of a high-traffic, semi-seasonal, major holiday destination. Palm Springs has grown exponentially over the years into a favorite worldwide, holiday, play, and event area.  People come to unwind.  Casinos, tennis tournaments, golf tournaments (we have over 100 year-round courses, you do the math), Pools, with a capital “P”, hiking, biking, off-roading; name it and we offer it up willingly to the masses from all parts of the world who come and lap up our largesse like thirsty natives at a margarita bar.  This is the height of our spring season.  We should be packed with Snowbirds from Canada, coastal neighbors seeking the early heat we share so gladly, and friends from everywhere that want an early taste of their summer to come without the humidity and the bugs. Instead:

Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

The news, again, is not good, is not encouraging, is not even real in many cases.  Will there be a second (third, fourth, etc.) wave in coming months and years?  If so, how bad?  If onerously bad once again will be locked out and battened down as we are now?  For how long then?

We don’t know what we don’t know.

I noticed something telling just the other day. As I went about my day doping errands, picking up prescriptions, going to the grocery, an occasional required doctor visit, I realized just how tiring it now is to do these simple things.  Gloves on, gloves off, masks on, masks off, hand sanitizing at every turn, wiping down anything hard that others have touched as it comes into the house, handwash, handwash, handwash.  Mostly, it is simply emotionally and thus physically draining. The constant latent fear of infection lurking at every turn on every touchable surface, in every breath of air we take.  It suddenly hit me like Stockholm Syndrome:

I’d rather just NOT go out, home looks like a quiet, safe spot.

Thankfully there are others who are thinking and working outside the box.  Berkeley, CA. is closing many streets, permanently, to make expanded pedestrian malls, always a great idea for promoting inner-city strolling and ambiance. The are now critical when, twinned with relaxed food and beverage laws, they also allow staggering restaurants and bars to expand outward into the streets and begin to claw back their customers and try and survive in what looks to be a long-lasting new age.

Thankfully Palm Springs is doing the same.  This week’s City Council meeting will focus on exactly this issue because even more than Berkeley, Palm Springs is almost totally tourist and thus food and beverage dependent.  The great opportunity we have is our simple, straightforward layout of downtown; two parallel main streets with one block connector streets in between.  We already shut down most of Palm Canyon on Thursday nights for Street Fair, let’s make this at the very least semi-permanent and allow the throngs of outlets along these streets to step out even further into the fresh air that abuts all our dining and drinking favorites.

Let’s carefully bet on ourselves and our unique setting to once again get our empty chairs filled and our empty tables properly distanced. 

No More Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, with a side of Death

No more Les Miserables