For the younger ones who don’t remember it, this is their “9/11” moment.
For baby boomers, this is an echo of their Cuban missile crisis shock.
For the Greatest Generation, fast passing into history, it’s another Pearl Harbor.
I know, this may seem overly dramatic for those of us who now have seen stocked shelves in the supermarket and taken takeout burgers from Louie’s On Main.
But if we pull back and refocus a bit, we are the middle of an event which – we hope – happens just once in a lifetime. As much or more than the events listed above, this coronavirus pandemic is bringing us dramatic changes.
As with other challenges, Americans have risen to the task. We are social distancing, following the arrows in the grocery store, putting up with home schooling and waiting politely in line to use the ATM.
However, as with other crises, we can stay focused in doing the arguably correct but emotionally and financially difficult things.
Yes, we can do the right thing, but for how long?
How long can most of the stores be closed? How long can campuses be locked down? How long can we go without attending a house of worship or go to a ball game or a music concert?
I know that some of our best minds are working on a vaccine and even a treatment. I also hope some of our other best minds are working on how to stay safe without strangling our economy and our spirits.
One of the first major institutions to shut down were the public school systems. Yes, I know we have Zoom, etc, with online instruction but that’s no substitute for the real-deal in-person teaching.
Assuming that we are actually having some success in “flattening the curve,” why not begin opening the schools on a modest, tentative basis?
I taught for over 30 years at the college and university level. The requirement to socially distance can easily be met if we use some out-of-the box thinking.
Utilize the various big forums and lecture halls to spread students out. Make use of gymnasiums, stadiums and amphitheaters to do the same. I remember some professors who – in nice weather – moved their classes outside. California being what it is, you could probably do that 95 percent of the academic year.
If we don’t want kids bunching up in the cafeteria, shut it down and either a) require that they brown bag or b) have some box lunch-style meals available. Let them dine al fresco, but spread out at least six feet apart.
Metering seems to be a clever solution as well. I miss Barnes & Noble tragically, but why not re-open it with the same rules that apply at Walmart and Well Fargo banks? Only so many customers allowed in at a time, and place the same hand-sanitizer machines you see at the entrances to supermarkets.
Now, beaches and parks have proved to be a challenge. A lot of young people feel they are invulnerable – and when have they not? – so they defy the rules against congregating in such places.
Aside from placing land mines, one solution is the same one used against Panama dictator Manuel Noriega in 1989, when that drug-running dictator was finally induced to surrender when American armed forces surrounded his hideout and played loud music non-stop, 24 hours a day.
Imagine the impact of big speakers blasting Perry Como and Barry Manilow tunes to the scofflaws crowding up the sand on the strand.
My point here is that Americans are an endlessly creative and inventive race. You can’t tell me that the people who invented the telephone, telegraph, airplane, phonograph, internet, atomic bomb, jazz, rock and roll and rap, who went to the fricking moon, can’t find a responsible middle way between too lax and too strict.
To quote an old World War II song, “we did it before and we can do it again.” Let the American ingenuity begin.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts now appears each Wednesday. He is wearing a mask as he types this.