Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: if your city’s like ours, and I know ours is, you had some protests and riots damaging your complacency back in May. Odds are you’re still seeing some combination of activity, activism, and/or action. Things seem quieter here in our own hometown of Indianapolis, though it could simply feel that way because local media have lost interest in encore performances and have moved on in their never-ending search for new hot topics to captivate audiences burned out on the old ones. In the daytime, at least, things have demonstrably calmed down.
Working downtown was awkward after the initial wave of protests and riots. Our workplace enacted several temporary changes for our small coterie of in-office staff. We had to come in for earlier shifts and evacuate downtown every day before nightfall. Our parking garage use was limited to upper levels only, no ground-level spaces in case of solid throwing arms marching by with lit Molotov cocktails. And most awkwardly, we were asked not to walk around downtown. At all. We parked, we worked, we left. I had to transfer my weekly comics-collecting habit to another shop away from the short-term ground zero. Lunches were even provided for us so we wouldn’t need to risk fetching them…out there.
That tension has since subsided and those measures have been lifted. Now all we have to worry about is The Virus, its unwitting carriers, and its penchant for sabotage.
Tuesday afternoon was my first time venturing into the downtown open air since all that. It wasn’t an exhaustive investigation of our surroundings for the sake of hard-hitting journalism or composing tone poems about What It All Means. Three of us went to go fetch lunch at the mall. I’m an hourly employee, not salaried, and didn’t have time for lengthy anthropological wandering. Also, I was really hungry. I took a few photos on our way there and back again. My companions graciously tolerated my occasional lagging behind.
At 12:30 p.m. the streets were mostly deserted. A few places were plying their wares under Phase 4 of Indiana’s official middle-of-pandemic reopening plan. (At least I think we’re on Phase 4 of the governor’s five-part plan? Subject to change without notice.) So far our daily infection rate is…well, still deplorably above zero, but at least our rates aren’t quote-unquote “EXPLODING” like some larger states we could mention. I’ll regret mentioning that if too many stubborn Hoosiers totally blow it and things have to shut down again due to rampant viral manslaughter. I’m definitely not relaxed enough to get cocky about it.
Our masks came in handy at the food court, where half our fellow takeout customers went without protection. The restaurant had Plexiglas barriers in front of every register, the new standard for multiple service industries. The menu was pared down to bare-bones options. All chairs and tables were gone. Half their competitors were lights-out. A few corporate franchises vied for the same attention, with mixed results.
By and large, everyone stayed away from each other in the spacious standing-room-only waiting area. My companions and I chatted amiably, each at a weird remove, while awaiting our food. The uncovered faces interspersed throughout the area sported nary a smile among them. For some, going out to lunch is no longer a friendly activity.
The mall ambiance didn’t help. Some storefronts have closed more permanently than others. Those that survived aren’t exactly teeming with zest or zeal. To be fair, though, the mall was faltering long before the pandemic. There’s only so much we can blame on The Virus.
I normally bring my lunch to work. I’m not ditching that routine anytime soon, especially not for the sake of limited menus. Regardless, I was glad to have an excuse to get some exercise, to enjoy a sunny day, to socialize with coworkers, and to regain some slight semblance of awareness of my surroundings.
I see a lot of healing yet to be done.