COVID is over if you want it (well, for some)
Returning to normal is not a light switch for everyone, so please don’t be an asshole about it
On the drive downtown, I realize I don’t have my face mask. It’s far from the first time I’ve found myself in this dilemma, but I’ve been so good at remembering it lately, and it’s annoying as hell when I realize I don’t have a face covering.
This time, though, the annoyance is brief, because where I’m going [Doc Brown voice] we don’t need masks.
At least, I suspect very few people will be wearing masks at “Back Together San Diego,” a ceremony to signify the city’s symbolic “return to normal” because on June 15th, the state lifted all the restrictive measures that have been in place since March 2020. No more social distancing, restaurant or retail capacities, and—with some exceptions—mask requirements.
Yup, if you squint your eyes and pretend that thousands didn’t die, or pretend even more didn’t lose their jobs, or that political virus-related rhetoric didn’t destroy families and cause a shitload of irreparable emotional damage, we’ve returned to normal.
California is back, baby! USA! USA! USA! Awooo [wolf howl]!
The “Back Together San Diego” ceremony is set to begin at 6:30 a.m.—an obvious draw for news stations to cover it for their feel-good morning shows. I’m going because they’ve advertised free “breakfast snacks,” and weaseling my way into free food situations is one of the things I’ve missed most during the pandemic. My “normal,” apparently, is just doing straight-up raccoon shit.
What could breakfast snacks mean? I wonder as I drive to the San Diego County Administration Building. Donuts? Pastries? Ugh, I hope it’s not mixed fruit. First day back to normal, and I’m already having asshole thoughts. I survived COVID and all I got were grapes and honeydew. No thank you.
But I’m sure I’m not the only one having asshole thoughts these days. In many ways, the entire concept of “returning to normal” is an attitude for the selfish and self-serving, and I include myself in that group. As a firm believer in the vaccine (call me a vax stan, if you will) and a healthy human being (well, physically healthy; emotional and mental health is iffy), I have zero fear about packing myself into windowless bars and breathing other people’s molecules.
But I know that my situation isn’t everybody’s. I don’t have kids or vulnerable persons that depend on me, nor do I have underlying health issues. For these selfish reasons, I can be excited! And this is a privilege. It’s not my intent to squander anyone’s excitement, just trying to acknowledge that it takes a lot of blinders to do so.
I walk up to the ceremony just as County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher takes the mic. The scene is rife with news media and adorned with blue and gold balloons. Did the Chargers leave a stash of balloons in San Diego? I wonder.
“This will be a day that many of you will never forget,” Fletcher says to a crowd, mostly just cameras and government employees. There are a few conspiracy theory-peddling droogs behind him holding anti-Fletcher signs, but they can’t seem to muster the energy for any real disruption.
As the face of the county’s COVID response, Fletcher had to make some unpopular calls. It’s not a job that I’d ever wish to have, and I feel like his team made their decisions based on science, which is an attractive quality for those of us who Fucking Love Science, or even just Fucking Like Science.
“I’m incredibly proud of San Diego,” Fletcher continues. “More than five million tests administered, higher vaccine races than any Southern California county, far higher than the state of California, exponentially higher than the nation. We do recognize the loss of life and the hardships endured by both the family members who lost someone, and by those impacted by the measures designed to save lives.”
Fletcher’s speech is brief, but weighty. I briefly let the moment wash over me, and reflect on the sheer amount of cooperation it took to get us here. It’s also worth noting that on the day of California’s re-opening, Johns Hopkins University reports that the U.S. has topped 600,000 deaths, and although he doesn’t mention this grim detail during the ceremony, Fletcher’s speech has an air of dignified gravity that I appreciate.
Then, as if my brain just can’t handle the sheer amount of profundity, I remember what Fletcher’s partner, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, tweeted the day before.
Now I can’t listen to Fletcher’s speech without picturing him and Gonzalez going full-on Bennifer. But who am I to judge? Good for them. If you get a city through a pandemic, you can do all the public make-outs you want, I say.
I make my way through Fletcher’s enraptured audience, looking for the breakfast snacks. I run into my friend Blair, who tells me that all of the food is gone. Those that arrived at 6:30 (A.M.!) apparently received breakfast burritos; Blair tells me she only got a croissant. There seems to be a tier system for order of arrival, she says.
Breakfast burritos?? That’s no snack. That’s a goddamn breakfast, and I missed it. Already this day is a disappointment.
