My wife and I spent most of last week in South Florida, a trip we planned a couple of months ago to get away to a warmer climate instead of dealing with the midwestern winter. Unfortunately, the trip coincided with the Coronavirus outbreak. We briefly considered cancelling, but decided not to change our plans.
When we flew down Tuesday night, the plane was only about half full, which allowed some unintentional social distancing. The next day, we got up and went for a long walk — what a pleasure it was to be able to be outside in shorts and a t-shirt in the middle of March in temperatures double what we’d left behind in St. Louis.
After lunch each day we hit the beach, which wasn’t very busy, so it was easy to stay away from other humans — though resorts a few hundred yards away had all their umbrellas up and chaise lounges full. While Martha lay down on a towel to get some sun, I had to go for a swim in the ocean. After all, in the vastness of the Atlantic, those “respiratory droplets” that were responsible for spreading the Coronavirus would be about as effective as any homeopathic remedy — that is, not at all. Later, when the wind kicked up, we abandoned the sand and moved to the pool, where I once again didn’t hesitate to do a few laps (easy to do since there was no one else there), counting on the chlorine to keep the water clean.
Before the trip, I had planned to play poker at one of the card rooms I’ve frequented on previous visits. But once we were there, as we learned more about the dangers of COVID-19, it didn’t seem prudent to sit in close quarters with a bunch of people — particularly since many of them are senior citizens, the demographic most susceptible to the Coronavirus. Even under normal conditions, poker players are not the most hygienic people in the world, so sitting knee to knee, with everyone touching the cards and chips and breathing into each other’s spaces, seemed like a bad idea. I still remember many years ago at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles, when the guy sitting on my right sneezed all over me, then wiped his face with his hands and didn’t even offer an apology. I was so grossed out I immediately went up to my room and took a 20-minute shower. And that was without a global pandemic!
We ate at several restaurants, most of which were packed, except for a Chinese place where, at 7pm, we were the only customers. It wasn’t because of the quality of the food, which was quite good, so we wondered whether idiots were staying away because COVID-19 started in China? Why would that place be empty while nearby Greek and Italian restaurants were full, and the ice cream parlor had a line out the door both times we stopped in?
By our last night there, as we watched new developments, circumstances had changed enough that Martha was worried our flight the next day might be cancelled. I reassured her that if it was, we’d just keep the rental car long enough to drive back home (as so many Americans had done in the days after 9/11). It turned out that, not only did Southwest keep flying, but the plane home was completely full. Many of our fellow passengers, we learned, included families who had hoped to go on cruises for spring break, but hadn’t been informed their voyages were cancelled until they got to Fort Lauderdale. With nowhere else to go — and both Disney World and Universal’s theme park in Orlando closed — they had no choice but to turn around and fly home.
Both on the plane rides and in the restaurants, we noticed very few people wearing masks. With our inside-around-crowds exposure limited, at no time did we think we were in danger — but if our trip were scheduled for this week, I think we probably would have cancelled.
When we got back to St. Louis, the first thing we did was head for a supermarket, because we knew our kitchen shelves were empty. From the stories we’d heard, we expected the store to be very low on everything. While there were quantity limits on some items (tissues, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, etc.), we were pleasantly surprised to find lots of produce and plenty of canned and packaged items, as well as milk, eggs, bread, and juice. I mentioned this to the cashier, who told me that most people hadn’t been going crazy, but she did have one customer come in and buy 15 gallons of milk. Since he can’t possibly drink all of it before it expires, she guessed the guy was planning to resell it elsewhere at inflated prices. That’s called gouging, a horrible exploitation of supply and demand during a crisis. I hope whoever it is suffers the same fate as the guy who bought 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer, then was told by Amazon and eBay he couldn’t resell it there, and was forced by the Attorney General to donate all of it to charity — at a hefty loss.
One last thought on this subject for today. If you’re disappointed by how Trump has handled the Coronavirus crisis from the very beginning, you had the bar set way too high. After all, what was it about the first three years of his presidency that made you think he’d do the right thing (any right thing) in an emergency like this?