Fear AND Loathing in the Time of Corona

By Phillip C. Jack

Okay, let’s begin by acknowledging that the coronavirus is scary as hell. Each day we wake up, hit snooze 17 times as we lay in our beds listening to the soothing sounds of spring outside and wonder “is today the day I catch corona?”

By Phillip C. Jack

Wake up. Time to die.

            Bladerunner

Okay, let’s begin by acknowledging that the coronavirus is scary as hell. Each day we wake up, hit snooze 17 times as we lay in our beds listening to the soothing sounds of spring outside and wonder “is today the day I catch corona?”

I understand. Everyone is super anxious. Plus, we’re cooped up in our houses with all these total strangers who claim to be spouses and children. Yeah right, as if I wouldn’t have noticed you the last 20 years. Anyway, we’ve all tried to make lemonade out of them lemons by playing board games and doing puzzles, binging Netflix and Amazon and knocking off a lot of half-forgotten home improvement projects (thanks so much for reminding me, Honey). But let’s face it, this is starting to get old. 

Fortunately, we are not completely isolated from the world. 

We have the internet and cable news, and it’s corona time all the time, baby.  Not to mention there’s those sweet Trump press conferences every single day. I love those – and I was inspired!

As soon as our President informed us that he had declared war on Covid-19, I immediately sprang into action to do my part as an American. Being far too old to enlist in the military, I fulfilled my patriotic duty by supporting our troops. And by that, I mean of course those serving on the front lines in our local wine superstores. I’m proud to report that I singlehandedly kept two establishments afloat during those first three weeks of March. Unfortunately for me, wine leads to baked goods, and by late March, I was working as a stunt double for the Pillsbury Dough Boy.  

Onions have layers. Ogres have layers.

            Shrek

This is probably as good a time as any to mention that my family and I have had coronavirus.

Thankfully we all recovered, but I blame catching it on my new addiction to supermarkets. It started innocently enough.  My gateway “sup,” as we junkies like to call them, was a Stop & Shop on Temple Street. We were low on TP and out of pasta and eggs, so I popped in to see what they were pushing. Dead end. I tried the sup on Old Connecticut Path and then the two on Rt. 9, but they were all out. Desperate, I sped to the Whacker (aka Price Chopper) in Hopkinton and there, at long last, got my fix. Since then I can’t go more than two days without visiting one, you know, just to see if they have anything good. I knew they were germ factories, but I couldn’t stop myself. 

Those of you who have spent time in supermarkets recently will understand what a surreal experience it has become. Faces that a few weeks ago would have been friendly now look at you with this strange mixture of fear and anger. Like you’re contaminated, or worse, the enemy, and they need to put distance between you.

It’s palpable, and you can feel the chaos brewing just under the surface. It makes you wonder what would happen if there truly were major food shortages. Where would that fight or flight instinct lead to then?

It was unimaginable only two months ago, but my gut now tells me there would be more than a few ugly weeks. But what happens after that? Does the world spiral into some decidedly uncool version of the Walking Dead? I don’t believe so (although if it does, I call dibs on the ninja sword – I’m talking to you, Obama). No, I believe that under that layer of uncontrollable fear still beats the heart of our common humanity.  In the end, we’ll figure it out.  

These jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back.

            The Boss – My Hometown

I don’t want to seem insensitive (I am, I just don’t want to appear that way). I understand that millions of Americans have lost their jobs recently.  Heck (pause as I spit my tobacco), I even applied for that there PPP for my firm.  I really do get that this is bad, and it’s a travesty how little savings most Americans have and how poorly many seniors are forced to live in the richest country in the world. 

Having said that, if I read one more article or hear one more talking head ramble on about the new normal I’m going to do something crazy. Like make a pathetic midlife crisis TikTok. Or shop at a supermarket from 7:00-8:00 AM cruising the wrong way down aisles until retired, yet still surprisingly surly, Hells Angels drive me out. At a minimum I’ll join a stay-at-home protest and shoot a semi-automatic rifle wildly into the air whilst whooping hysterically like slapstick jihadists in movies 30 years ago before we realized terrorists were neither harmless nor funny.

I just don’t believe it’s going to take years for most of those jobs to come back, particularly in the service industry.  I for one can’t wait to Uber my butt around for a week straight fattening myself up like a Thanksgiving turkey at every restaurant in eastern Massachusetts only stopping to visit movie theaters, malls and massage parlors. (Note that if I lived in Georgia, I would have added bowling alleys as Georgians evidently love to bowl. When the state reopened – like 4 years too early – all the news coverage was “The Governor has reopened restaurants, nail salons and bowling alleys”. And the people, they did rejoice). So let’s be real, Starbucks itself will put half those people back to work.

The Once and Future King

            T. H. White

I daydreamed that I dreamt during a corona fever that our country had been taken over by a cross between Elmer Fudd (who owns a mansion and a yacht) and the Heat Miser (he is too much, bump bump). Which of course makes Nancy Pelosi Mother Nature. My god but that woman is old. If anyone is looking for the world’s supply or formaldehyde call me – I found it. Seriously Dems, if Biden wins please, please elect someone younger than dirt as the next Speaker. 

