Corona Chronicles II: Signs of the Times

San Francisco, California

Remember that time, in what feels like a galaxy far, far away, when we thought we only needed to shelter in place for two weeks?

To quote the Grateful Dead, “what a long strange trip it’s been!” But it’s not over yet. Those two weeks have stretched into six months, and the taffy of our lives continues to be stretched thinner and thinner.

Today, September 9, 2020, is as apocalyptic a day as I can remember. The sky is so thick with smoke and fog that it is dark outside at 11 a.m. And there are no fires in San Francisco.

The patterns of the wind and weather remind us that we are traveling on this globe together. What happens here affects you there. Maybe that’s the point of Hidden-inSite: making connections across the miles and across cultures.

Today’s post is an illustrated trip through the last three months of the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, using signs of the times to point the way.

Cautionary tales

In those first weeks of sheltering-in-place I started noticing caution signs that have always been there. They reminded me that danger is all around and can strike at any time. Not to mention that this is earthquake country. Please, NO! We don’t need to deal with that too.

Ocean Beach along the Pacific Ocean has been our refuge and escape from the confines of home as we’ve sheltered in place.

But it’s no place for casual swimming because of its dangerous rip currents.

Instead Ocean Beach is a place for wandering, for exploring, for dreaming about what lies on the other shore.

It’s also a great place for surfing, if you know how to read the signs in the waves and the currents.

Right across the street from our house, signs warn us that we live in an active coyote area. Occasionally, when they deign to come up to street level, we see them, eyes shining, ears back, as they look around to size up their surroundings.

Just as I reach for my iPhone, they vanish into the eucalyptus trees and bolt down to their dens adjacent to a small lake. On quiet nights, we thrill to the sound of their howling. Their cries remind us that we are not alone. We may live in the city, but the wilderness is right here, alive in our city park.

The reminder that life itself is dangerous brings me to the history of plagues. This is not something I study or dwell on, just fleeting thoughts. But a quick look at history reminds us that our situation is not unprecedented, as people keep exclaiming. All this has happened before, just not to us.

Friends have gone back to read Camus’ The Plague or Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders. I wish I had asked my father about the 1918 flu, but I didn’t know anything about it. Besides, he was only 10 when it happened. But, like many first-hand bits of history, I let it slip away.

Chalk dust politics

While we were concerned about the virus and our health for the first three months of the lock-down, politics competed for our attention after the national reckoning that emerged from the death of George Floyd. It not only played out on our TV sets and newsfeeds, but literally on our streets.

With chalk as their weapon of choice, street artists made their mark.

Chalksters urged us to Wake UP and reminded us that Justice is necessary.

Street art accentuates the positive

I worked out my feelings about our novel situation in phone calls, emails, Zoom soirees and trips to the fridge. But out for almost daily walks, I was delighted to see encouraging messages from open-hearted kids.

When we finally felt safe enough to brave the farmers market downtown, we explored the city’s streets. What was open? Not much. Which places had windows broken during the demonstrations? Hard to tell.

What we saw was blocks and blocks of shuttered storefronts, buttoned down as protection against potential vandalism, giving way to exuberant street art.

A group called Paint the Void raised funds and matched unemployed artists with closed, boarded up businesses. It was an original response to the economic emptiness that vacuumed people from our once teeming streets, turning San Francisco into a nearly empty ghost town.

Driving around one Saturday afternoon, I met artist Ryan Montgomery, of geary and hyde design. He was stenciling a whimsical design at the La Marsa Café & Wine Bar across the street from the Geary Theater. It’s a small place, just perfect for dinner and a drink before a show. That was then, in the Before Times. Now, with theaters and restaurants shuttered, Ryan’s girlfriend lost her job as a theater tech. She was assisting him while we all stood six feet apart and chatted.

“I usually do art for events and retail,” Ryan explained. “This opportunity came up to make art to cheer people up. The idea is to produce cheerful images so people can have something fun to look at while they are out and about.” He suggested that I also check out fnnch and yonmeister.

The artist who calls himself fnnch has taken the fun approach even further by creating a series of honey bear images that people can buy and post, creating city-wide treasure hunts that people follow on Google maps. He’s also been commissioned to do several murals around town, including this one on the SFLGBT Center.

And yonmeister creates “big-foot, big-eyed characters” for everyone to see and enjoy. “Street art is an amazing outlet that brings more character to a city and lets the public interact with the work at any time,” he says on his website. “I create street art with the goal of delivering small bits of happiness to people every day.”

The magic of music

Indoor performances and concerts of any kind have not been allowed since March. Even outdoor festivals have been canceled. There was no Outside Lands this August and there’s not going to be a Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in October. Even Burning Man was canceled.

But intrepid souls are bringing music to the people in the parks and on the beach.

