Those last days downtown before we were all WFH were bizarre. It is just as fascinating as it is terrifying, being right in the middle of a Huge Change, a shift in the collective reality. This was actually happening, this virus-induced retreat to our homes, and I was watching it happen live and in person.
It was subtle though, at the time. You had to look out for the signs. Literally.
Take Cajun Mike’s, for example. They’re this kind of divey-looking restaurant on Baronne St., close to Canal. On my way toward Canal, I really didn’t parse what I was seeing stuck to the walls along the sidewalk. This is because I was looking at them backwards. On the way back to the office, heading the other direction, it was suddenly clear. Cajun Mike’s was serving takeout lunches for the folks still stuck working downtown (bless them). It took me a minute to realize that I was witnessing their Social Distancing system. DON’T COME IN to order, call ahead; and these signs were posted on the wall every 6 feet to ensure their pickup customers would be far enough apart, while waiting to grab their orders inside. One person at a time.
A few more steps up Baronne, I saw that church had been cancelled too. (I will belay my impulse to rant about the churches that didn’t close down here and the fools who insisted on gathering in them to share their holy germs. I’m in a good mood and don’t want to get all riled up.)
My last stop on that stroll was The Store, to pick up a sandwich that I had called ahead for. The Store is a really popular lunch place in the CBD. Packed, always packed. They are really good. I was grateful that they, too, were feeding us while we still had to be down there. The menu was limited, they’d read it to you over the phone and you could go pick it up. But they were very good about getting you out of there fast – they’d cleared their tables away to remove the temptation for anyone who thought they could sit and linger. I’ve heard since that they’ve closed their doors altogether for the time being. I really hope they make it through and come back to us.
Those last couple of days downtown passed and finally, those last stragglers in the office (including myself) were able to bring it all home. The boss and I were the last two people to leave that day. We were wrapping up some final things and realized we were the only two people left on our floor. So we took a perambulation around the 2nd floor as well, to make sure it was also clear, then rode the elevator down to the lobby, and locked the front doors behind us.
That was creepy. We’re a 24/7 maritime company. We never close. There is always a handful of people in that building. But not that day. It was so quiet, so empty. That moment marked my first rush of anxiety about this situation, the reality of it.
Then I met up w/J who was there to pick me up. We stood out there on Baronne St. for a minute, and I soaked in the atmosphere. There was a palpable eeriness to the city’s emptiness in that moment. The hair on my arms and back of my neck was standing up.
J actually went out and stood in the middle of the street for a second. Just because he could.
And now, I’ve been WFH for two weeks. I actually have to go in to the office tomorrow. We’re considered an essential business, and our office isn’t technically closed. We’re encouraged to stay home, unless there is a tangible reason to go there. Tomorrow I have a tangible reason, so I am going there. I wonder what it will be like? I’ve heard descriptions from coworkers of how creepy and empty it is, the only people on the street the homeless, the drugged, the deranged. Zombie City. I admit that I look forward to checking it out. I can’t help it, it’s in my nature.
More to come.