By Ken Trainor
We're a couple of weeks into lockdown/quarantine/sheltering in place. How's it going so far? What do you miss? Perhaps more interesting, what don't you miss that surprises you?
I miss going to the movies, the Lake Theatre first and foremost, with its tantalizing menu of options on the dazzling new digital marquee, set in the bones of the old marquee. The Lake has always been the neon hub for the Ferris wheel spokes of the downtown business district to revolve around. I like walking past the marquee even when I'm not going to a movie — though not so much now that it's closed, which it has never been before in my memory. Open every day for decades, amazing. I miss Shaun taking tickets and the smell of popcorn and the lines out front, and the movie posters promoting what's there and what's to come.
I like seeing films with friends, but I don't mind going alone. The big screen in a dark space is a much more enveloping and absorbing experience than watching TV in your home. I miss the communion of it, hearing other viewers' reactions. There is nothing quite so reassuring as group laughter and even the occasional gasp or a whispered, "Here's my favorite part" coming from the row behind. And following the credits, taking a mint from one of the brave staff whose job it is to unclutter the theater floor after a showing.
I miss seeing people in restaurants at night, the warm glow within, diners engrossed in conversation. Another kind of communion. I miss Winberie's in particular, that gentle beacon at the corner of Oak Park and Lake. They closed before the virus arrived but would have shut down anyway with the pandemic, so their decision looks prescient now.
I don't miss going out to dinner. A 20% markup on your meal (tip) and being gouged on a glass of wine turned me off. All restaurants should be BYOB, and workers should be paid a decent wage.
I miss having dinner at home with friends. For people my age, dinner parties rise to the top of the list of entertainment options. Less expensive (and better) wine flows (for those who want it), as does the conversation, and you can stay as long as the host allows. No pressure to vacate the table except to move into the living room. The meal is usually a collective and lively affair. The culinary quality is at least as good and the variety much better. So are the acoustics. And the laughter. And the storytelling. Dinner with even one guest elevates the occasion.
I don't miss traffic and crowds. Driving is fun again, or at least more relaxing — even on Lake Street in Downtown Oak Park with the most poorly timed lights in the entire Chicago metropolitan area. You can now find parking spaces there, believe it or not.
I sure don't miss rush hour. Even Harlem Avenue isn't busy at 5 p.m. And I don't hear the honking of horns at the Oak Park and Pleasant traffic light from high-strung commuters desperate to get home after a long day at work and regretting their poor choice of a short-cut.
I don't miss the busyness of business, the relentlessly revved engine of economic activity, and the noise from trucks, buses, trains, motorcyclists, ambulances and fire engines. The frenetic pace was exhausting. We needed this break just to show us another way.
I don't miss the myriad events and our hyper-scheduled lifestyles. Too many options. We no longer have to worry about what we're missing because nothing much is happening. I love the openness, the release and relief of it, never fretting about what I might be forgetting. There isn't much left to be late for.
I miss the Oak Park Public Library, where I find most of my DVDs from their vast collection for at-home viewing. I miss having breakfast with friends at Hemmingway's Bistro with sunlight streaming through the tall arched windows and the French feel of the place. I miss meeting friends for coffee, tea and catching up at Live Café or Courageous Bakery. I miss going there alone and writing while watching the village flow past as I gaze across the street at Scoville Park and the simulated mountain range of the library building.
I miss spending time with friends face-to-face, unmediated by computer screens, never giving a thought to what vicious virus might commute from one of us to the other.
I miss spending time with my grandsons most of all.
When I take a walk, I hear cheery hellos from passersby as they veer off onto the parkway grass to give us a little distance — aware that we could be deadly to one another. But also aware that social-distancing is more than distancing. It's also being social. Two women chat on a street corner with a careful separation of at least 6 feet, making me ponder: What is the optimal distance between two human beings?
What we're seeking isn't shelter so much as sanctuary, a place of sacred safety. But we're also seeking communion.
Generally, though, the new normal of social-distancing is not so radically different from my old normal. I've lived alone for many years and spend a fair amount of time solitary, if not in confinement. A writer benefits from enforced isolation. Makes us more productive. But we also benefit from creative communion. I miss the balance.
My CD and DVD collections are getting more use. I'm eating better and less food is going to waste in my fridge. And if I had a full year of this situation, I still wouldn't exhaust the list of uncompleted projects that have been guilting me from the back burners for years.
Life is short, but it feels longer when you're in confinement. That's not such a bad thing. This unprecedented situation provides a golden opportunity to examine how we've been living and assess what changes might become permanent once this is over.
In important ways, it might even be good for me — and I hope for you as well.
What do you miss — and what don't you?
Answer Book 2019
To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2019 Answer Book, please click here.
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