St. Patrick’s Day, Salt Lake City, and COVID-19

photo of gas masks

Tuesday March 17th is and was St. Patrick’s Day. It was for all accounts just like any other St. Patrick’s Day except:

There was no parade. All the bars and taverns were closed. And there was literally no people around, let alone wearing green.

I went to work like I always do, I work 4-10’s, so I have Saturday’s, Sunday’s and Monday’s off, so Tuesday is my Monday. Going in to work was pretty much like any other day that I have gone in to work. Traffic was pretty much the same as it always was. Same volume of traffic and same speed.

Getting to the job was uneventful, but from there everything started taking on a bit of the surreal.

First off, we had a meeting, which isn’t unusual at all except that this time it was held in the warehouse instead of in the conference room. All so that we could keep that 6 foot “social distance” that has been recommended. Most of our meetings tend to drag on far longer than they need to, but not this one. From start to finish, we were done with it and checking our trucks to begin our day in a half hour. Most of the time the meetings will drag on for an hour or more.

Once I got underway, I noticed that traffic was lighter than usual for a Tuesday. I was at my first job shortly after 8am, and traffic was as light as it would be at 6am. Maybe even earlier.

Tueday’s I’m downtown. The heart of Salt Lake City. Tuesday mornings you’ll usually find the Trax system (our light-rail trains) packed. Same with the city buses. And of course, all of the cars. Tons of them. And let’s not forget all of the people on bicycles and on foot. Downtown Salt Lake City has become much more friendly to foot traffic over the last ten years or so, but Tuesday March 17th, 2020, it was literally deserted.

There were only a small handful of people on Trax and same with the city buses. Car traffic was light to say the least. For the first hour, from approximately 8am to 9am, there were literally no pedestrians other than the homeless population wandering around. They reminded me of pigeons looking for food. There were a couple of people walking to and fro, going to their destinations with their heads down, staring at the pavement. Everything was hushed, everything was subdued.

Doing the jobs on Tuesday was interesting as well. Some of the customers had closed up because of COVID-19. Some had signs on their doors and windows stating this information. Some didn’t. Their offices were just locked up and the lights were all off. The only way that I knew for sure that they were closed and people were working from home was because of passers-by telling me that the people were working from home until further notice. We are in interesting times.

Most of the customers that were still around were friendly enough. Everybody was doing their best to make the best of the situation. Jokes were made, smiles were on several faces, pleasant hello’s were exchanged. But there was a palpable uneasiness underneath it all. The uncertainty of everything. And it’s not just about the virus.

We are definitely living in interesting times.

As the day went on, I figured that traffic would pick up. It didn’t. Many businesses have changed their hours. They are starting later and closing up earlier, if they aren’t closing down entirely. On a positive note, parking was a dream. Usually I have to fight to find somewhere to park in the downtown area in order to do my job, and that’s because parking is limited and is at a premium. There’s usually cars and other vendors taking up all the spots. But not this Tuesday. This Tuesday, everywhere I went, there was plenty of parking to be had.

The St. Patrick’s Day parade that would have gone down through the heart of Salt Lake City, and would have been right in the middle of where I needed to do my job was either postponed or cancelled entirely. No parade, no people to watch the parade.

Everybody is “going to ground.”

On a “regular” Tuesday I usually get done with the route around 3:30pm or 4pm. Not this St. Patrick’s Day. I was done by quarter to two. That’s what happens when several of the customers are closed down and parking is a dream. You can definitely get shit done.

Some of the customers that I talked to on Tuesday told me they were closing down and working from home until this whole thing is over. Many of them will be implementing this as of Wednesday the 18th. Several others are staying open for the immediate future but are seriously considering closing down and working from home as well. I guess time will tell.

I can only imagine what the next days and weeks are going to bring. We definitely are living in interesting times.

It was a little unnerving going past certain landmarks that are usually open for business. The Eccles Center, which does a lot of plays, operas, and other live action events is closed, reopening….sometime in the future. All their banners are gone, all the marquees are put away or blank. Other than the newness of the building, you would think that it hasn’t been inhabited in a couple of decades. And it’s only been closed since Friday the 13th. That’s five days from the time of this writing. That’s it. On another note, the local gun stores had their doors wide open and business was booming. Same with the grocery stores, apparently people haven’t finished with their runs on toilet paper.

A majority of the little independent small businesses in the downtown area are closed. Add some boards to the doors and windows and that image would be complete. Many of them have signs on them saying “Now Hiring!” I imagine that has been put on hold for the time being. What a hell of a way to kick off spring.

Salt Lake City will survive COVID-19, from what I gather the mortality rate of it isn’t as bad as other things that are happening every day. But I do wonder about it’s economic future. You take a small mom and pop business and shut them down for a couple of weeks and I can imagine that that would be hard to come back from, if they do at all.

From closed down bars, eateries that are only doing pick up, delivery, and drive up service; from major arts and entertainment spots being closed, to non-existant pedestrians being on the street, making Salt Lake City a hushed ghost town, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens during the days, weeks, and months ahead.

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