Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Ricochet COVID Symposium: “Essential” in the Ghost World

 
An empty mall parking lot

My business is essential, at least according to DoD guidelines – our customers build the trucks your cable, power, cell phone, and sundry other utility and delivery companies use to make staying at home a bit less awful. In many respects you could say this shutdown passed us by: you cannot do manufacturing at home, engineers are next to useless after a few weeks if they lack for hardware to test, while everyone else has been needed to answer the phones, place orders, receive goods, and ship. We only had 2 people working from home during the entirety of the shutdown, and 1 person on reduced hours because daycares were basically shut. But our industrial park was otherwise a ghost town tucked behind a ghostly strip mall, with ghostly commuters on drives to work and home again.

As Ohio rapidly progressed through one closure after another, until all that was left were the “essential” businesses, everything took on an unreal character. The last weekend before the stores were largely ordered shut was, of course, the great toilet-paper panic. I was in our grocery several nights before the panic, and the only things the stores were out of were chicken broth and Combos, and that one was because they were BOGO. 4 days later the store was picked clean, except for fresh fruits and vegetables (I don’t know why kale is perfectly suitable for other uses).

At work, though, we were nervous. We had no idea if Ohio was going to do what it had only done during blizzards, and send the police out to pull over drivers to check papers, so I drafted a letter for my employees to carry, and we posted our “Essential Supplier” letters from our customers, just in case some inspector came to our door (as they were doing initially in one of the other regional suburbs until residents made their displeasure known). I also put up cleanliness and social distancing guidelines around the workplace and held a meeting to explain them. And then we waited.

A closed restaurant

Several employees have school-age children, and the closure of the schools created problems. Other employees I knew had anxiety issues or needy relatives. 1 week in I told everyone “for the duration, I’m not counting individual days off against your PTO allotment. If you need a day here and there, take a day, just make sure your work is covered.” I told my production manager “If orders slump, rotate days off, dismiss early, just don’t let people get bored, because then they’ll stress out – this includes you too.”

And orders did slump. One of my customers told me he lost 90% of his business when his state locked down – not only were his vehicles not considered “essential”, with costs ongoing but income halting for his own customers, they had canceled 6 months’ worth of future orders. Almost every customer at lease slowed down, social distancing rules often halved their workforces. Ford, GM, and Chrysler all closed their doors, ending shipments of truck chassis and motors, so unless they had pool lots to draw on, some customers even idled entirely, despite being “essential.”

At least our commutes were far quicker. My furthest flung employees usually have anywhere from a 45 minute to an hour commute most days – these were down to 15 or 20 minutes. Better still, the drivers that were out were the ones who drive with purpose, not the left-lane hogs and slowpokes who approach speed limits only logarithmically. Road fatalities were down massively, though I knew the victims in one horrific fatal wreck. Of course, annoyances from door to door solicitors were also down, and I was able to use the lockdown to indefinitely cancel the visit from an angry customer from out of state (he was demanding we engineer something for him, and we had refused because he would guarantee no actual volume). And we were also gracefully let out of a trade show contract for a show we suspected of being useless.

And so, Monday through Friday, each and every week, we were there, and business seemed to go on normally. As the lockdown stories came out from our neighbors and through the news, people started thanking me for staying open. “Sure, it’s been rough, not being able to go anywhere, not being able to see family, but at least we can come here every day and do some real work,” said one to me. We looked up and down at the empty parking lots nearby and could hear the emptiness of the roads – it was lonely out there. We passed by dozens of empty stores, empty offices, and empty factories.

Of course the lockdown could not continue indefinitely. Neither could the delightfully stress-free commutes. Neither could the ever-so-stressful remote learning stuff for the kids. In Ohio, the stores and restaurants are gradually reopening, if the economic ruin did not close them for good (and there are some places not coming back at all). The school work is done until the autumn. And the death-march of my appliances seems to have stopped (our dishwasher was one of 9 to fail or need major repairs among people we know directly). The commutes for the last week have been annoying again, and I think many of the worst drivers forgot over the prior 8 weeks how to drive at all – that first day back I was nearly t-boned, sideswiped, and rear-ended by 3 different drivers over the time of 10 minutes.

Attempts at home hobbies have been canceled by the cat
The church waits for our return.

It doesn’t feel haunted out there anymore, but I wouldn’t say it’s back to life yet either. My wife and I went out for lunch today on our town’s main street. Some places were open, many still were not, and stores were mostly still closed entirely. I don’t know how long it will be before people rush out. My church is open again, but attendance is by invite only, and the empty pews are filled with icons to stand in for the rest of us – we’ve also set up an online donation system so that even the giving seems done by spirits. The kids are on summer break – but it’s no break at all because they’ve been home for nearly 3 months already. Lent has come and gone, but never really ended either. We are still chasing the ghosts of a season, a year, a lifetime stolen from us, and wondering when we get to wake from it all.

