It’s unprecedented. At least for the last 60 years or so.
The coronavirus crisis has hit the world and Orange County in a way unlike anything since the Cuban Missile Crisis. That one had the potential to be even worse than this pandemic, what with the possibility of destroying all life on earth. But at least it had the virtue of being resolved within 13 days.
Some of you may be old enough to remember what that 1962 incident was all about. Nuclear-capable missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida. President Kennedy on TV. The Navy establishing a “quarantine” around that island nation. At the crisis point, Russian ships … turned back. Kennedy and Khrushschev worked out a deal. The world breathed an historic sigh of relief.
Here in these neighborhoods, the news shook most of us down to our socks. The first reaction was for people to begin hoarding food and other items that scarifying October. I remember going into the old Cole’s Market on Garden Grove Boulevard (now occupied by Jay’s Catering) and standing there, open-mouthed, to see the shelves stripped almost completely bare.
Being a precocious kid, I asked my father what was the point of stocking up on toilet paper if an atomic bomb was dropped on us. He explained that “people panic. When they get scared they do a lot of stupid things.”
I remember a full-page ad in the old Garden Grove Daily News reminding us “There’s not a single fallout shelter in all of Orange County.” And, of course, the ad offered to quickly build you and yours a bomb shelter, and even offered to let you pay for it on time, the height of irony.
In school, we did those “duck and cover” drills with a new sense of purpose. Somehow cowering underneath our pressboard desk surfaces gave us a sense that we were at least doing something to guard against nuclear catastrophe.
Well, we made it through that, and we will make it through this one.
What strikes me about our present state is how quickly our lives have changed. Last Wednesday I was in Vons, doing a casual shopping in a store with all the bottled water, toilet paper and hand sanitizer you could ever want. By Friday, the panic-buying had set in. And now, today (Wednesday) it’s a depopulated world.
The freeways are wide-open. Most eateries and many other places are closed. Schools are shut down, and the new health regulations are telling us to stay home and keep away from other people. Six feet apart and no gathering together.
Last week was a hundred years away.
There have been some good signs. Traffic is a breeze, which means that auto accidents are down. Crime seems to be in a sharp decline as well, and all that hand-washing will probably cut down on the severity of garden-variety colds and flu bugs.
We may be getting a hard lesson in the importance of planning ahead and how much we miss human interaction. This “social distancing” has grown from two meters to a much wider and depressing perimeter.
As this drama unspools, there may be darker days ahead before glimmers of light and hope appear. So all we can do is be smart, stay safe and know that this is not a permanent state.
We’ve survived the Civil War, the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, World War II, the Cuban missile crisis and 9/11 and came out stronger than ever. We did it before and we will surely do it again.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts is posted on alternate weeks, usually on Wednesday.