Contributor Post Created with Sketch. A Normal Afternoon

 

I went downtown today, for a pail of air. 

I didn’t have to. There was something I wanted to do at the bank, but that was a pretense — I wanted to go downtown. 

Worrying about contagion at the office wasn’t a problem, since it’s emptied out. The newspaper is being produced remotely. This is no small feat, and I can tell you that the hated MSM in the instance of my paper is performing an invaluable service. We have the largest newsroom in the state, with the most resources to cover the story, and we are giving it away online. It’s really quite something to walk through a deserted newsroom and know that there will still be a paper on the stoop in the morning. 

Got what I needed from my desk, did two pumps from the big Purell dispenser, went to the skyscraper lobby. Perhaps a dozen people in the vast lobby, having lunch, chatting; the pizza take-out was open. Hurrah! Normalcy. Went through the skyways, grateful now for the automatic doors, to the building across the street. It has a food court. All closed but the hot dog place. I could see the owner sitting in the back, and thought: lucky for him, hot dogs don’t spoil.

He stood up when I approached, and smiled; years ago he expressed admiration when I called one of the condiments “sport peppers,” and said it was rare when people called ‘em by their right name. I’d already had lunch, but I bought some gift certificates, said I’d see him when this all blew over. Investment in the future! A double-sawbuck of Chicago-style dogs.

On to the IDS center atrium. Four skyways empty into a vast enclosed piazza. Utterly vacant except for a security guard in a mask, and one lone young kid manning a doughnut stand. The sign advertised HAPPY HOUR specials. Happy hour was over. I juked right to the escalators, because I wanted to be outside. 

You can breathe a little more . . . deeply outside.

Walked towards the river. Passed a hamburger stand that had a sign on the window limiting the number of people who could be in at one time. Saw a lady standing at the counter waiting, and envied her; they have good hamburgers. At 5th I went back up in the skyways, because they have the best perspective to take pictures of a new skyscraper going up, and I have been documenting it since they broke ground. Not going to stop that now. In a niche in the skyway a homeless woman was curled, sleeping. She looked dead. It’s a very expensive condo, and in the cold times the street people come up here to smoke. The hallways reek. Security never seemed to do anything about it, and I have come to associate the hallways of this part of the skyway system with silence and cigarettes.

I took my pictures. Burly men in orange vests are still at work, raising the tower. It made me think of Rockefeller Center, or the Empire State Building. Well, they rented out, eventually.

When I got back to my car I felt as if I should accomplish something more, so I went to the grocery store for yeast. Daughter wants to bake, and exchange student is coming Saturday. They can bond over baking.

No yeast. Try another: no yeast. Try another: huzzah, yeast! In abundance! While I chastised myself for hitting three stores — Oh, I’ve done it this time — I also chastised myself for being silly, and then rechastized myself for minimizing things —

Except who knows. Yes yes experts know. But who knows. 

What matters is that I sanitized, used the wipes, kept my distance, and got to experience the full surreal moment of walking around an utterly normal grocery store with Madonna blaring on the overhead speakers while people shopped wearing plastic gloves. You can’t blame her for being a material girl, given we are living in a material world. 

When I left I saw an old woman walking across the parking lot to the store. She was probably in her 80s. She had purpose and determination, but she was moving slowly. She wore a blue face mask. This store has people who help the aged shopper, so she’d come to the right place. I wondered what she’d come for. I imagined her home an hour later, taking out the tins of cat food, unscrolling the lid of some Fancy Feast, and enjoying the sight of her cat having a meal. 

She’d have a phone, the old kind that made a clatter, sitting on an old wooden table she got from her mother, with a lace doily and framed desaturated pictures of the grandkids from long-ago vacations. She would be heartened when it rang and the distant children asked how she was doing. They’d be alarmed she’d gone out. Don’t you know? And she would be adamant about her reasons. I wore a mask. Don’t worry. Honest to goodness, I’m not an fool. 

She would have some soup and a Lorna Doone and fall asleep in her chair watching the news, the BREAKING chyrons reflected in her glasses. And when she woke in the morning she would be glad she didn’t have to go out, because she went out yesterday. She feels fine.

When the nice young man who brings the Wheels on Meals comes by she asks him to leave it outside the door. He understands completely. 

“See you tomorrow,” he says. That would be Friday, and that means fish. She’s not crazy about the fish. It’s mushy by the time they deliver it. But Sweetie loves to lick the plate.

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  1. Mike Rapkoch Moderator

    Thanks for doing some reporting for us James. There a lot of constants in life we don’t see until something pries open our eyes.

    • #1
    • March 19, 2020, at 12:24 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Titus Techera Contributor

    So what’s it like being out there, on a scale of normal to post-apocalyptic movie with emptied out cities?

    • #2
    • March 19, 2020, at 1:16 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. Gazpacho Grande' Coolidge

    Thanks James. Glad to know you take the Skyway.

     

    • #3
    • March 19, 2020, at 3:42 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Yesterday I had to go to the office to pick up my computer (it needed updates so I could continue to telework).

