Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Staying in Place

This morning we were informed that the Government of Mexico has imposed some new restrictions on the population.  As of tomorrow, and for a month, all restaurants will be closed completely.   We have a favorite place for breakfast run by a young entrepreneur and talked to him this morning about what he will do.  He has put a lot of time and energy into his place, called Rustica.   It has an open and airy feeling.  But he will be closed, and all of his employees will be furloughed for a month. That got me to thinking.

In my lifetime there have been several stay in place situations.   The first was the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.  The crisis had the nation transfixed for almost two weeks.   I do not remember us being sequestered but I do remember the pall that overtook the nation.  John Scali, who was an ABC reporter, intervened by meeting with the KGB station chief in DC and then things started to move.   The Crisis had built from the prior year's invasion at the Bay of Pigs.  And tensions began to grow.   There were a couple of good books on the crisis, all about the informal channels used to defuse the crisis.   When we moved to DC one of our favorite restaurants was a Chinese place on upper Wisconsin where a lot of the negotiations to defuse the crisis took place.   Peking had two qualities.  First, they had superb Kung Pao Chicken!  Second, they had a waitress whose name I think was O'Hara, who had worked for the restaurant for a long time.  All of the other staff was Chinese but she was not.  She was  funny and dedicated to the place.

The second  I remember was on the Friday that JFK was assassinated.   On that Friday, the news leaked out slowly.  First we learned that JFK had been shot and the soon after that he had died.  School was dismissed early - I was a senior at Palos Verdes.   We then spent the entire weekend glued to the TV.   I remember clearly the live coverage of the transfer of Oswald in the Dallas Jail and the response of the news people when Jack Ruby shot Oswald.  About two decades later I was teaching at USC and was trying to explain society defining events - I mentioned that all people remember where they were when JFK was assassinated.  One graduate student raised his hand and said "I don't, I was not born then."

The odd thing about the JFK weekend was that there was no internet.  So while there was some phone contact, we were isolated, almost completely.  Kennedy's funeral was on the 25th (or three days after Dallas) so it became a continuous event.

My siblings and I have tried to figure out what our parents did in 1918 (My mom was 6 and my dad 4) but I do not think either of them talked much about their experience.   1918 was a major pandemic. The CDC said that one third of the world's population was infected with the influenza and that almost 700,000 Americans died.  That is on a base of just over 100 million people. So the pandemic was huge for the year.  The public health officials at the time did some isolation and staying in place.   But remember medicine was pretty basic at that time.  Almost all of the modern drugs we take for granted were not invented by then.

The third that is prominent in my memory is 9/11.  I happened to be in Mexico City at the time teaching a course at Universidad Anáhuac del Sur.  My routine was to go out in the morning before going to campus and run in a park with the bull fighters.  I came back to the professor's house and the property manager was watching TV.  It kept showing the collapse of one of the twin towers.  I asked in my very limited Spanish was it real or a video - and he looked at me very grim and said it was real.  I got to campus quickly.  The media staff was pulling down all the video they could, thinking it would produce many teachable moments.   About an hour after I arrived the Rector, Fr. Dermot McCluskey, gave a homily which was amazing.  Even with my primitive Spanish I could understand his message about the reality of what had just happened.

The City quickly shut down.  After I caught my breath I called my wife and my daughter and reassured them and then found things to do.  In that evening we went out to dinner and the CNN news loop was replaying the story for the 1000th time - one patron asked to turn off the TV, and when they did everyone cheered.

On that weekend I went to Xalapa with a university staffer and his cousin for Independence Day weekend.  His cousin got us to stay in a disco until 3 or 4 in the morning.  We got out (I really do hate discos!) and could not find our car.   My friend, who was originally from Veracruz, said lets ask two guys on the street for directions.  The two guys we choose looked like they could not have put together 100 pesos between them.   One had a bottle of Johnny Walker stuffed in his pants and kept offering us a plug.  They got in our car and when we got to the hotel - one of the two looked at me and said (in Spanish) "the loss you think you had did not happen to you". - Tensions for Americans were high there; we had been attacked.  But then he added "It did not happen to you it happened to all of us".  I relaxed and we sat outside the hotel eating street tacos.  I never did accept a plug from the Johnny Walker.

