For me, the past year or so has been a very strange rollercoaster ride. My green card situation finally resolved to a point where I could look for work but having been effectively out of the job market for several years by that point and being the age I am, I found there was little work to be had.
Eventually, Jersey girl left her job with a major craft store for greener pastures and, as a special favour, her boss agreed to take me on (it wasn’t permitted for me to work at that store while my wife was still a manager there). I was not keen on the idea of standing all day at a register so I took a job in night replenishment.
Even part-time, night work can be brutal, especially if you don’t sleep well in the day, (I’m reminded of the line in Fight Club, “when you’re an insomniac, nothing’s real, everything feels like it’s behind glass, a copy of a copy”) and I quickly lost all desire to write or do anything creative. Still, it was work and that was the most important thing.
Several months went by and the greener pastures of Jersey girl’s new job dried up and blew away and so she took another one with a Photography studio as their in-house framer. This was a great position but it was, unfortunately, not in New Jersey. For several months, she commuted the hour and a half to Reading PA every morning and the hour and a half home to High Bridge every night but that simply wasn’t tenable.
And so, we upped stakes and moved to Lancaster. Reading just wasn’t our kind of city but Lancaster, just a 30 minute drive away, was perfect. Longtime readers of this blog know that if there are two things I love, it’s history and architecture and this city has both in droves.
I was able to get a transfer with the company and we found a really charming apartment right in the heart of town. Life was looking up. Lancaster city only has a population of 50,000 but it has an amazingly high number of fantastic restaurants, pubs, craft breweries, tap houses, galleries, museums, and really good coffee houses. We set about exploring our new home, trying as many places as we could and quickly fell in love with the place.
Enter COVID-19. My wife and I had been watching this little beastie since early January, recognizing the potential threat it posed almost immediately. This was a new kind of virus, that was obvious. People kept falling for the relatively low death count* and not seeing that it was fast-moving, highly infectious and worst of all, in the 15% of cases that required hospitalization, one patient could tie up a hospital bed for weeks – and then still die at the end of it. We knew that if it got here it could very easily overwhelm our medical services.
And then, in a flash, it was here and the speed at which it moved was beyond belief. Before it really even looked that bad, we started to become nervous about going in to work. My job involved touching things constantly that others had touched and working up close with colleagues and customers. Meanwhile, Jersey girl dealt with a lot of rich clients that travelled often (quite a few of them in the medical profession). Going in to work a shift was becoming increasingly stressful.
We’d already started to prepare for the worst. For weeks, whenever we’d shopped, we’d bought a few extra items to lay aside, nonperishables, essentials, even water, and yes, a little extra toilet paper. We only did a little each week but by the time the Governor of PA had started making noises about lock-downs, we had enough to get us through a month or so.
Inevitably, like so many others, we were soon both out of work but at least we knew that we would not have to go hungry, at least for a while. Many people we knew refused to believe this was as bad as we knew it was. It seems a lot of people simply can’t grasp exponential growth but we have been seeing it over the past ten days here in Lancaster.
Here’s how it has gone:
1st confirmed case of COVID-19 in Lancaster was March 18th.
21st case was March 26th.
33rd and 45th cases were March 28th.
67th case was reported as of noon on March 29th which is today.
11 days’ worth of spread during a lock-down.
To date, we’ve had just 2 fatalities. That looks like a low mortality rate but bear in mind that once a patient is infected, it can take up to a month for them to actually die. We really won’t know what the final cost will be for quite some time to come.
The biggest impact for us so far has been the closures, all those amazing businesses that make this city the vibrant, incredible place it is are now shuttered. We were all given a two-week time frame for reopening but it was obvious that no one was going to ‘flatten the curve’ in such a short period of time. No, it’s going to be months before it will be safe to open places up to the public and by then, a lot of these small businesses will be broke; many will simply never reopen.
This has been a tragedy on so many levels and we’re only just getting started.
I have been taking long walks around the city armed with a mask, gloves and my cellphone camera trying to capture the strange contrasts that I see and which we all feel.
Signs of Spring.
*Of course, the numbers out of China are rubbish. The death toll was actually in the 10s of 1000s.
All words and images are my own.