The View From 2050

Class!  Class! Let’s settle down!  Kelly! Not now, please!… I’ve told you all week…. One more giggle and I’ll have to revoke your Zoom passwords… You know there is no laughing in school.

OK… this week we’re going to look at when your parents or grandparents were high school seniors like you and the impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020 on the American culture. 

We’ve already discussed the book by Thomas Brokaw’s grandson, “The Weirdest Generation” and Dorothy Goodwin, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s granddaughter, “Empty Streets, Jumbled Minds”, which you read the week before. 

Today, I thought we’d look at a few artifacts of that era.

On the screen is a picture of something you may find mystifying. Any ideas? Hilary?… No, that is not a group of teenage prisoners… It’s a group of students in something called a “Class Room”. I’ve included it and the other new terms for you in your virtual notebooks.

A “Class Room” was a big room, 5 or even 10 times the size of a living room. There were in large buildings – sometimes groups of buildings called “Schools”  – in which dozens of students gathered in dozens of “Class Rooms” for the sole purpose of learning. 

Students sat next to each other, sometimes just a few feet apart. No, Becky, I’m not kidding. And they only wore face masks at Halloween.

They would meet in these “Class Rooms” instead of on a Zoom screen. There was a human teacher – someone something like me – who would talk to students and explain subject matter, much as I am doing now – only not as well we robots do, of course. 

And while they were in “Schools”, guess where their parents were? In these buildings. They were called “Offices” or “Office Buildings”, and like their kids, parents would spend all day sitting a foot or two apart, doing the same thing parents do now from home. It was called “Office Work”… 

Molly? …. Yes, you’re absolutely right. It was a very much more expensive, far more dangerous from a health standpoint, as well as inefficient time-wise, because they all had to get there and later go home. But in addition, think about the amount of energy they used compared to the tele-learning and tele-work of today. The efficiency in that era was very, very low.  

There was no such thing as tele-college either. Colleges were actual places, as big as small towns. There were far more “Class Rooms” than in a high school, but also “Dormitories” – actual buildings where students lived, two or three to a room. No. I’m not kidding. In the same room… No laughing, Haydn!

What’s that, Tommy? Yes, but lots of things our grandparents did seem stupid now. That’s progress.

OK… Anyone recognize this?

Korwin? Yes. That is a “Mall” or “Shopping Center”.  

Think of it as a small, Amazon-like thing. There were thousands of these around the country.

You know that apartment complex in King of Prussia? That was a “Mall” once.  And inside were places called “Stores”.

What were “Stores”, Katie? Well, think of really mini-mini-mini-Amazons. One might sell clothes, another candy, another car parts, another  furniture, another groceries.

Sometimes these “Shoppers” would also stop at a restaurant for lunch or dinner…

Oh, I forgot… Yes, thank you, Katie. A “Restaurant” was a place where people would go to eat meals, which they…  OK, hold on…I know this can be confusing… let me review. 

“Malls” were simply tiny Amazons containing lots of “Stores”. Surrounding the “Malls” were spaces called “Parking Lots”. “Shoppers” would leave their cars in the “Parking Lots” while they went into the “Mall” and then into “Stores”. Sometimes, if they were hungry, they would go to “Restaurants” which were next to “Stores” inside the “Malls”.

After the Covid19 Pandemic closed all the “Malls”, the “Parking Lots” were turned into the vegetable gardens where we now grow our organic produce. 

Any questions, comments? You’re right, Harrison, it’s a lot to digest all at once… No laughing, Haydn!

OK. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about your grandparents’ social lives. 

We’ll see pictures of people actually sitting next to each other and cheering at football games and other sports events, as well as going to concerts, political speeches, even religious services. It was a very, very different time.

We’ll learn about how they would actually touch each other, about “Shaking Hands”, “Holding Hands”, “Kissing”, “Hugging”, something called “Dancing” and how they used sex to make any old kind of babies, instead of just calling Amazon’s sperm bank and specifying the kind they wanted.

No laughing, Haydn!

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)

Venturing Out From Isolation

He decides to go for a walk. It is sunny and warm, with a slight breeze, the kind of day nature promises all winter and then, just when we’ve given up hope, delivers. 

The trees show off new leaves, shrubs sparkle with bright blossoms, and white daffodils celebrate the green in newly awakened lawns. Birds sing a wide variety of songs, each unique, each melodious, and all, somehow, blending together in perfect harmony.

