Friday evening, as we have been doing regularly for the last seven years, we nestled on our couch and called our friends for “virtual” cocktails — the cocktails are definitely analog. I indulged in a Plymouth martini, yeah, it was awesome.
In 2013, when a move took us further away from our friends, we determined that we liked our cocktail time, but hated the idea of designated drivers, so began having martinis over FaceTime, cheersing the camera and trying not to spill gin on the keyboard or phone.
It was a great way to relax at the end of the week. Our kids thought we were quaint (and old, I’m sure.)
Not quaint anymore is it?
This Friday was the same as the last 100 times we’d “gotten together” and so very, very different. And very, very hard to say goodbye. What we’d thought of as a different way to be with friends was now going to be the normal, if not only, way to share time with friends and family.
I know you’ve experienced these moments during the past week — a week that seemed like it lasted at least a month.
“Safer at Home”
Sunday, my morning ritual of coffee and the print edition of The New York Times was abruptly interrupted when I got a heads up that Nashville Mayor John Cooper would be issuing a “Safer at Home” order that instructed non-essential businesses to close and for Nashvillians to stay at home. Makes sense to me — my wife, who is in treatment for cancer, and I have been “social distancing” since March 11, but the order did not identify news media as an essential business.
A few expletives may have been audible, for which I apologize. When I reached the mayor by phone, he said that, of course, media was included as an essential business. The nice thing about the mayor is that he is shot through with sincerity, and I believed him when he said it was an oversight.
“We’re not perfect,” he said.
Nice to have a mayor that picks up his cell phone even when he does not know the number calling and is straight forward with answers. We’re pretty lucky to have folks like that in charge.
The decision to force folks to stay home is not an easy one — for us at FW Publishing, for our cities, and our states — but these are scariest times I think any of us have lived through and the game plans that worked in past crises are of little use today.
I am typically not a fan of surveillance capitalism, but props to the Times, which put together a remarkable interactive story that shows how the COVID-19 virus spread from its origins in a Wuhan, China market.
“The most extensive travel restrictions to stop an outbreak in human history haven’t been enough,” the story in the Times said. They analyzed the movements of hundreds of millions of cellphones to show us why.
It was absolutely worth the time to read, and a great example of why our industry is an essential one right now. Our “official” sources of information are not so easy for everyone to find or remember to access. I know our staff, our publications, and our friends at other media outlets are hustling every moment to get our readers and our community the information it needs and asking the questions that should be asked — because they're "not perfect” and our officials need help to get information out.
OK, so you know that I think we’re essential, big surprise, but really the essential businesses for most of us right now are our grocery stores. And I think the most important people in the country are the checkout clerks at them. People are afraid that the next time they need something it won’t be there, and the folks at the checkout are our frontline to containing fear. So, thank you to these oft-overlooked folks, and also to all the people who are keeping our shelves stocked as best they can.
And grocery stores are about the only place where we interact with people we don’t know (six feet apart of course). Those interactions are, so far, markedly civil, but I have to share one experience.
An older gentleman, who was wearing some brand-new gardening gloves, came up to me in the produce section and started a conversation. He asked me if I knew how many people were going to die from this virus.
“Too many,” I said as I tried to keep my distance.
He was freaked out because he’d been told by a “very knowledgeable” friend that 75 million Americans were going to die. To which, I said, “Very unlikely."
I told him what we’d been reporting from the Tennessee Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization.
“Oh, in the media,” he said angrily. “You’re the problem.”
I know we’re not, but that attitude was made stark when I watched President Donald Trump’s briefing on Friday where he lectured journalists and lashed out at Peter Alexander from NBC News.
I am glad to be dealing with elected officials in Tennessee who know none of us is perfect and that we are each trying every moment to manage the unthinkable.
Thank you for reading. Stay safe, wash your hands and remain positive.
Frank Daniels is president of FW Publishing, the parent company of HomePage Media Group, Nashville Scene, Nashville Post, and Nfocus Magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.