The last days before lockdown were strange. There was a vibe in the air—a second sense—of something being wrong. A subconscious fear was on the rise. The first I noticed it was February 23rd. Bo and I went to Georgetown to eat at a Chinese restaurant. A lot of people were out in the thrall of restaurants and shops. We descended some steps and found ourselves almost alone with the aged decor. The meal was nice. On leaving, we decided to visit The Exorcist steps a couple of blocks away. The gas station at the bottom was abandoned with caution tape surrounding it and the infamous staircase where the fictional Father Damien Karras fell down to his death was eery. A thrill of unease permeated the place. The supernatural aside, the place at night was dark and anyone could have been lurking nearby. Some college kids broke the spell by appearing high at the top of the steps. We left before their descent and crossed the river to Virginia and took the train home.
The news squawked in a rising fury of Covid-19 after that night. The nation went from its not a problem here in the USA to worry about the disease spreading. Borders were locked down and some international flights halted. A highly contagious disease with a lot of unknowns set panic to some and indifference to others. Hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, and cold medicine started disappearing from shelves. Being new to the city, Bo and I had been going to the sites, including museums, Arlington Cemetery, the National Zoo, and monuments, one or two every weekend. On March 7th, we went to the Smithsonian Castle and then the National Museum of Natural History museum. The magnolias were in bloom outside, tourist took pictures, yet something seemed off. Inside there were more hand sanitizers than the week before. Security even had extra bottles. The crush of people can be a bit much at any time, but this particular time gave me a bad vibe. The feeling started in the cramped mummy room with everyone crowded around to look at the ancient dead bodies. Bo asked me what was wrong and I couldn’t put it into words. We continued the trek through exhibits after some canned water and hand washing. The dinosaurs were interesting even though the section seemed designed for children. The bad vibe intensified and I told Bo I wanted to go. He agreed and we left. On the National Mall, Sunday crowds were thinner with less people than normal. Something was changing.
Panic spread as cases mounted. The grocery store had lines for days. We had been once or twice and we decided to go and stock up on March 15th. I wore my Mad Max style mask and got looks. The only others wearing masks were security guards. One woman gave me a dirty look, so I stared at her till she looked away. Shelves were emptying. Everyone jokes about toilet paper, but everything was going. We got lucky and saw the butcher putting out hamburger and got some. The store was chaotic. The rows were tight with people and lots of going around congested aisles. I turned the cart away from the bread section after seeing someone openly sneezing without a hand to their face. I did not like it one bit. It felt unsafe. And that was the last time I went to the grocery store. Two days later the Mayor of DC locked things down. The National Guard was called in after everything non-essential was closed and the convention center down the street has been turned into a makeshift hospital. Restrictions have escalated with ominous signs of more police cars on every corner watching, sounds of sirens occasional wailing, and military helicopters flying over. Even the courtyard in our building was closed for a while with cops walking it every so often. All of this borne out of that original sense of dread.
Now over a month has gone by and the world has changed into a dystopian one. The lockdown continues here until May 15th or longer. Even with this rambling blog, I still cannot put the situation in perspective. Out the window, spring has come, hawks fly overhead, and church bells solemnly mark time. I keep busy. Things happen. Life goes on. I guess being a latchkey kid of Generation X has its benefits.