County Supervisor Nora Vargas gets on the mic next, but I don’t hear what she says because I’m busy scouring the craft table for leftovers. Perhaps there’s one last breakfast burrito. This crowd seems very polite and potentially full of people who’d be afraid to take the last of anything, but alas. There isn’t even honeydew.
There’s that assholeishness slipping back in, and I struggle to keep it in. We’re all still trying, I remind myself.
Back in front of the steps of the County Building, Fletcher, holding a pair of large scissors, has initiated a countdown to ribbon-cutting time. If I’ve learned anything from my vast experience at these types of ceremonies, it’s that those novelty scissors are never sharp enough, and it takes Fletcher a few tries to slice through the ribbon.
We’re still trying, I think again.
And there will be a few more months of trying. Reopening isn’t a light switch for everyone. At the risk of sounding didactic, there will be friends who can’t or won’t be able to return to normal for whatever reason, and we need to be patient with them. People will still wear masks in public, and you should let them. Businesses may still request masks to protect their employees, so keep a mask in your pocket when you go out. We’ve all incurred some damage through COVID, and healing takes time.
After the ribbon’s cut, a cover band on top of the double-decker Wonderbus busts out a mediocre cover of Tom Petty’s “Running Down a Dream.” I look around to see if there’s anyone else I know, and see a former boss who—according to his social media—has spent a lot of time during the pandemic attending Reopen California rallies. He’s in the back of the crowd, staring dead-eyed into the middle distance. Part of me wants to know if he’s finally happy, but the other part of me knows that his kind will never be happy, and the past 15 months and the shutdowns and the politicians and the masks will be forever demonized in their minds.
With no prospect of breakfast snacks, I head back to my car. As I circle the block, I pass by the Wonderbus again. This time the band is hacking through a cover of Three Doors Down. It’s not the live music experience I yearn for, but, again, healing takes time.
Later, I visit my favorite Báhn mi shop (Á Cháu in City Heights [thank you, Seth Combs, for introducing it to me]) as consolation for missing breakfast snacks on this supposedly monumental day.
This time, I remember my face mask. Just in case.
Inside, everyone’s still wearing masks, so I slip mine on, too. It’s really not that weird. In fact, in the moment, it just feels normal.
THE WEEKLY GOODS
Go to this
Earlier this year, Casbah manager Ben Johnson’s film Fanboy sold out a few nights at South Bay Drive-In. Well, good news Fanboy er... fans, because Ben Johnson is putting out the film’s soundtrack and commemorating the release with a live performance by Xenos, the fictional band from the Fanboy. The release party/show is happening on Saturday, June 19th at Krakatoa in Golden Hill at 3 p.m, andI really hope Johnson is going to be in character as the psychotic drummer for this performance. I also hope there will be some cold Mexican lagers (watch the movie on Prime if you don’t get that reference).
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Last week, I interviewed San Diego goth icon Javi Nunez, who documented three years of his club night for his new book Hemlock: A Night of Deathrock. I’ve been flipping through it for a few days, and I’m still stunned at the production value that went into it. I highly recommend you get a copy for yourself, so after the Fanboy soundtrack release, head on down to The Casbah on Saturday evening, from 7 p.m. to close, for the Hemlock book release party. And since we’re heading into the heat of summer, I suggest rising to Nunez’s challenge and rock some Tommy Bahama. Let’s make Tommy Bahama Goth a thing.
Listen to this
Without hesitation, I can point to Japandroids and Deafheaven as my two favorite bands of the 2010s. And while I lean on Japandroids to satisfy my heart, I look to Deafheaven to satisfy my mind, because I can’t remember a time when something rocked my concept of what music could do as the first time I heard Deafheaven’s 2013 song “Dream House.” Since then, they’ve expanded, experimented, and followed their own path to become what I consider to be one of the greats. But I’m totally perplexed by their newest single, “Great Mass Of Color.” No doubt it’s a beautiful song but gone is the abrasiveness and the black metal vocals that defined them. Singer George Clark actually sings. I’m not disappointed per se. I like the song, it just doesn’t feel like Deafheaven, unless it’s an album-closer, in which case it’s perfect. What do you think? Is Deafheaven evolving into the greatest shoegaze band of the 2020s? Should I let go of my elitism and embrace this new direction? Sound off in the comments, fam.
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Julia Dixon Evans edited this post. Thanks, Julia. Go follow her on Twitter.