    On the way home I stopped by a friend who had brought her desktop form work home.

    I took the opportunity to ride my onewheel, it was such a nice day to ride.

    She needed help setting it up in her living room so she could telework. Spent about 30 minutes configuring her wifi and setting up the devices.

    Then I rode my around my neighborhood to get some air.

    • #4
    • March 19, 2020, at 3:45 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  5. Jules PA Member

    Thank you, James.

    You need to do a podcast where you read this kind of stuff out loud. I think your voice could soothe the nation, like a toddler’s bedtime story. 

    It is 6:52am, and a train just rumbled down the tracks. Is that good news? I hope so. Because I really need some good news.

    • #5
    • March 19, 2020, at 3:54 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  6. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jules PA (View Comment):
    It is 6:52am, and a train just rumbled down the tracks. Is that good news? I hope so. Because I really need some good news.

    Yes, it is very good news. The lifeblood of commerce rolling past your place. 

    Think the same way about 18 wheelers.

    • #6
    • March 19, 2020, at 4:08 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. Jules PA Member

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Jules PA (View Comment):
    It is 6:52am, and a train just rumbled down the tracks. Is that good news? I hope so. Because I really need some good news.

    Yes, it is very good news. The lifeblood of commerce rolling past your place.

    Think the same way about 18 wheelers.

    I agree. That train did give me comfort that we may find our way out of this mess. 

    • #7
    • March 19, 2020, at 4:15 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. Hartmann von Aue Member

    Gazpacho Grande' (View Comment):

    Thanks James. Glad to know you take the Skyway.

     

    I loved that album back in college! Thanks for reminding me of it. 

    • #8
    • March 19, 2020, at 4:20 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Lois Lane Coolidge

    A good writer draws whole characters with just a few words: Your old cat lady “would have some soup and a Lorna Doone and fall asleep in her chair watching the news….” 

    Your choice of cookie is so specific, so perfect for the woman you’ve (in part) created.

    There are many little gems like that one sprinkled throughout this essay, so hats off to you. 

    I enjoyed the content, of course, but I found myself liking the master craftsmanship on display in this piece in the way that one appreciates a skyscraper like the Empire State Building. After all, there is function inherent in the form of any skyscraper that one might walk by in New York, but the Art Deco details so lovingly designed by the architect are the things that make that one a memorable thing of beauty. There is nothing gratuitous either.

    • #9
    • March 19, 2020, at 4:40 AM PDT
    • 13 likes
  10. cirby Member

    I did, however, expect you to shift over to “And who doesn’t like Lorna Doone cookies? Use the code ‘Ricochet’ at the Lorna Doone website for twelve percent off.”

     

    • #10
    • March 19, 2020, at 4:50 AM PDT
    • 18 likes
  11. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    We are open as a Detox Center because we have to be. Addiction has not stopped. 

     

    • #11
    • March 19, 2020, at 4:52 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  12. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    James Lileks: I went downtown today, for a pail of air. 

    That is so bizarre.

    I haven’t thought about that story in years. But for some reason it popped into my head this morning and I was trying to remember who wrote it. Then ten minutes later I opened Ricochet, and that’s the first sentence I read.

     

    • #12
    • March 19, 2020, at 4:59 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  13. Lois Lane Coolidge

    cirby (View Comment):

    I did, however, expect you to shift over to “And who doesn’t like Lorna Doone cookies? Use the code ‘Ricochet’ at the Lorna Doone website for twelve percent off.”

     

    A man has got to eat, too! :)

    • #13
    • March 19, 2020, at 5:25 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. Hoyacon Member

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    Gazpacho Grande’ (View Comment):

    Thanks James. Glad to know you take the Skyway.

     

    I loved that album back in college! Thanks for reminding me of it.

    Back when people shook hands!

    • #14
    • March 19, 2020, at 5:36 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  15. Stad Thatcher

    Good post! I can’t wait for this to be over, for the economy to come roaring back . . .

    • #15
    • March 19, 2020, at 5:40 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. Adriana Harris Member

    Thanks, James, for reporting the human side of what we are going through. I’m sure most of us feel the same way you do.

    • #16
    • March 19, 2020, at 6:19 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  17. Cal Lawton Member
    Cal Lawton Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Actually she has an iPad to FaceTime with her grandchildren, and watches Cramer in the evenings after monitoring the market through an app.

    • #17
    • March 19, 2020, at 6:29 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  18. Clavius Thatcher

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    James Lileks: I went downtown today, for a pail of air.

    That is so bizarre.

    I haven’t thought about that story in years. But for some reason it popped into my head this morning and I was trying to remember who wrote it. Then ten minutes later I opened Ricochet, and that’s the first sentence I read.

     

    It’s a great short story. I haven’t thought about it in years.

    Thanks Lileks for a nice start to the day after a night of dark dreams.

    • #18
    • March 19, 2020, at 7:04 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. La Tapada Member

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    We are open as a Detox Center because we have to be. Addiction has not stopped.