Memorial Day Main Street is empty.

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  1. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Attempts at home hobbies have been cancelled by the cat

    This picture is not rendering properly in the text, and Ricochet’s post editor STILL utterly thrashes photos and captions whenever you attempt to edit a post. I’m tired of trying to fix it and breaking the rest of the post in the process.

    • #1
    • May 25, 2020, at 3:05 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  2. Tree Rat Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    Attempts at home hobbies have been cancelled by the cat

    This picture is not rendering properly in the text, and Ricochet’s post editor STILL utterly thrashes photos and captions whenever you attempt to edit a post. I’m tired of trying to fix it and breaking the rest of the post in the process.

    My son’s cats do that, too. What is with all the puzzle fascination? It can only be a feline-wide conspiracy to annoy the food source.

    • #2
    • May 25, 2020, at 3:34 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  3. Clavius Thatcher

    Thank you for the thoughtful reflections. I’m fortunate to be working, albeit from home along with just about everyone else at my company. Southern California, Los Angeles in particular, is inching toward re-opening. We desperately need to open. Too many people are being hurt by the closures. In fact, doctors in California report that suicides are outnumbering deaths from C-19.

    • #3
    • May 25, 2020, at 3:42 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  4. Front Seat Cat Member

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Thank you for the thoughtful reflections. I’m fortunate to be working, albeit from home along with just about everyone else at my company. Southern California, Los Angeles in particular, is inching toward re-opening. We desperately need to open. Too many people are being hurt by the closures. In fact, doctors in California report that suicides are outnumbering deaths from C-19.

    That is terrible! You should post about it – that is a story that is not in the news.

    • #4
    • May 25, 2020, at 3:52 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  5. Front Seat Cat Member

    I live in a beach town surrounded by other beach towns. It’s packed here – packed! Restaurants, bike shops, everything is cranking. We are allowed 50% but it looks like more. Cars lined up everywhere, people on bikes – crazy! I think everyone has been so pent up – but rentals re-opened. The comment about people forgetting how to drive is spot on here too. The local Catholic Church opened a couple weeks ago to 50% with masks and they are offering the bread part of communion. Not sure what other churches opened. It is all surreal, and the future unknown – just your comments about the supply chains are very scary…..

    • #5
    • May 25, 2020, at 3:56 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  6. Clavius Thatcher

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Thank you for the thoughtful reflections. I’m fortunate to be working, albeit from home along with just about everyone else at my company. Southern California, Los Angeles in particular, is inching toward re-opening. We desperately need to open. Too many people are being hurt by the closures. In fact, doctors in California report that suicides are outnumbering deaths from C-19.

    That is terrible! You should post about it – that is a story that is not in the news.

    I’m not sure how I would set it up. I don’t want to just post a link. But here is a link and a key quote:

    “We’ve never seen numbers like this, in such a short period of time,” he said. “I mean we’ve seen a year’s worth of suicide attempts in the last four weeks.”

    • #6
    • May 25, 2020, at 4:10 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. Front Seat Cat Member

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Thank you for the thoughtful reflections. I’m fortunate to be working, albeit from home along with just about everyone else at my company. Southern California, Los Angeles in particular, is inching toward re-opening. We desperately need to open. Too many people are being hurt by the closures. In fact, doctors in California report that suicides are outnumbering deaths from C-19.

    That is terrible! You should post about it – that is a story that is not in the news.

    I’m not sure how I would set it up. I don’t want to just post a link. But here is a link and a key quote:

    “We’ve never seen numbers like this, in such a short period of time,” he said. “I mean we’ve seen a year’s worth of suicide attempts in the last four weeks.”

    That is significant news! Absolutely awful 

    • #7
    • May 25, 2020, at 4:19 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. Susan in Seattle Member
    Susan in Seattle Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thanks for the report, Skip. You have been on my mind in particular these past several weeks and I’ve wondered about the ‘state of [your] business.’

    • #8
    • May 25, 2020, at 5:15 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  9. MarciN Member

    You should be able to see this graphic from the Cape Cod Times if you click here. It shows the traffic reports for the Friday night before Memorial Day 2019 and for this year. The difference is so dramatic.

    This is our kickoff weekend for the summer season. I heard exactly two planes go overhead Friday night and none tonight. Usually they come in one every five minutes on the Friday night at the start of the weekend and they leave at that pace on Monday night. There’s no overhead air traffic tonight. It’s as eerie as it was after the terrorist attacks in 2001.

    I’ve seen a lot of bikes and cars on the scenic highway through my town. That’s a little better than nothing.