To be fair though, I worked on the Hill right out of college and a legislator’s efficacy wasn’t always obvious to the public. So I’m sure Ms. Pelosi has done a moderately mediocre job behind the scenes. On the other hand, I don’t really remember much about DC other than eating free appetizers at lobbyist events in Rayburn and drinking heavily in a dive bar from the Twilight Zone. The floors were sticky, the barkeep a dead ringer for Large Marge from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and occasionally a dwarf in an apron would wander out with a carving knife from some back room we all hoped was the kitchen. But pitchers were 5 bucks and happy hour was still a thing, so no one really cared. My friend and I eventually got banned from this fine establishment for reasons I must assume were completely unfounded, but that’s a fireside chat with the kids for another night. 

Problem is, I never had a corona fever, and I awoke from my daydream realizing that the Heat Miser was in fact President and leader of the free world. But here’s the thing. If this were almost any other country, our self-aggrandizing, delusional, pathological liar Banana Republic strongman would constitute an existential threat to its democracy.  But this isn’t any other country.

This is the United States of America and sure, we can be obnoxious, hard charging, and a bit ignorant at times. But if there’s any truth to American exceptionalism, it’s that our people and our democracy can shrug off a term or two of a man like Trump like it was a bad batch of sushi from the truck stop counter fridge. Sure, we threw up all over ourselves in the process because we just had to try something new, but in a few days, we won’t even remember it. That’s what makes us exceptional. 

So all hail the 331 million American kings and queens.

Start With the Positives to Rebuild America

by Rich Tucker

It’s important to figure out where American jobs went, but even more important to figure out how to get them back. Or at least how to help the people who’ve lost them.

(FIRST PUBLISHED AT THEHILL.COM)

In my home town, there are many carousels.

Six, to be exact. They exist because a man named George F. Johnson ran a shoe company. Maybe you’ve worn E-J (Endicott-Johnson) footwear. The company employed hundreds of thousands of people in the Binghamton, New York region. The Johnson family also believed in “welfare capitalism.” In addition to free merry-go-rounds, E-J profits funded schools, parks and a hospital.

The factories are empty now, undone by competition from overseas. E-J was replaced as a major employer by IBM. Then, by the late 1980s, that came to stand for “I’ve Been Moved” as that company shipped jobs out of the area. Now IBM is gone as well, leaving empty facilities and a “plume” of groundwater pollution it will cost millions to clean up.

It’s important to figure out where American jobs went, but even more important to figure out how to get them back. Or at least how to help the people who’ve lost them. After all, we can’t all move to Brooklyn; some of us have to be able to shelter in place. Perhaps residents in troubled regions could even deliver positive changes on their own.

Where to begin? Start small.

In their book “Switch,” authors Chip and Dan Heath tell the story of Miner County, South Dakota. By 1995, the region was shrinking as “farm and industrial jobs had slowly dried up.” When young people “got old enough, they left and didn’t return.” But it didn’t need to be that way.

Students at a local high school launched a campaign aimed at reversing the decline. They called it “Let’s keep Miner dollars in Miner County.” The students calculated that if residents “spent just 10 percent more of their disposable income at home, they would boost the local economy by $7 million.”

They ended up doing much better than that. A year after the campaign started, the state calculated that the amount spent in the county had jumped by $15.6 million. That helped local businesses, of course. But it also increased tax revenues, making more money available for other projects. Instead of a death spiral, Miner County started spinning up.

In local communities today, people could start by shopping at a local grocery instead of a dollar store. Then eating at a local restaurant instead of a chain. That would begin to keep more local money circulating locally. Then, they must find ways to keep more people around.

In their book “Our Towns,” Jim and Deborah Fallows write that successful areas usually have a major research university nearby. Well, Binghamton University is one of the top New York State schools. But students usually get their degrees and leave the area.

Give more of those grads a reason to stay (the way technology grads often remain near Boston and Palo Alto after graduation) and the area might find itself playing host to the next big thing. It’s worth noting that, in their book “Jump-Starting America,” economists Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson list the Binghamton-Ithaca region in the top-10 for potential development.

Of course, you can also try to compete on beer. Brewpubs won’t change everything, but having some helps; the Fallows book notes that the presence of a craft brewery is a sign of a healthy community. So it’s good news that small breweries are popping up in communities nationwide. Let’s all drink to that.

Finally, think really big. Warehouse big.

The Binghamton area, like many places throughout the U.S., is blessed with superhighways, railroads, and affordable land. There are plenty of places for more inland ports. As long as a region is within a three-hour drive of a major city, where shoppers are hungering for same-day delivery, it could be home to massive fulfillment centers. Failing malls, once the center of suburban life and now eyesores, could be converted to data centers. Or they could become places to store and ship goods for e-commerce.

Weather forecasters have all the available information, and yet they still sometimes end up caught in downpours. Americans can’t know what the future will hold, but we can still try to shape it with development that would generate jobs and drive innovation. There’s no reason the future can’t be bright, all across the fruited plain.