As we sat down at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room on our last full day in Savannah, the arrangement of food on the table drew attention. The number of items itself was only part of the story: sweet potatoes, cheesy potatoes, fried chicken, cornbread, corn, rutabaga, cole slaw, cukes, black-eyed peas, lima beans, stuffing, barbecued pork, cabbage, green beans, jambalaya, white rice, baked beans. All in porcelain bowls with serving spoons. This was a family-style meal. The way it works is that you stand in line outside the restaurant for a half an hour or so. When one of the tables inside opens up, seven to nine of the people standing in line take a spot at the open table. When you sit down, the food is hot and ready to go. You grab a bowl next to you and start loading your plate. If there’s something you want in a bowl across the table, you ask for it to be passed.
Anne-Marie didn’t initially sit down. She set her purse on her chair and went to wash her hands. Brook had her hand sanitizer out. I had mine out. The woman seated to my right asked to use one of the bottles. She and her husband had driven up from Miami, though they hail originally from Spain. They had planned to be in Japan this week but canceled that trip because of the outbreak. The other couple at our table was from Michigan, bringing the total at the table to eight.
I was conscious of the way I handled the bowls when passing or receiving them. But I also felt resignation. What’s done is done. Let’s just enjoy lunch, I thought. Reflecting back on the meal I’m wondering about the family-style concept in the age of corona. That restaurant is an institution. The original Mrs. Wilkes’s grand-daughter came to our table in greeting. Yet, with the way the news is trending overseas, the word ‘inevitable’ comes to mind. How do we stop going out to eat? How many traditions are we willing to concede? How many will we lose one way or another? I mean, I’m putting pen to paper on this trip not just because I’m a writer but with a mind to meeting an assignment for a travel writing class I’m taking at Washington University in St. Louis. My readers are my classmates. But I don’t know, as I sit here in Savannah, ready to go home, if my class will even convene later this month. Stanford has already gone online...
What follows is an essay I wrote one year ago as the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold. After multiple unsuccessful attempts to publish it elsewhere, I am happy to publish it here on my blog today. Click here for the full essay and thanks for reading...
Rental house done
in typewriter theme
boxed wine in the fridge
fuzzy comet up high
lost as a sinking
Baseball delayed by disease
five planets visible
my wife and I
driving in the dark
in a very old town
that neither of us knew
to get our eyes on a comet
no one knew would be there
a brand of typewriter
of pruning tool
a constellation Borealis
a fancy word for halo:
That ring we saw during the solar eclipse
that pearly glow
A gaseous envelope
than the Sun itself
Thursday. I’m in a goose-infested corporate office park parking lot, waiting for my wife, who is inside a Red Cross, donating blood. Some machine is out in the distance, intermittently backing up, backing up. Emitting that insidious beep, beep, beep, beep. Other than that, the soundscape is pleasant. Sound of the wind. Birds. Sparrows, a cardinal, the geese.
There are empty swathes of spaces in the sprawling, interconnected parking lot. The office buildings are arranged in a wide ring around the parking spots at the core. There are still a number of cars parked up close to the buildings, packed tightly, the businesses in those buildings still humming along, essential or stubborn, it’s hard to say. Who’s gonna get close enough to inquire, to stick their nose in it?
The essay continues...
Here's the pitch, it's low,
Ball four. The next batter
Is awaiting his test results.
The game will resume
I am feeling average about it all. I saw an angry person spit in the face of an elderly woman who asked him to cover his face. Outside, naked people slept peaceful in the street.
A little bit of baseball, a little pandemic... what could possibly go wrong?
The weather forecasts are wonk. Something to do with a sharp decrease in the number of airplanes in the air. It wasn’t forecast to rain today. But it has rained, and not just a few drops. My wife and I console each other with talk of silver linings. The air quality is improving, just ask the stars.
Here in St. Louis, as March slogs on, the rain has been a cloying companion during days of isolation. I can’t recall going on a walk when I didn’t have to watch out for puddles and dreck as the dog Hugo and I walked in our desultory fashion, neither one of us leading the way. This month hasn’t been atypical in its raininess but I suspect the total rainfall is at the upper end of its historical range.
If only weather were the wackiest aspect of March 2020....
The essay continues...
If, like me, you’re starting to climb the walls during this coronavirus lockdown, you’re also asking yourself: what can I do, within these newly instituted, claustrophobic confines that doesn’t run afoul of the Stay-at-Home order? How can I look after my own mental health, the quality of which has for years depended on being able to locate myself as needed in wide, open spaces?
Under the Order, residents of the county are still allowed to go for a walk in public parks. Indeed, the County Executive has urged operators of public parks—presumably he is speaking to municipalities such as my own, University City—to keep their parks open. To console myself, I think about all of the county’s various parks remaining open. Whether it has been for the purpose of playing disc golf, going for a run, or taking my dog Hugo for a walk, I have spent a lot of time in the parks of University City and St. Louis County over the past decade. One of the parks nearest to me, which I have come to appreciate despite its faults, is University City’s Heman Park.
Continue with this essay about Heman Park...