    It is just plain strange. That said, I live on a street in which some of the homes are second homes, and I noticed that our neighbors are finally back. So there are a few more people here now. :-) I’ve never been so happy to see people in my whole life. :-)

    • #9
    • May 25, 2020, at 5:42 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  10. Arahant Member

    A beautiful meditation, Skip.

    • #10
    • May 25, 2020, at 8:23 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  11. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Back in the forgotten haze of the 1992 Democratic primary, Paul Tsongas said something tart and accurate: “We’re a party who loves workers but hates employers”. SkipSul’s (too!) occasional posts about his work life are always a reminder that employers are creators. 

    • #11
    • May 26, 2020, at 1:03 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  12. Kephalithos Member

    Clavius (View Comment): But here is a link and a key quote:

    “We’ve never seen numbers like this, in such a short period of time,” he said. “I mean we’ve seen a year’s worth of suicide attempts in the last four weeks.”

    And most of the would-be suicides, apparently, were young adults.

    I’m 24, so I can’t blame them. I mean, our civilization was already in the toilet before this all began, and it was hard enough for someone my age to build a meaningful life. Now, it’s all but impossible.

    • #12
    • May 26, 2020, at 2:54 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. Front Seat Cat Member

    MarciN (View Comment):

    You should be able to see this graphic from the Cape Cod Times if you click here. It shows the traffic reports for the Friday night before Memorial Day 2019 and for this year. The difference is so dramatic.

    This is our kickoff weekend for the summer season. I heard exactly two planes go overhead Friday night and none tonight. Usually they come in one every five minutes on the Friday night at the start of the weekend and they leave at that pace on Monday night. There’s no overhead air traffic tonight. It’s as eerie as it was after the terrorist attacks in 2001.

    I’ve seen a lot of bikes and cars on the scenic highway through my town. That’s a little better than nothing.

    It is just plain strange. That said, I live on a street in which some of the homes are second homes, and I noticed that our neighbors are finally back. So there are a few more people here now. :-) I’ve never been so happy to see people in my whole life. :-)

    I just finished The English Girl by Silva which I picked up used. I found a receipt in it last week from The Chatham Squire dated 2013! I searched for the restaurant and saw Main St. in Chatham (our favorite place when we lived in Boston) via two live cameras – empty! A couple cars and one dog walker! The place was battoned down. There were other camera links at other places like across from the park. Same thing. I was shocked. The virus counter on Boston.com showed Barnstable as a hotspot? I guess I can see why the gov is tiptoeing into opening up – Boston was a hard hit city. I hope it gets back up and open soon!!

    • #13
    • May 26, 2020, at 5:58 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  14. MarciN Member

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    I just finished The English Girl by Silva which I picked up used. I found a receipt in it last week from The Chatham Squire dated 2013! I searched for the restaurant and saw Main St. in Chatham (our favorite place when we lived in Boston) via two live cameras – empty! A couple cars and one dog walker! The place was battoned down. There were other camera links at other places like across from the park. Same thing. I was shocked. The virus counter on Boston.com showed Barnstable as a hotspot? I guess I can see why the gov is tiptoeing into opening up – Boston was a hard hit city. I hope it gets back up and open soon!!

    Thank you.

    I just had an epiphany. I have been fascinated by the lack of national coverage on the course of the virus in Massachusetts. I think I just figured out why this has happened.

    I am on the daily emailed newsletter list for Boston.com, which is written by a Boston Globe reporter. I don’t subscribe to the Boston Globe, but I like this writer. She has a great sense of humor, and her newsletter gives me a glimpse of what’s happening around the rest of the state.

    This reporter despises Donald Trump and writes derisively about him every single day. I realized one day during this covid-19 coverage that she never mentions our Republican governor Charlie Baker. That’s because, I think, she actually likes Baker. He is very popular in the state–his approval ratings are in the high 60s, and he is one of the most popular governors in the country.

    Baker is not a fan of Donald Trump. He never says anything negative about him, but he didn’t endorse him and he never mentions him.

    The national press must feel the same way as this Globe reporter. They hate Donald Trump and other Republicans who support Trump. So whatever is happening in the hot spot Republican states that have governors who support Trump gets reported faithfully and actively every day. Florida, for example. But as one of the states hardest hit by the virus, they don’t say anything about Massachusetts. They don’t want to harm our governor because they actually like him, but he’s not a Democrat like Governor Cuomo that they want to support actively. So the national press ends up ignoring Massachusetts. The press doesn’t want to or can’t make political hay out of the situation here.

    Years from now, we’ll need a really astute historian like James McPherson to sort out the politics of this pandemic and to separate what ill effects were brought about by the pandemic itself versus the politics that surrounded it.

    • #14
    • May 26, 2020, at 8:02 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  15. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    “asymptotically” not “logarithmically”

     

    • #15
    • May 27, 2020, at 10:07 AM PDT
    • Like