Taking Up Space

I state for the record: I am thrilled that Illinois, and other US states, are reopening after 15 harrowing, soul-sucking months.

But it can be a little weird, right?

Black Friday Shopping GIF by NBC

For starters, I suddenly feel awash with… humanity. Has my expectation of personal space expanded to six feet on every side, and now everyone is just TOO DAMN CLOSE?

Since June 11, Chicagoland has felt a bit like (I imagine) Black Friday at BestBuy. It’s as if I’m surrounded by punch drunk shoppers who pulled an all-nighter waiting for doors to open, and they KEEP BUMPING INTO ME as they race around, shoving stuff into their carts.

Or am I bumping into them? It’s possible, my core strength and balance aren’t what they were pre-pandemic…

Bubble Boy Lol GIF by America's Funniest Home Videos

Maybe we’re all like the Bubble Boy, without his bubble. The CDC is no longer dictating the distance we must keep, so perhaps we just have to re-learn what “normal” boundaries feel like. I hope we figure it out soon. At the moment, it takes two hours of post-traumatic cocooning for me to recover from one crowded outing.

While I’m glad to have restaurants, museums and movie theatres back in full operation, COVID restrictions brought some unexpected gifts I’m sad to give up.

Peace and quiet in the city: For most of 2020, every day in Chicago sounded like Sunday morning. I could hear birds singing and the breeze in the trees, instead of honking horns and car speakers thumping. Sadly, traffic is back. Road rage, too.

Live streaming entertainment: This was an option pre-pandemic, of course, but once I was homebound it became a true blessing.

I discovered Mysterious Chicago via Facebook Live. Its founder Adam Selzer got creative, leading his popular historical tours from his living room — with his cat Miles making regular cameo appearances.

Every Thursday night, I’d pour a glass of wine, slip under a fuzzy blanket, and tune in to Adam via my smart TV (an early pandemic splurge). It could be disorienting, because I’d sometimes forget that I could see Adam… but he couldn’t see me. Once or twice I dozed off while he was talking, and felt guilty about it.

Solstice celebrations at Stonehenge — courtesy of a charity called English Heritage — were another Facebook Live highlight.

Stonehenge has been closed due to the pandemic, and completely deserted – no cell phones with flash, selfie sticks blocking your view or diesel tour buses rumbling by. Tonight I’ll again enjoy the peaceful English summer solstice sunrise at about 10 p.m. Next year, even if it’s streamed, there’ll be crowds at Stonehenge… so it won’t be the same.

It’s a complicated feeling: nostalgia for aspects of lockdown, despite hoping we never experience a global pandemic ever again.

To borrow from Dr. Seuss… I’m glad it’s over and sorry it happened. Except for the drop in traffic noise. I’ll never be sorry about that.

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