He passes under a blue jay sitting high up on a wire. Suddenly, it screeches and darts down at him like a fighter jet. He ducks and the blue jay misses by inches. There must be a hidden nest. 

He strolls along a sidewalk, alone. Cars and trucks, which normally streak by in a noisy hurry, are nowhere to be seen or heard.

50 yards ahead he sees a lone pedestrian coming toward him. When they are a few yards apart the pedestrian veers into the middle of the empty street and offers a distant, “Good Morning”, without stopping or looking at him.  

He passes a park with a “Closed” sign. It blocks a playground usually packed with laughter and shrieks of joy. The swing sets and slides are now wrapped in a bright orange plastic lace, the kind that is used to fence off snow in the winter. Today it fences off children.

Empty benches face the play area. An older woman sits on one of them, looking off into the distance.  He waves to her, but she doesn’t notice.

He’s reminded of a line in Kris Kristofferson’s song, Sunday Morning, Coming Down,  “a small kid cussin’ at a can, that he was kickin’”. There are no kids here today, no cans and no cussin’. 

The only cussin’ is from grownups arguing about how we got here and when we’re going to get back there. 

The leaders in past national traumas, like WWII, the Polio Epidemic, or 9/11 didn’t bully or threaten; they calmed, united, and inspired us.  Now, we don’t just have a corona virus to face; we have a red/blue virus, this one exacerbated, not by nature, but by a petulant bully. Our petulant bully.

Which one is scarier? Yes.

The sidewalk bends slightly away from the street toward the river, which glistens and slaps against the banks, oblivious of the empty sidewalk. As he walks by a flock of seagulls pecking the grass, they startle and rush up into the sky, effortlessly arcing away from him.

He passes a young man in dirty clothes sitting at a picnic table, alone, motionless, head on his hands. Is he sleeping or passed out? Is he homeless, hopeless, or both? 

Three, not two, mallard ducks waddle and quack past the table and the man, unhurried, toward the water.

We have to halt our lives to survive the coronavirus, thinks the man, but flowers and shrubs and grass don’t. Pigeons and seagulls and ducks just go about their day.

He passes an older man, portly, on a bench under a WWII statue, reading a tattered paperback. A rusty grocery cart is by his side, overflowing with a sleeping bag, groundcloth, clothes, and more books. A half-dozen pigeons compete for crumbs near his feet.  

He offers the man a $5 bill.


“You’re welcome.”

“Can I ask you a question?”


“They close the park so homeless have nowhere to go. Do they ever wonder what the homeless will do now? Do they wonder when the homeless will start robbing people?”

“I guess… I don’t know.”

He thinks about the national divide, not red/blue, but rich and poor. Is it survival of the fittest or the greediest? He thinks about the man vs nature conflict, which, as the planet heats up, is generating new threats, including the coronavirus. Is that about survival of the fittest? If so, nature isn’t isolating; humans are. 

An older couple, holding hands, comes toward him. They laugh gently. He steps into the street and they actually look at him and smile as they pass.  

He stops and turns to watch them.

He remembers a dream from last night. Whoever she was, she had held his hand the same way and lightly kissed him. It has lingered all day.

On the way home, he passes silent streets, closed stores, and very few people, but plenty of trees, flowers, shrubs, pigeons, seagulls, and ducks. The blue jay is still on the wire, guarding the nest.  

He crosses to the other side of the street and continues on alone.  

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)

Stupid vs Smart

In 1793, shortly after the Revolution and millions of years after T-Rex faded into history, the US had its first pandemic. Our population was a little over 3.9 million. Philadelphia, the nation’s capital, lost 5000 people, one tenth of its population. 

The illness caused high fevers. It turned people’s skin yellow and their vomit dark with blood. All who could, including George Washington, fled the cities. Whole families died. All they could do was cover their faces with cloth (sometimes dipped in camphor or vinegar) and stay away from each other.

Their reasoning was as sound then as it is now: there was no treatment and no way to prevent the “Yellow Fever”. The only thing they could do was isolate from each other. 


Oh, and the cause was similar too: a virus, which was identified in 1900 by army physician Walter Reed (yes, that one). He called it an “ultra-microscopic” organism.

So, let’s review: the country was swept by a mysterious, deadly, and painful disease, there is no cure and no preventative, so people isolated and covered their faces. And saved lives. 


There have been numerous world pandemics since, including the Spanish Flu of 1918 (which actually originated in Kansas, but that’s another story). Then, as now and many times in between, when there is no cure and no preventative, the only solution has been to isolate and cover your face. Which saved lives.