One other thing happened.  I returned to California about two weeks later.   I called United and asked when I should get to the airport for a 6:30 flight.  They said absolutely three hours early (3:30 AM).  I got to the United counter at about 3:25 and it was dark.  The only other people in the line were an elderly couple going to LA to visit their children.   We chatted until the United people arrived about 5:45.

As I have thought about it each of those events had something in common.  They momentarily brought us together as either Americans or as people (in the 9/11 instances).  We threw down all the petty nonsense and began to talk to each other.  What has intrigued me about the Corona situation is that many of the same things seem to be happening now.  In the last two weeks I have used Zoom and Webex (I like Zoom better) to do conference calls.   Last week the university board I chair had one of the most substantive meetings we have had in a long time trying to think about what has changed for us in a project that we have been working on for a couple of years. We need a new campus and we finally got to analyzing what we could afford and what we might be like in a few years.   Higher education is changing quickly.   Last week two independents in California failed.  Neither was surprising but in a long talk with an old friend who has been a remarkable college president he said what we need to look for next is how many students show up in the fall.  Some independents in California have chosen to assist students who have substantial needs and to refund either room and board money or even some tuition payments.  Others have not.  I suspect the ones who recognize they and their students are in the same boat will fare better.

Our parish in Folsom held a social hour last Friday and about 25 families participated - it turned out to be fun.   Our kids introduced us to an APP called HouseParty which is a pretty good video chat capability in real time that also has some features like a trivia contest. There are some new notions of online etiquette which still seem to be working out - but the things are developing rapidly.

We also decided this week to compare and contrast the advice the US Government is offering (come back to the US immediately) versus the advice of my physicians (stay in place in Mexico) we chose to listen to the docs.   We know that Mexico is about to tighten up their already very tight stay in place requirements.  But while some of our friends have made disparaging remarks about the cavalier way Mexicans are reacting to the pandemic the reality is that they are doing very well with staying in place.  The picture to the right is of the Jardin (center square) last Sunday.  Sunday in Mexico is family day and almost all Sundays the Jardin would be packed - not now.

The next steps here are uncertain.   The new order for restaurants in Mexico is for a month and then a reassessment.  In the US the Congress (finally) has passed a stimulus bill - although I will admit that a lot of the things in it are puzzling at best; it is 9.3% of the pre(Corona)-GDP and some of the grants are just pure pork.   The initial jobless claims last week (3 million) are daunting.  And despite the nattering of the left, I agree with the President that we should be looking at safe ways to begin restarting things will all deliberate (and prudent) speed.  There are many experts jabbering but few actually have much useful to say.  I quit reading the market analysts because I think they are not very good guessers - the old joke about economists (they have successfully projected 11 of the last 3 recessions) applies here.

A friend in Palm Springs commended a PBS series from Niall Ferguson on Networks,   He is trying to figure out in our new world how we can re-establish sensible talk - the series is superb and follows up on his book of a couple of years ago (find the series at https://www.pbs.org/wnet/networld/) and the book on Amazon (The Square and the Tower).

Finally, the California governor has been omnipresent in the media.  A good deal of what he has done is fundamentally positive (he is not one of my favorites but I think on the whole he has done well).  Included in his accomplishments has been an order to temporarily lighten licensing requirements for the health professions so as to be able to get an infusion of people like recently retired and just about to graduate students into practice NOW.

I saw my doctor in Mexico this morning to stock up on medicines I take so I can stay here for the next six weeks.  He like he often does, had good advice.  He told us rather than worrying about what might happen take the appropriate precautions (including avoiding social media) and reflect on the wonderful things that have happened in our lives.   He also offered Quinlan a pregnancy test.  It is great to keep a sense of humor!

1 comment:

  1. You are quite correct, the Mexican people are very respectful and understanding of the distancing and stay at home concept. I heard criticism, but the criticisor said she is moving to Texas. Good for her! Keep up the blog. Your thoughts are always welcome.