Coronavirus in Oklahoma: 'Peacefully dystopian' along Uptown 23rd in OKC
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The weather Thursday in Oklahoma City took a record-setting turn upward to 92 degrees.
In normal times, such a blinding sign of spring beckons music fans, IPA lovers and foodies to places like Uptown 23rd, where lines typically form outside for the concert, patrons wait patiently for whatever the chefs are cooking up in the quirky cafes, and enthusiasts fill the bar patios.
"Especially coming out of the cold season," said Hailey McDermid, who along with her husband Ian McDermid runs The Pump Bar and the Bunker Club. "The whole neighborhood would've been busy."
These are strange days. Revelry has been banned and the government has in essence declared your favorite bartender non-essential.
Before the coronavirus and after a few rounds, you also may have declared your favorite bartender non-essential. He’d laugh and pour you another beer and a shot. You’d laugh and tip him well. See you tomorrow, you both would say.
Nobody knows when tomorrow is anymore. It might come sometime in April.
As the coronavirus continues to spread across Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order that included banning gatherings of 10 or more people, and closing nonessential businesses in counties with confirmed cases of COVID-19 until April 16.
On Saturday, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt issued a shelter-in-place order through April 16.
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"Remember, an empty city reflects a people who love each other so much, they are staying home to save one another," Holt said by video from his home. "The emptier our city, the fuller our hearts."
A couple days earlier as the sun set on NW 23 near N Walker and Hudson avenues, not an Oklahoma City soul was seen taking one last drag outside the Tower Theatre before a show, sipping cocktails inside the Bunker Club or lounging around an outdoor table at The Pump Bar.
Reduced by virus, fear and a community effort to flatten the curve, Uptown 23rd backslid into a glorified alley.
Lights were off. Doors were locked. Sidewalk chairs were chained.
The road itself welcomed motorists heading to and from their shelters-in-place.
For about an hour outside the Tower, only two dogs and a half-dozen people were seen.
Among the people was 35-year-old local musician Chase Kerby, who was out for a walk in a world that looked nothing like it did a couple weeks ago.
“It’s peacefully dystopian,” he said.
Kerby was snapping photos of stores and cafes. There’s a certain beauty when light pours into empty spaces, he said.
He joked that if he wanted go for a walk to clear his head, he'd usually have to trek through his neighborhood at midnight. Post meridiem Thursday, he found a familiar peace at a strange time along a usually noisy strip.
“I’m on 23rd at 8:24,” he said.
Standing near the empty bars and eateries, Kerby said musicians and artists he knows are being hit hard as many of them work in the hospitality industry while trying to carve a career out of their craft.
Nearly one-in-four U.S. workers — or 38.1 million out of 157.5 million — are employed in industries most likely to feel an immediate impact from the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of government data.
Ten percent are in retail trade, and 6% work in food services and drinking places. Combined, roughly 26 million Americans work in those two industries, Pew analysts said Friday.
A 15% reduction in the workforce of such higher-risk industries alone would add 5.7 million workers to the unemployment rolls and double the U.S. unemployment rate from 3.5% to 7%, according to the analysis.
While trying to keep morale up and encourage workers who've become friends, business operators like McDermid have been talking with staff about what they're doing to stave off boredom, the regulars they miss at the bars, and unemployment options.
"A lot of the staff we have — have been here since the beginning," McDermid said. "To see (Uptown 23rd) in this weather and not seeing anybody, this is like going back in time."
On the Tower Theatre marquee Thursday, where upcoming shows normally are posted, there instead was a lyric from B.J. Barham of American Aquarium:
“Tough times don't last, but tough folks do.”