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Academy Boulevard, 5 p.m. on a weekday. One of the busiest roads through Colorado Springs had traffic as scarce as you’d find on a Sunday morning.
This is great, I thought, as I was able, with just a little bit of speed-cheating, to make three green lights in a row. Wait times for a green turn arrow were short. Road-raging motorists were nowhere. This is like the Springs of my childhood, I told my wife, when rush hour traffic actually rushed, rather than crawled, and the hour got over real fast.
But why didn’t my moment of good feelings last? Why did I feel that faint sickness in my stomach as that other organ, my brain, began to tell me something’s not right. Something’s really wrong with my city.
What’s the reason, my brain asked, the streets are so empty? Why do I pass so many restaurants with no cars parked outside? Why does Taco Bell have a long drive-through line but the dining room lights are turned out? Why are the only seemingly booming businesses King Soopers, Walmart, and Sam’s?
Gasoline under $2 a gallon? That’s great, even better than the 30 cents a gallon, adjusted to today, when I got my first driver’s license. My ephemeral elation again slowly dissolved into gloom, though, when my brain got to calculating and thinking: There’s no place to go with all this cheap gas; can’t eat out. Can’t go skiing. Can’t go soak in a faraway hot spring. Can’t visit that big national park northwest of Denver. Can’t go to the Cripple Creek casinos. Wherever I would want to go would be closed.
Not supposed to visit the old folks in the family. Can’t travel to a children’s concert at a school. Can’t stumble up the Manitou Incline trail. No zoo. No movies. No library. No museums.
And all these wide open roads and all this cheap gas were only fleeting flashes of wonderment as I began to think of all the people who don’t right now have a job. All those small and large businesses that are shut, many of them not sure if they’ll ever open again. The small ones, especially. They don’t have fleets of lawyers and lobbyists to grub bailouts from Congress — they’re not too big to fail. They still have rent to pay, perishable inventory to dump, utility bills to fend off.
The experts, those smart fellows from out of town, tell us, some of them anyway, that we could soon be in not a bad recession, but another Depression. Greater than the Great one. Apocalyptic talk of a 50% slash in GDP and 30% unemployment.
You can’t just shut down a nation’s or a world’s economy and expect, as some do, that a couple of trillion dollars infusion from the government will make everything all right again. No matter, say so many governors and mayors and wanna-be presidents, we have no choice. The entire economy must screech to a standstill and people must “shelter in place” in their homes indefinitely, and those that we think might be out on the roads for no good reason, well, we’ll maybe arrest them. Big Brother knows best.
A few lonely voices are starting to say, Depressions aren’t good for people’s health, either. Sure, this nasty virus inflicted is doing terrible things (though so far the daily deaths are still far fewer than those from car crashes and the seasonal flu). And common-sense measures should be followed as our scientists race to find a vaccine and our medical people rush to find hospital spaces as they triage patients.
I know it’s so tempting, for certain politicians usually but not exclusively of a certain political party, to not let this “crisis go to waste,” to feel the thrill of issuing dictator-like, dramatic orders to “shelter in place,” to watch as frightened people meekly fall into line and quake with fear in their homes as they listen all day long (what else is there to do?) to the media hounds on TV yap at them to panic, panic, panic.
It’s still difficult to hear them, amid all the breathless warnings and predictions we’re bombarded with, but I’m starting to notice a few more voices popping up telling us to calm down. Telling us the “cure” may be worse, a whole lot worse, than the disease. Telling us it might be amazingly stupid of us to literally destroy a free-market, capitalist economy in hopes of mitigating the number of deaths from this pandemic.
Some of us might have reservations about our unorthodox president, the one that media is constantly bellowing “never never” about, but honestly I sometimes wonder if I should be thanking God he’s there. Maybe it’s God, maybe just luck, but I’m feeling a bit better knowing the nation’s chief leader is the first in a long time to not give a damn about Political Correctness.
And I know when the day comes again, as I believe it will, that Academy Boulevard is again crammed with cars and trucks, and the biggest rage I feel will be against idiotically timed traffic lights (a fair topic for another time) and rude motorists, I will know America’s working again.
Working — not forgetting the fellow citizens lost and the lessons learned, of course, but once again pumping out wealth for the richest and healthiest civilization in human history.
A third-generation Colordan, Alan Hobden is currently a freelance writer and formerly a newspaper editor, reporter, and columnist.