(Actually, I think it was a pandemic of asteroids that sent T-Rex and his buddies packing. I guess they didn’t know about self-isolating or covering their faces.)

For the last few months, as the coronavirus pandemic started sweeping the globe, our leaders chose a different solution: isolate the truth and cover your ass.


T-Rump people were briefed about pandemic protocols by Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice before the 2016 inauguration. Two years later, they dissolved the pandemic committee that the Obama Administration had set up.


T-Rump was informed of the pandemic in January. Soon after he told the country, “It’s a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for.”

Rather than order tests, ventilators, PPE’s, and other supplies, he told us, “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”

While South Korea and Germany took the same information and acted on it, saving thousands of lives, T-Rump said. “But we have it so well under control. I mean, we really have done a very good job.”


Going along with him in one way or another have been governors from southern and western states including Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arizona, and South Carolina. Incredibly, Georgia re-opened beaches just the other day.

Part of their reasoning was that local jurisdictions should decide.  That would work if, say, you could put a moat around a county, city, or town, keeping out all of those with the virus. But we don’t have moats! 


Several pastors across the country have defied governors’ orders and invited everyone to church. I’m sure they’ll have good explanations for all of their faithful who die as a result.

Governor Kemp of Georgia learned – just the other day, which everyone else knew two months ago – that people without symptoms can pass the virus. 

And Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards just had no idea – no idea! – that Mardi Gras crowds in New Orleans could trigger a city-wide coronavirus outbreak.


Fox viewers say that Democrats trumped up the pandemic (full disclosure: I chose the word “trumped” deliberately). 

Despite CDC warnings, T-Rump is not just touting an unproven treatment for the Coronavirus, he stopped his own Coronavirus expert from cautioning about its deadly cardiovascular side-effects. 


T-Rump and supporters parroted his desire to re-open the economy early, thereby insuring even more dead people.

It’s all stupid, especially when compared with how earlier leaders all the way back to Washington reacted. 

But you know what’s even more stupid? 

We elected this stupid, narcissistic, failed businessman (6 bankruptcies, over 3500 lawsuits in the last three decades), with zero government experience (beyond whom to pay off), and a reality show punchline.

When we need “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” or “The buck stops here”, we get “I don’t take responsibility at all”, and “You’re fired!”

And thousands of unnecessary deaths. 


But you know what’s smart?  Self-isolating and covering your mouth. Saving your life and those of others. Washington and the first Americans did it. We can, too.

And let T-Rump go the way of T-Rex.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)

Navel Gazing and the Coronavirus

Usually when I call my kids and they don’t answer, I assume it’s because they’re talking to the CEO of their company or on the subway or flying to San Francisco for some real sour dough bread… something logical and believable. 

Now, with isolating in place, I know the awful truth: their cell phone batteries need recharging.

I’ve been eating the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner for two weeks now: my own cooking. 

On the other hand, I’ve been binge-watching Twilight Zone, Mash, Gomer Pyle, Cheers, 30 Rock, and dozens of other old TV shows on channels like METV, COZI and H&I, which is fun.  

Of course binge-watching these TV channels takes a lot more perseverance than watching Netflix, Prime, or Apple – “streaming services” – that weren’t considered possible in even in The Twilight Zone. Nope. This kind of binge-watching involves setting the alarm, ignoring phone calls… staying awake… 

The good news is I don’t have to skip bathroom breaks; these old TV shows have commercial breaks which are filled with pharmaceutical commercials. That’s because the (other) viewers are old and great consumers of drugs.

The commercials don’t offer help with the Coronavirus. Sadly.  

The good guys always won in those shows. There’s something heartening about that, about good always winning over evil.

These shows have also been fun because, when they first ran, I was either working late or letting my kids control the TV (it was easier than arguing and I was really tired!) And because I’m isolating without grandkids, no one laughs at me for watching these shows. Good vs evil is so old school.

Who ever figured that, with all the advances in medicine that we’d be doing what cavemen did: hiding in our caves from the enemy?  

Who ever figured that, after centuries of bending nature to our will, humans would be the only things in nature to suffer from this pandemic?

Sometimes I imagine animals, plants, insects, fish – all parts of nature we overpowered – watching us with a  “Payback is so-o-o-o much fun!” smirk on their faces.

Do you suppose buffalo, for example, which were killed by the hundreds of thousands, are laughing a little right now? “Hey Corona! I hear you really got those humans! Cool!”

Do you suppose that human beings, just about the only species who kill for the fun of it, are being killed by an enemy for the fun of it?