    The two local Al-Anon meetings that I attend are not meeting for now. (Al-Anon is a support group for families and friends of alcoholics.) I don’t know whether AA meetings are being held. It would be terrible to need a meeting and not have one to go to.

     

    • #19
    • March 19, 2020, at 7:35 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    Thanks-this brings back memories of downtown Mpls in the winter, where you could walk all over downtown and not go outside when it’s 25 below zero. I also appreciated the ample, very inexpensive parking garages, designed to get people to go downtown shopping. Here in Seattle, downtown parking is extremely expensive, up to $10.00 an hour, designed to get people out of their cars and into government transportation.

    • #20
    • March 19, 2020, at 7:49 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    James Lileks: … but I bought some gift certificates, said I’d see him when this all blew over. Investment in the future! A double-sawbuck of Chicago-style dogs.

    You, sir, are a gentleman and a scholar.

    • #21
    • March 19, 2020, at 8:15 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  22. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    La Tapada (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    We are open as a Detox Center because we have to be. Addiction has not stopped.

    The two local Al-Anon meetings that I attend are not meeting for now. (Al-Anon is a support group for families and friends of alcoholics.) I don’t know whether AA meetings are being held. It would be terrible to need a meeting and not have one to go to.

     

    We expect a bumper census after this is over :(

    Man, I would love to be looking for work in a world that did not need my services. 

    • #22
    • March 19, 2020, at 8:35 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. TallCon Coolidge

    @jameslileks you have made me both hopeful and sad. You are very good at your job.

    Any chance of using the downtime to write another book? I want to hear more about the reporters from Casablanca Tango. Especially the photographer.

    • #23
    • March 19, 2020, at 9:01 AM PDT
    • Like
  24. James Hageman Moderator

    Fascinating that the solution in the story is nuclear power.

    • #24
    • March 19, 2020, at 9:40 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. Gary Robbins Reagan

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    We are open as a Detox Center because we have to be. Addiction has not stopped.

    Thank for the service you provide. Stay safe.

     

    • #25
    • March 19, 2020, at 9:41 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  26. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks

    TallCon (View Comment):
    Any chance of using the downtime to write another book? I want to hear more about the reporters from Casablanca Tango. Especially the photographer.

    Thanks for the interest! It’s already written. I’m thinking of just putting it on Amazon, faults and flaws and all. It’s not a direct follow-up – it takes place at the same paper during the meltdown of 2009. The next one in the series, if I get motivated to finishing it, takes place in 1929 at the same paper.

    And thanks to all for the kind words. 

    • #26
    • March 19, 2020, at 10:43 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  27. TallCon Coolidge

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    TallCon (View Comment):
    Any chance of using the downtime to write another book? I want to hear more about the reporters from Casablanca Tango. Especially the photographer.

    Thanks for the interest! It’s already written. I’m thinking of just putting it on Amazon, faults and flaws and all. It’s not a direct follow-up – it takes place at the same paper during the meltdown of 2009. The next one in the series, if I get motivated to finishing it, takes place in 1929 at the same paper.

    And thanks to all for the kind words.

    You’re welcome. And great news. If there’s a story set in 2009 I fully expect a reference to the “I haz a bucket” meme. Yes, I’ve been following a while now.

    • #27
    • March 19, 2020, at 10:59 AM PDT
    • Like
  28. kedavis Member

    James Lileks: “See you tomorrow,” he says. That would be Friday, and that means fish. She’s not crazy about the fish. It’s mushy by the time they deliver it. But Sweetie loves to lick the plate.

    There’s a “Sweetie” a couple blocks away that I feed on a regular basis. I got her fixed a few months back, but she still needs to eat too.

    (There are many others that I’ve gotten fixed, and feed too. But that one is called Sweetie. There’s another in a different location, that one is Sweet Girl. And there’s Skinny Kitty, and more than one Black Kitty, and Beige Kitty, and Fred who is black-and-white, Helmet whose fur on her head down to her shoulders is a different texture that looks like she’s wearing a helmet… One that the people who left him behind called Fatty but I didn’t think that was dignified so he’s Fatticus like Greek or something, and an Orange Mommy Kitty – orange females pretty rare – and a gray one called Puppy for some reason, and a couple others I didn’t name, got killed by a stray dog on New Year’s Eve…)

    • #28
    • March 19, 2020, at 2:58 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  29. Paul Erickson Member

    cirby (View Comment):

    I did, however, expect you to shift over to “And who doesn’t like Lorna Doone cookies? Use the code ‘Ricochet’ at the Lorna Doone website for twelve percent off.”

     

    He would have, but I think he has a contract that forbids him from doing a segue if Rob Long is not there to step on it.

    • #29
    • March 19, 2020, at 5:48 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  30. kedavis Member

    This could be Post Of The Week, except Employees of Post Of The Week, and their families, are not eligible.

    • #30
    • March 19, 2020, at 7:08 PM PDT
    • 2 likes