I went down to my workshop in Half Moon Bay—I essentially abandoned it in March—to clean up, organize, and prepare it for new work.
When I had left the space I had just finished shooting the images for my project The Trial for which I had purchased three or four newspapers each day of the impeachment trial. No one really cared much for Trial TV or Twitter Trial. It was boring and the conclusion was foregone not just at the beginning of the trial but way back on September 24th when Nancy Pelosi at last announced that the House would begin proceedings. There was no chance of getting a conviction in the Senate though the process of trying reaffirmed for everyone in the country, no matter their ideology, that everything they knew with absolute certainty to be true was in fact absolutely true.
But nothing much interesting happened during the trial, nothing much newsworthy. The newspapers in my piles, it was clear as I looked through them, were having trouble finding ways to keep it as the main headline. It was that boring.
Trump’s trial started on January 16th and finished up with an acquittal on February 5. And as the impeachment trial progressed there was another story, one that was having trouble getting onto the front page, though it was about to drown out every other story in the world.
The Wall Street Journal started featuring reporting on the virus in China first. You can see them starting to realize its importance while the other papers were still pushing impeachment. Some days it was on the front page, beneath the fold. Some days it was on an inside page somewhere. After a while the other papers started to follow the Journal, started to realize that this wasn’t just a Wuhan thing.
But their indecision is clear. They couldn’t decide whether this was a big story or not. They were all blind to what was coming despite all of the predictions for years and years. You can blame Trump, and should, but all of our institutions were failing to see the true danger. You can see the first signs that the WHO and the CDC were about to destroy their own reputations.
USA Today even unveiled a greatest-threat-to-humanity special issue on global warming during this time, true in fact but ill-timed as an effort to capture and sway public attention.
The pandemic had gone on so long now that we are already forgetting. Toilet paper is back in stock and probably won’t run out again, usage never increasing at all during the virus’s rampage and supply now recovered from the surge of buying in the Spring, basements safely stocked with extra rolls. N95 masks never came back in stock and won’t. Formula 409 has been long gone in my part of the country but is readily in stock in the same formulation with different labels. No one seems to notice.
Remember the Grand Princess, the plague ship circling off the California coast, a ship without a country, waiting for permission to dock? The Trump administration didn’t want its virus numbers to go up by a few dozen but the virus was then arriving by the truckload with every flight from Europe. We all worried about Trump, that we would make it through unless there was some major crisis, a war, an earthquake, a pandemic. Then his incompetency and that of his sycophants would take us into some dark new world of dreadful possibilities.
Well, we drew the pandemic card. It could have been worse, I suppose. It can always be worse.
And it will be. Fall is here and then the winter. The Pandemic Winter of 2020, it may be called in years to come. Most of the deaths in the Great Epidemic of 1918 occurred during the winter, as people crowded indoors during colder weather and as people grew tired of the restrictions, complacent of the danger. Citizens in later years will look back amazed at the reception for soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Barrett with no masks or any attempt to mitigate the danger in sight, a super-spreader event underway on camera. They will look back in disbelief at an election night gathering at the White House, the president claiming voter fraud while his supporters cheer, again unmasked and packed tightly together indoors, the news coming out today, nearly a week later, of the inevitable spread of COVID-19 at that gathering.
But there is hope and more than just hope. The first vaccine is all-but-announced and others will quickly follow. As is normal in drug development the first batches are already manufactured and ready to ship within hours of FDA approval, although now on a greater scale and with greater urgency. The doctors and nurses will get theirs over the next months, the elderly next on the list, then students.
By March—one year after I closed my studio—I hope to have the door open again, open to the curious, open to the warm spring air and the sunshine. Our springs here on the coast can be glorious and this one I know will be especially so.
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