How coronavirus-weary Americans are seeking joy

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Wednesday, May 22, 2024

How coronavirus-weary Americans are seeking joy
Families visit a drive-in movie theater in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., March 14, 2020. The spread of the coronavirus has cut Americans off from each other, but some are using the opportunity to enjoy more simple pleasures. Saul Martinez/The New York Times.

by Audra D.S. Burch

FORT LAUDERDALE (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Americans were sunning themselves on beaches just days ago. They were sipping cocktails at bars. They were cheering on sports teams and working out at the gym. They were chasing culture at museums and cutting a rug at clubs. They were trying to get lucky in Vegas, and romping through Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth.

No more. Closed, canceled, quiet.

Americans have shut themselves off from each other in a dramatic fashion in hopes of curbing the global coronavirus outbreak. The days of cutting loose are gone. Unless it’s 6 feet apart.

No ice cream parties.

No yoga classes.

No cocktail mixers.

No bingo.

No nothing.

But some are redefining what it means to have fun, savoring simple pleasures in the midst of so much gloom.

Empty hours and canceled plans are what led the Kasens to one of America’s remaining drive-in theaters in Fort Lauderdale, for back-to-back nights. Philip Kasen, 68, had planned to catch a Marlins spring training game in Jupiter, and Adrian Kasen, 70, was headed to a spiritual retreat farther north in Fruitland Park.

No spring training.

No spiritual retreats.

“I am in charge of our entertainment. All of a sudden, we had to rethink what we can do,” said Philip Kasen just after pulling their blue compact car into the parking lot for the 8 p.m. showing of “Bad Boys For Life.” The night before, they saw “Onward,” Adrian Kasen announced while unpacking a bag stuffed with hand sanitizer, pretzels and candy.

“There are no sports to watch, which hurts, so we were trying to come up with something we could do without putting ourselves at risk,” said Philip Kasen. “We were looking for a safe space.”

At this frightening and uncertain time, Americans of every generation — from preschoolers to pensioners — are now looking at weeks, possibly months of no recreation, at least not out in the open.

The outbreak has led to questions unimaginable just a month ago: What is fun in the age of a pandemic? What can one do safely indoors or outdoors? How does a play date work 6 feet apart?

“People are trying to navigate this collective challenge by reimagining what fun is while being clear about the serious nature of this,” said Tracy Sturdivant, 43, who runs a social impact firm in Brooklyn and spent much of last week crowdsourcing safe things to do with her family.

Her husband, Victor Hamilton, has rediscovered an activity from his childhood that helps fill the hours: coloring in sketchbooks.

“From the people at the bars who are like, ‘whatever,’ to people behind drawn curtains and everyone in between, we are just trying to figure out what it means to practice social distancing,” Sturdivant said, ticking off a list of events canceled by the outbreak, including her son’s soccer practice, a birthday party and a gala.

As the virus marched into every state, cities and towns across the country shelved crowd-drawing pastimes to enforce social distancing, the single best way to break the chain of transmission, according to health experts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged people to stay away from crowds of 50 or more. President Donald Trump slashed that number to 10 and asked Americans to avoid bars and restaurants altogether. The message was loud and clear: stay home, stay away from your favorite places.

And yet, the crowds still gathered.

Chicago’s huge annual St. Patrick’s Day parade was canceled but that did not stop partyers from chugging green beer at neighborhood bars and pubs. The white sand beaches of Florida have remained packed. A former Nevada beauty queen and political candidate defiantly wrote on Twitter about her recent adventure to a hamburger joint.

“I just went to a crowded Red Robin and I’m 30,” wrote Katie Williams, a candidate for the Clark County School District board of trustees in Las Vegas. “It was delicious, and I took my sweet time eating my meal. Because this is America. And I’ll do what I want.”

Those heeding the call to stay inside and “flatten the curve” are improvising, following the rules while trying to savor little moments of joy.

In Italy, the center of the outbreak in Europe, residents in a neighborhood in Rome sang songs from their balconies and windows to cheer each other up. In America, new communities have popped up online, showcasing live musical performances, hosting playwriting competitions, leading virtual dance classes.

Groups of friends are watching their favorite television shows and movies together over FaceTime. A zoo in Cincinnati has a live video feed of its animal exhibits for children who are now home from school to enjoy.

Megan Ledbetter’s social calendar usually includes evenings and weekends at house music sets, ecstatic dances and art shows. She had plans to go see her favorite DJ spin house music at a downtown Chicago club, but that was before Illinois’ governor began imposing serious restrictions.

“I wanted to support the artists who will suffer, and I am already feeling cooped up,” said Ledbetter, 39, a criminal defense lawyer.

With so much of her entertainment postponed or canceled, Ledbetter spent the weekend with her 7-year-old daughter, Portia, and ex-husband, inside her house, a safe distance from others.

The boredom gave way to a kind of creativity.

They built a fort made of furniture, cushions and blankets. They tried a simple sewing project, stitching a satchel. They came up with a new game using Portia’s collection of stuffed animals.

“I have a young daughter so I have to stay in as we have been advised,” she said. “But the thought of not being able to do the things I do socially, and not knowing when this will be over honestly gives me anxiety.”

Dolores Bsharah went to her last exercise class at a senior center in Livonia, Michigan, last week.

“With everything shutting down, it feels like our world got really small really quick,” said Bsharah, 86, who meets her friends — including a 98-year-old — at the class several times a week. “Of course you are disappointed, but you also understand it had to be done.”

Bsharah plans to fill her days with neighborhood walks and baking Irish soda bread. She has also embraced a bit of spontaneity.

The radio was recently playing pop music when she walked in her family room. No one was watching. She decided to dance.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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