On March 5, a person who works at the Ralph’s grocery store up the street was on lunch break, and told the person behind the quick-sushi counter that a third person had come into the store last night and bought nineteen cases of water: “Not nineteen bottles. Nineteen cases. It’s like she was preparing for the apocalypse.” The person behind the quick-sushi counter laughed. When the first person left to return to work at Ralph’s, the person behind the quick-sushi counter turned to a fourth person, who also happened to work there at the quick-sushi counter. This fourth person was informed that all of this is nothing: “The regular flu is much, much worse,” their co-worker said.
On the following day, there were three people wearing face masks inside Home Depot as they shopped for household repair or maintenance items. The phone rang at the returns desk. The person working at the Home Depot returns desk answered the phone, and after speaking with a second person on the other end of the line, whose voice could not be heard, the person working at the returns desk turned to a co-worker and laughed, and said, “Mark and I have a bet going. Every time someone calls about masks, he owes me a dollar.” And then the two Home Depot workers laughed together.
A day after that, the weather outside was gorgeous; a glorious California morning.
One day later, at the local hardware store, which has excellent prices on large 64-fluid-ounce jugs of Hummingbird Ready-to-Use Nectar, not to mention excellent customer service, a demure sign in the checkout line informed shoppers that “all N95 respirator face-mask purchases are non-refundable.”
The next day, which was March 9, you could walk into a Starbucks and see that they had prepared and mounted very professional-looking signs informing people who liked to reuse their environmentally-friendly reusable Starbucks cups that they would no longer be able to reuse those cups at Starbucks.
A day later, there seemed to be fewer people on campus than one would normally expect to see, or at least it felt that way; but upon encountering an acquaintance there, my hand instantly darted out to shake their hand, and it was only after my hand had finished shaking this other person’s hand that the recent advice given to the public about not shaking people’s hands popped back into my head. Neither of us commented on the lapse, but suddenly the mistake seemed palpable.
By that Wednesday, March 11, it was announced that our campus would be closing. Leaving class, I caught a glimpse of a tall young person dressed all in black: black boots, black pants, black shirt, black jacket, black bandana, and a black mask across the bottom half of their face. It was unclear to me where they were heading, but they were walking in a very slow and deliberate way, in no hurry at all.