…and then Buck pounced on the gunman… Is pounce a playful word? I think of a cat springing to catch a mouse or a mole in tall grass; not to eat, maybe catch and release. I don’t mean to use the word playfully, Buck meant to kill.
Last night, I watched The Call of the Wild, a movie starring Harrison Ford. Incomplete synopsis: Pampered southern dog (Buck) gets kidnapped and shipped to Alaska to become a sled dog. Harrison Ford finds redemption. Buck discovers his true inner nature. The movie was fine. I liked it, but I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone save my father—my father unconditionally loves any dog movie ever made. Eli loved it. Susan and I were entertained; Sophie wasn’t there, she went to a party. But I don’t really want to talk about the movie. I’m blogging about the theater, the empty theater.
Can you stand another post about the coronavirus? This one isn’t actually about the virus, it’s about human nature (and of course the theater). It’s about the change that’s already happening in this infant stage of the outbreak. I’m sorry if you’re sick of reading about the epidemic. I blog about what’s going on in my life. The coronavirus is what’s going on.
I had a free day yesterday. Well, not the whole day, but from eleven o’clock on. Midday Friday, I still planned on attending a conference all weekend. The mountain biking season doesn’t start until July, but for us coaches, it kicked off on Saturday. The plan: two hundred coaches from central Pennsylvania descend on the town of Hershey for two days of coach-training, camaraderie and trail riding. Until Pennsylvania found two “presumptive positive” coronavirus cases.
This presumptive positive thing is ridiculous. The United States can’t figure out if people are infected. China developed a test two months ago, as did Hong Kong and Japan. And South Korea. And Italy, Germany, France and Spain. One hundred and seven nations are able to test their citizens. Togo has a test. But Pennsylvania can’t be sure. Our test isn’t approved yet.
After Governor Wolf declared the virus is, in fact, here in Pennsylvania, the cycling league cancelled the conference. I think it’s funny that the organizers needed to hear about our (almost) verified cases before cancelling. There was no doubt in my mind. Friday morning talking with Eli: “Hey dad, when do you think Pennsylvania will have a coronavirus case?”
“Today.” Think about it. A cruise ship left San Francisco two weeks ago with only thirty-five hundred people on-board. Unless the virus was already everywhere, what are the chances an infected person would board the ship? It was a foregone conclusion that Pennsylvania already had cases. They just needed to test for them. The conference was moved online. I watched a three-hour webinar Saturday morning. The rest of the weekend was mine.
Back to the movie. An empty theater in Gettysburg isn’t especially rare. When we moved here in 2005, there were no theaters at all. Two years later, two multiplexes and an independent theater opened. Twenty screens. More times than not, we watched our movies sitting with four or five other small groups of people. On a couple of occasions, the movie played for only us. Last year, one of those multiplexes closed. There just isn’t enough business to sustain all those theaters. And last night, Saturday night, watching a Harrison Ford movie with good reviews, there were only twenty people in the theater.
Is this due to the virus? Sitting there last night, I didn’t think so. I’m so accustomed to empty theaters that it barely even registered. But on a Saturday night? This morning, talking with my father about the movie, he was unsurprised about the theater. He told me my niece boarded a plane yesterday and the flight attendant said “Sit where ever you want.” The plane was half empty.
Now I’m wondering what’s going to happen. European nations are already restricting travel. Over the past couple of months, my family talked about flying to Utah this summer to celebrate Sophie graduating high school. We’ve saved a bazillion Southwest points and the lodging is inexpensive. The trip seemed cheaper than the standard go-to-the-beach vacation. Now we wonder if we can even get to Utah. And if we get there, can we get back? A (not quite) worst case scenario would be someone getting sick in Utah, and we find ourselves quarantined in a state where we know no one.
If my tiny conference in middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania is cancelled over fears of infection, can schools be far behind? Sophie has a school trip to Nashville in a couple of weeks. I’m beginning to doubt that will even happen. Empty theaters, empty sports arenas, empty planes. I’m sure the hotels are already taking a hit. I know of one in Hershey that lost a lot of business this weekend. Maybe they’ll all just become quarantine facilities for people disembarking cruise ships.
It’s now apparent that huge sectors of our economy are going to tank—the travel and entertainment industries first. I’ve been closely following the coronavirus spread since mid-January, and I’ve been reading pandemic novels my entire adult life. Still, this caught me off guard. I’ve really only been tracking the pandemic in terms of loss of life. It’s now clear the economic losses are going to be almost as big a deal.
Living in a tourist town, it will be interesting and a little scary to watch how this plays out. I feel like Gettysburg always has one foot in a recession-grave anyway. I don’t think it’s going to take much to disrupt Main Street. So many unknowns still exist, and even though I seem to think I can predict the future, I know I can’t. I don’t think the coronavirus is “contained in parts of the U.S.” as the Surgeon General suggested today. I think we’re seeing the first small waves of a very large storm.