Forty days

March 21, 2020 § 15 Comments

Californians aren’t especially interested in a quarantine, and it’s not because they don’t speak Italian. The word “quarantine” is an Anglicization of “forty days,” or “quarantena” in the Venetian dialect. By 1377, when ships sailed into Ragusa (modern-day Dubrovnik), which had long been a vassal to Venice, they were first required to spend a “trentine,” or thirty days, on one of the nearby islands before entering the city.

In 1448 the waiting period was raised to 40 days by the Venetian Senate, establishing the quarantena that now stands for restricting the movement of people or goods to contain the spread of disease or pests.

As I said, though, Californians don’t really care ’bout no damn quarantine. After the governor issued a shelter-in-place order for the entire state, he admitted in so many words that he was only kidding.

The governor said he didn’t believe California residents needed to “be told through law enforcement that it’s appropriate just to home isolate and protect themselves.”

“There’s a social contract here. People I think recognize the need to do more and to meet this moment,” Newsom said.

“People will self-regulate their behavior, they’ll begin to adjust and adapt as they have been quite significantly.

“Residents can still go out for essential needs as long as they are practicing social distancing and ‘common sense,'” the governor said.

This non-order with no enforcement, coupled with a list of exceptions that includes basically everyone, was on full display today as I utilized what the governor meant by “common sense.” I rode my bike downtown from the South Bay, looped over to Venice, and took the coastal bike path home.

Although the streets were relatively devoid of cars and the air has gotten cleaner each day that the coronavirus rages, there were plenty of people out and about, in cars and out. People were walking, jogging, bicycling, shopping, standing in lines at grocery stores, sitting on bus benches, squabbling on street corners, and trolling the city for eggs. Now that toilet paper supplies have been sequestered or pillaged, people are getting down to brass tacks: Eggs.

What I didn’t notice was any social distancing, even though we stopped at the Food 4 Less on Sepulveda to snag a 10-lb. bag of sugar for my hummingbirds. Along with my lock and hoodie, I ended up with a solid 17-lb. load to haul around for most of the day, but that’s another story. At the Food 4 Less people were snugged up close, jockeying for position in the checkout line and crowded together in the aisles. I am no expert on contagion, but how does social distancing work if you force millions of people into centralized food distribution areas where they can all cough on each other?

Once in Venice, no relation to the city that created the first quarantine, I saw the other result of the governor’s stay-at-home order: Everyone in LA had left home at the same time to meet up on the bike path.

I have seen the Marvin Braude trail crowded before, such as the annual drunkathon that happens on the 4th of July. But a random Saturday in March? There were more people out running, walking, jogging, slogging, trudging, stumbling, bumbling, biking, hiking, weaving, swaying, playing, graying, skating, prating, jumping, bumping, sitting, and in the public toilets shitting, than I have seen ever ever ever.

And although it may have looked like there was some social distancing going on, what I mostly saw were people swapping germs. The biggest germholes were the public toilets, where clots of people sat around and chatted, waited, rested, drank water, and infected one another with the novel coronavirus.

I saw one guy who through his club has a made a huge deal about public safety by not doing group rides out happily pedaling along as if being outside in an overcrowded beach environment weren’t just as bad as being in a peloton. Which brings me to my point: People aren’t going to isolate until there are consequences to it. That includes me.

The whole paradox of this particular quarantine is that by shutting down the economy of LA, it has become paradise. There is no traffic, even though countless people are trolling from store to store in search of eggs. All the Uber and Lyft drivers have parked. There are no diesel trucks anywhere. The air is so clear that I can see details of the LA topography from my balcony that I haven’t ever before seen. Riding back along the bike path I could look up at the PV Peninsula and see actual green patches of lawn, individual trees, and all manner of things typically invisible due to car smoke.

Gazing out at the sea was equally breathtaking. The razored line between sea and sky was so sharp it practically sliced your corneas. Catalina was close enough to touch, and if the urban air was clean, the beach air had been run through a triple-purifier and infused with sugar, it was so sweet.

In other words, telling Californians to self-isolate when they have nothing to do and nowhere to go, when they are awash in pent-up energy, and live in the middle of a visual paradise with crystal clean air and temperatures in the 60s, minus traffic of any meaningful kind, guess what? They are, in the governor’s words, going to “adjust and adapt quite significantly.”

Only not in the way the governor thinks.

One adaptation hit me as I pedaled up Basswood. I heard the weirdest sound ever–a gang of kids squealing and shouting in a backyard. This breaks so many SoCal rules that I should probably list them.

  1. Children don’t play.
  2. Children don’t play outdoors.
  3. Children don’t play with other children.
  4. Children don’t play without adult supervision at all times.
  5. Children don’t yell raucously.
  6. Children don’t catcall passing cyclists.
  7. Children don’t do things without a smart phone.
  8. Children don’t be children.

As terrible as the coronavirus is, don’t mistake it for the bubonic plague; no one else has. That plague wiped out an estimated half of the world’s population and took two centuries to recover from. To the contrary, those not infected with or directly affected by the coronavirus have found themselves at loose ends, a/k/a vacation, and they’ve seized on it the way people do: They go outdoors with family and friends.

I saw so many families out walking and talking–complete family units, not children being shepherded by a nanny. Many of the fathers had that look on their face of, “Oh, this is what it’s like to be around that little kid who lives at my house.” These and other deeply human interactions, combined with the boredom of being at home, are making a shambles of a stay-at-home order that was dead on arrival.

The problem is that the same blase attitude of mine, i.e. “I can go out because no one says I can’t,” is going to ensure that the virus continues to spread exponentially. However bad it gets, and it’s going to get a lot worse, it will never come anywhere close to any of the major pandemics in terms of human death. But the devastation it is inflicting and will continue to inflict on the economy and related social structures hasn’t even begun to make itself felt.

In that interstice between a pandemic that hasn’t killed many in this country in absolute numbers and a torched economy that hasn’t yet spiraled into a depression, people are finding that without work, restaurants, bars, or sports on TV, it’s a heck of a lot of fun to be out and about in LA interacting with your immediate family, or simply riding along the bike path.

Could be worse. And hit me up if you know where I can get me some eggs.


You’re my blue sky, you’re my sunny day.

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