Is it legal? I have no idea. Whether it’s rocking in the dunes, jazz in the park or avant-garde performance under the overpass, it’s a delight to encounter people bursting with creativity and eager to share.

Emerging. Slowly, slowly, emerging

We got into a rhythm during the tight lock-down of the spring. But as things loosened up this summer, twinges of anxiety poked around the edges of our resolve.

What’s OK and what’s not?  Do we have backyard dates with friends? Maybe not.

Eat at outdoor restaurants. Sparingly. We meet my father-in-law for lunch every two weeks now. It feels better than the four months we didn’t see any family at all.

Masking up seems to be key:  After initially encouraging people to save masks for medical personnel, California has made masks mandatory whenever we leave home. I’ve stashed paper masks in the glove compartments of each car. They sit there along with disinfectant wipes. Better to be prepared.

Now I’m looking for cute masks. I’d love one with a perfect come-hither smile. Is anyone making those? I’ve had to make space in my sock drawer for masks. It’s clearly a sign of the times.

So are the Reopening Safely Together signs all over San Francisco. You can find them in every public park, everywhere people gather. They remind us to wear our masks, stand six feet apart and to go home if we don’t feel well.

And, if we are going to the park, circles … and now hearts … show us exactly what six feet apart looks like. It’s kind of like preschool for everyone. But apparently we need the signs to point the way.

There is no indoor dining in San Francisco yet. But restaurants have taken over parking spaces to accommodate outdoor dining, the only kind permitted. But we’re still either cooking or doing take-out about once a week.

In another sign of the times, haircuts are now permitted outdoors. I got mine yesterday. Yea! Six months is a long time. But I have to laugh now that San Francisco is beginning to look like Delhi or Jakarta.

In one of the coolest Covid accommodations of all, a regional park in San Mateo County designated a hiking trail as a one-way trail so hikers wouldn’t have to pass people coming the other way. How thoughtful is that?

The windows of neighborhood shops are papered with makeshift signs telling us how many people can shop at a time. That’s nice. But what are the rules? The real rules?

Indoor malls opened in late June, only to be shut down after the July 4th spike in Covid-19 cases. Indoor malls just reopened again this weekend in San Francisco, with limited capacity. Is there any inventory? Can you try anything on? Probably not.

After I got fed up wearing the same three outfits every week and my T-shirts started to wear thin, I turned my bedroom into a try-on room and tried my hand at online shopping. But, I HATE online shopping. I like to touch fabrics, evaluate colors and browse. Good shopping, like good traveling, brings the thrill of discovery.

The totally logical result of my virtual shopping spree: a trunk full of returns.

But that’s a small price to pay for living in these unusual times. I’m still safe at home. I have enough food. I have the luxury of being able to shelter in place for as long as it takes to get rid of this virus.

The real world beckons

Sheltering in place, however, does not keep us safe from the consequences of what’s happening outside our homes. Fire. Disease. Racial inequality.  It’s all there for us to attend to.

Some of the best signs of the times have materialized along the Great Highway, which fronts on the Pacific Ocean. It’s hard to escape the truth at the edge of the continent. Being on the threshold clears the mind.

For all Americans coping with this worldwide pandemic, the inescapable effects of climate change, and racial injustice, please keep this one word in mind:

Elections have consequences. Make sure your voice is heard.

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  1. Love this Ellen! As I do everything you write. Glad you are seeing Stan regularly now. Is he doing ok? Thinking of you and David and Stan. Sending lots of love.

  2. Ellen oh, that was a wonderful rendering of what’s going on. Really appreciate it thank you my dear.

    • I’m giving you a new title – Chronicler of Our Unusual Times.

  3. Great reading, writing and photography…as we’ve now come to expect.

  4. Thanks Con, Sandra, Suzi, Deb and Susan W!! I so appreciate all your notes. Thanks so much.

  5. Really nice, Ellen. A great chronicle of the last six months. You didn’t make it to Israel, but you managed to make a very good substitute in your photo-journalistic reportage of pandemic San Francisco. Pam B.

  6. Another wonderful collage of street life in San Francisco …. now overshadowed by smoke and bad air ! Scary times ! Great writing !

  7. Love this visual journey that we have all shared – even separately for all these months. You found some terrific street art!
    Thanks much – will this be over soon enough? No more City walks with all the smoke in the air.
    Here’s to a new year, to healing our planet and our divided country.
    Shana Tovah to you and David.

  8. Beautiful, Ellen! Such a good chronicle of these times for the future.

  9. Ellen…Thank you for lifting my spirits with your words and sending them alight with your photos! I am grateful and send you and David greetings for Shana Tova.

  10. Comment Really enjoyed this, Ellen. Good writing, good photos, good concepts!

  11. thank you for sharing, showing me your world and allowing me to understand some of the differences.

  12. What a beautiful balance between words & images Ellen! You have such an exceptional eye for detail. Thank you for this mosaic of a period of time in your universe.


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