Like everyone else I am having trouble thinking about anything other than the coronavirus pandemic and the shockwaves it has sent, and will continue to send, through the system. As it began to unfold I found myself thinking, talking, and posting about it fairly constantly. In an effort to try to keep it confined to a given time and place, both physically and psychologically, I am keeping a diary of it all.
April 12: When we were in England a couple years ago we spent a night and a couple of days in Halifax, which is a city of about 90,000 people in West Yorkshire. We weren’t there long — we were following the band James through a few small towns in the North — but something about the place just connected with me. Maybe it was the surrounding countryside, which looks a lot like West Virginia, where I’m from, at least if you squint. Maybe because, after a a few days in London and Manchester I needed and appreciated a smaller town. I’m not sure, but there were a lot of things about it I really loved.
One specific thing about it I really loved was a great little pub right next to the town hall called The Grayston Unity. It’s a tiny, independent (as opposed to chain-owned, as so many are) place that claims to be the smallest music venue in the U.K. I’d believe it too. The bar area specifically is about the size of a carryout pizza place, and just down a little hallway there’s a small sitting area that’s about the size of someone’s apartment living room:
Since I’ve been there they opened up another similarly-vibed pub a few blocks away called The Meandering Bear.
I tweeted a lot about The Grayston and about Halifax during my trip and made many virtual friends from there and West Yorkshire in general as a result. One of them is Michael, the owner of The Grayston. We’ve followed each other on Twitter for nearly two years now. Though I have promised myself that I will go back the next chance I get, I don’t have any return trips in the works. Still, following them online, hearing about the singers and songwriters they invite to perform, the records they spin during afternoon listening parties, and looking at the photos they share of people drinking beers on the sidewalk out front makes me happy. It reminds me of my trip and the lovely day and night I spent in Halifax.
I worry about places like that, there and here, staying open during all of this. I was specifically worried about The Grayston as, not long after the shutdown order hit Halifax, someone broke into the place, apparently thinking a pub owner was dumb enough to leave his booze in a closed bar. That aside, I can’t imagine running a couple of independent pubs is a super high margin business, so just the mere fact of the shutdown has to put places like that in peril.
All of which made me happy to see this:
We launch our new virtual bar, Grayston Bear in the next week. confirmed regular slots include, music quiz, general knowledge, live music, live poetry with our poet in residence @Keironhiggspoet Ak @MrFinknottle a book spot courtesy of Louise from @BookCornerHX The Book Corner
— Grayston Unity (@GraystonThe) March 24, 2020
They have a whole slate of events, from live yoga to playing classic albums, to quiz night, to an open mic night, all done via Zoom. Tomorrow they’re spinning “Otis Blue” from Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved A Man The Way That I Love You.” People will log in and chat about it. There’s a virtual tip jar too, that can help the place stay afloat during all of this madness.
I think I’m going to stop in The Grayston sooner than I would have in the normal course. Indeed I may stop in for a beer this morning. Given the time difference, it’s socially acceptable to hoist a pint at 9AM, right?
I could certainly use the drink after reading the news.
The New York Times reported yesterday about a large email group consisting of infectious disease and public health experts within and in contact with the Trump Administration who began sharing notes and recommendations about the pandemic in January.
The email group, whose correspondence came to be known as “The Red Dawn Chain,” included people who worked for previous Republican and Democratic administrations. They made increasingly desperate and urgent recommendations to Trump and people in his inner circle to take measures that would first help isolate and then help mitigate the damage. Trump completely ignored it. For weeks and weeks, primarily because he was more worried about the stock market and because he did not want to be the bearer of bad news to people during an election year:
This email shows the frustration and, in some cases, downright panic, of members of the group. It comes from an infectious disease expert who served in the White House under George W. Bush and who helped create the 2006 anti-pandemic simulations that led to the official pandemic playbook that Trump threw out:
There is no escaping the fact that thousands of Americans are dead who would not be because Trump just didn’t give a fuck. We are now seeing the clear documentary evidence of it.
After that I decided to spend most of Sunday morning and early afternoon reading a book. The book I chose has been sitting on my desk for a few weeks now: “Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the lives caught in between” by Eric Nusbaum. I get a lot of baseball books sent to me by publishers every spring. Some are good, some are bad, but most of them are pretty straightforward “this is a book about this very specific thing that happened in baseball” or “this is a book that will tell you how think differently about baseball” kinds of things. “Stealing Home” was different.
It’s a sprawling social history of early-to-mid 20th century Los Angeles that covers everything from immigration in the wake of the Mexican Revolution, the copper mines of Arizona, the massive growth of Los Angeles after the first World War, the settlement of the neighborhoods that would soon, inaccurately, be characterized as a single neighborhood called “Chavez Ravine,” the neighborhoods’ eventual demise and destruction, communism and HUAC, patriotism and World War II, the Zoot Suit Riots, the crazy Pacific Coast League, and everything in between.
While well-researched and factually accurate, it’s less a scholarly book than a story of people. Early on you may think he’s jumping around and wondering why we should care about this guy or that family or that particular moment in history, but everyone and everything begins to converge. Almost cinematically.
The story of Dodger Stadium usually begins with Mexican-Americans being evicted from their property just ahead of the bulldozers. This book tells you how it came to that and puts it all in a whole new perspective, even for those of us who generally know the story.
The book was enjoyable, but it wasn’t the total escape I had hoped for. That’s because, after I was done with it, I thought about how little people generally know about what led up to that tragic injustice. How little people generally know about what leads to most tragic injustices. How all of that tends to get whitewashed by the victors when there are victors, by survivors who want to forget, or by those in power who, no matter what they were before, want to encourage the whitewashing and the forgetting. Those who do the suffering and the dying are usually left out of the story, are marginalized or, at best, are relegated to the place of distant and often distorted memory.
Someone is going to develop a COVID-19 vaccine eventually. When they do, they will rightfully be hailed a hero. When it happens, I fear that everyone will want to forget how many people died who should not have due to the criminal negligence of our own government. I fear that their deaths will be cast as inevitable or, worse, necessary, in service of our ultimate triumph over the pandemic. It’s happened like that so many times before. I fear it’ll happen again.