So much irony, so little time. 

We humans evolved into the ultimate pack animals. But now the only way to be safe is to unpack – to isolate. Sticking together, the trait that has always helped us survive and conquer, is now helping the enemy kill us. 

As a result of working together, humans have been able to over-consume natural resources and cause Climate Change, but in so doing, create the most powerful human enemy yet, viruses.

Gollye-e-e-e, Gomer!

On the other, other, hand, we’re a lot more capable of dealing with this pandemic than we might have been even ten years ago, because an evolution we created has given us a lot of tools we never had, tools that will help preserve our packability.

We can “tele-doctor” instead of going to the doctor’s office. We can “tele-work” and “tele-meet”, while wearing business tops and pajama bottoms. We can “tele-school” and actually show the teacher the dog that ate the homework.  We can “tele-friend”, even across continents – and with software to translate different languages. 

We can gather together via Zoom, Skype, Face-Time. We can attend business meetings, concerts, religious services, even family dinners (and, if the computer is positioned right, we can even skip the broccoli). 

We can do everything but touch each other. And not being able to touch each other is not much of a sacrifice when you consider the alternative.

Maybe self-isolating isn’t all so bad, after all. It gives us a break to do a little navel-gazing. 

And thinking about how we got here.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)

The Human Touch In A Time of Isolation

In an earlier life as a producer/director, I did a piece on an old folks home. 

As the crew and I were criss-crossing the place shooting “B-roll”, we saw an old couple sitting in the sun, holding each other’s hand on the surface of a table, dignified and content, but not conversing. The unspoken intimacy was arresting.

When I asked to get a shot of them, the woman nodded OK. When we passed by a second time and saw them still quietly holding hands, I asked if they would do an interview. She smiled and shook her head.

We saw them several times that afternoon and each time they were silently holding hands, looking peaceful and grounded. 

They are in their own world, I thought, happy together. They had clearly said everything they needed to say to each other and had experienced everything they needed to experience with each other, except for one more touch of the other’s hand.

I thought of them today as I hunkered down in the face of the Coronavirus.

We are are pack animals, you and I, along with the rest of humanity. We band together in times of joy and sorrow, peace and war. If you doubt me, check other pack animals, dogs for instance. Their version of holding hands is snuggling, especially when they’re sleeping. Humans do that, as well as hug and hold hands. We put an arm around a shoulder, slap a buddy on the back, high five each other, etc. Touch is part and parcel of being human.

Shaking hands, which began hundreds of years ago to demonstrate not having a weapon, is second nature. Or was, until now. Elbow bumping is the new handshake – Oops!- or was. Now, even that is discouraged because it breaks the six foot rule.

Something as natural and instinctive as holding hands – with your lover, your child, your grandparent, your friend – taken away by this pandemic. Wow.

Of course, that won’t bother non-touchers, germaphobes, for example, or landed gentry types. Or people from cold climates. My guess is they don’t hold hands a lot in Arctic, but who knows? Maybe they just keep their gloves on and go for it. 

In old western movies, instead of shaking hands, Native Americans – “Indians” – would hold one hand at ear height, palm facing out, and say “How”. Please note: it was not “How?” or “How!”;  just plain “How”.  

I have no idea if that was a real custom or something thought up by Hollywood, but it was in a lot of movies.

When I was a kid, Bob Hope starred in a movie called Pale Face. At one point an “Indian” holds his hand up to Hope and says, “How”. 

Hope says: “-do you do?!” 

I thought that was about as funny as funny gets. (OK, you can laugh, too. No-one will ever know.)

Maybe “How” could replace the handshake! Um, No.

Until we conquer the Coronavirus, the human touch will be a thing of the past, like the two-step or “bussing” (that’s kissing in old people talk). 

I don’t have any great ideas for what could replace the human touch, especially with the six foot rule. I guess we’ll all have to use our words better than we once did. Maybe a few more “I love you’s” would help. But that’s very one-dimensional. The human touch covers so much more.

One night, when my oldest daughter was about five, her mother and I were putting her to bed. “I love you”, we said as we turned out the lights. 

“I love you”, she replied, as usual.

Then, emphatically, “And I like you!”

That touched us almost as much as one of her hugs. It’s been a family saying ever since. 

I’m not suggesting it as a replacement for holding hands or an arm around a shoulder, or an old fashioned kiss. But using words like that might be a start. 

Beyond that, I guess I’ll just remember the intimacy of an elderly couple quietly holding hands in an afternoon sun.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)