Tom Clyde: An unnatural calm on the streets of Park City
A friend shot a beautiful video of Main Street this week. While his wife drove their open-top Jeep up the street, he controlled a drone, creating a striking image of the street. It was like the opening of a great movie.
It was also deeply disturbing.
There was no sign of life anywhere. Crickets and tumbleweeds. There was nobody on the sidewalk, maybe one or two parked cars in the whole length between 9th Street and Hillside. Another friend had sent me a still photo of Main Street the night everything shut down, back in March. It was equally vacant and otherworldly. The video was something I couldn’t get my head around.
The next morning, after an unsettled night’s sleep, I got in the car and drove into town. I had to see this for myself because the images were impossible to comprehend. I parked in Swede Alley, not another vehicle in sight, and walked the length of Main Street. I counted five other people. There was a little more life than my friends’ photos showed. They took their photos in the evening, what ought to be the height of the dinner hour. I was there in the morning, when businesses would normally be opening up. That wasn’t happening. The few signs of life on Main Street were people working on buildings. A few places were refinishing their floors, somebody else had a big plumbing project going. The repairmen would have gone home by 5, so my friends’ evening photos missed them.
The presence of a few construction workers was somewhat reassuring, but there was clearly nothing normal about it. The shut down hadn’t hit me with that force before. I’ve mostly stayed at home, and it doesn’t get much more socially distant than out at my house. I’ve ventured into Kamas and Heber for groceries, but have gone six weeks on a tank of gas. Things feel “off” there, but there’s a big difference between slow and dead.
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I finally went to Home Depot for some things I needed on the ranch. The place was very busy. Most customers were wearing masks. But instead of the paper dust masks, or the homemade surgical-type masks, most of the customers wore masks that were more like tactical militia gear. They were pulled up over their entire faces, and with a ball cap on top, only a narrow slit for the eyes was exposed. It was like the store had been invaded by ninjas. Completely faceless, no communication or even eye contact. Just everybody going after their stuff with a strange urgency. At a time when we are supposed to be keeping what feels like an unnatural, even rude, distance from each other, the aisles at Home Depot were so clogged that it was impossible to navigate the store. Ladders, scissor lifts, and random pallets of new inventory were stacked everywhere. To get down the aisle, I felt like we were crawling all over each other. If I get the virus and die, I got it there among the galvanized pipe fittings, despite my N95 mask and best intentions.
The County is beginning to back off some of the restrictions in an effort to spark a little life back into the economy. But gatherings of more than 20 (or 50, I hear different numbers) people are still prohibited. That takes care of weddings, funerals, church in general, movies, sports, and so on. Fourth of July parade? Maybe not. How far apart do restaurant tables have to be to avoid the group at the next table being added to yours, and the next table and suddenly you are over the magic number? Will there be tents enclosing each table with their own HVAC systems? Sick as I am of my own cooking, the idea of going out will take a while to get used to.
At the same time nothing feels normal, the seasonal patterns are on schedule. The river is rising a bit, a seasonal spring that turns a hay field into a mud hole has begun to flow right on schedule. Though they are not exactly the symbol of hope and renewal we’re all looking for, I found some comfort that the turkey buzzards have come back and are roosting on the rock cliffs west of the barn, same as always, like in the Bugs Bunny cartoons.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, the Governor has decided to sound the “all clear” signal and everything is open and back to normal. It’s been almost a month since the tattoo parlors of the Peachtree State were closed. I suppose that’s a real hardship, having to go a full month without getting any tattoo work. So along with the hair salons and bowling alleys, Georgia’s tattoo parlors are up and running. They are required to maintain social distancing. So what do you call social distancing at a tattoo parlor? Darts.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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Columnist Tom Clyde writes that other states forcing people who’ve been in Utah to quarantine could complicate ski season: “Come and enjoy a long holiday weekend in Utah, and, as an added bonus, you get to take an additional two weeks off work.”