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Word on the Street: The New Abnormal

Steve Campbell

I have to say, County people have responded well to the coronavirus pandemic. Keeping a six-foot distance is clearly marked on the floor of the LCBO, which, thank God, is one of the few places open.
And, if you’re going to have a pandemic, and isolate yourself from the world, you need only two things: TV and booze. And, according to some people, enough toilet paper to last you til Christmas, at a mean average of 200 toilet visits per day per person.

This has, so far, been something of a learning experience for people around the world. Here in the County, we’re about as safe as you can be in times like this.
Friends of mine got a rescue flight out of Spain, and went into self-isolation. In typical County fashion, friends and family take orders and drop food on their doorstep. Friends returning from the South are doing the same thing.

At time of writing, most businesses are shut down. Part of this is in caution, partly because the provincial government ordered the shut-down of all non-essential businesses, and partly because the streets are vacant, and customers are not banging on the doors … they’re at home watching Big Bang Theory and getting wasted on rum.

I’m probably the safest person in the County. I live alone, I drive alone, and I work alone. At least for now.
Hopefully, most of you have someone else in your household to talk to. Maybe a husband, wife or, God forbid, kids. And, with any luck, you haven’t killed them and buried them in the back garden, because you’ve spent 14 days self-isolating, and you wish to hell you could go back to work, because you’ve never spent that much time with them – even on vacation – and you suddenly become aware that they are really annoying when compressed into unending 24-hour days.

When I get an occasional phone call at my shop, I answer with “Grrupllo”.
People say, “Oh my God! Are you sick?”
“No, I just haven’t spoken out loud in two days.”

I’m sure you’ve noticed this, but when I walk out at night in the Bustling Town of Picton, I hear … nothing. Total silence. Not a car, or a bird … I’d pray to hear the sound of a coyote in my back yard. But no. Except when the Picton United Church bell chimes the time. It alerts me to the passage of time and that, maybe soon, we’ll be able to look back on 2020 as Virus Spring, and get back to normal.

Remember when things were really hectic in your life, and you said: “I wish the world would stop for a while, so I can catch up.”? Well, that’s a ‘Be careful what you wish for’ event.
What we are going through now – and if I have to explain it, you haven’t been paying attention – is something of a reset button.
As the dinosaur I am, I fought against globalization, back when Mulroney said it was our future. Outsourcing jobs to China, and shutting down Canadian manufacturing did not, to me, seem to be a way to build a better Canada. Just a good way to get cheap goods. Because here, as in the U.S., a strong economy of Wal-Mart shoppers is better than paying those blood-sucking Canadian workers.
I mention this because the concept of globalization has been a benefit and a curse.
We are now a global community and, from an economic viewpoint, it’s a big game of chess: International trade and co-operation, with the exception of the buffoon next door.
The trouble is, as we have just found out, the access to the rest of the world, brings the rest of the world home to us. And, this time, not in a good way.

Most of us in Canada, and especially here in the County, are combatting a Superbug brought to us from the other side of the world. And we’re doing it with dignity, and care for others.
This is a war. A war against an unseen enemy. Trudeau’s federal government responded quickly, and Premier Ford – yeah, that’s right, the guy whose greatest accomplishment was giving us a buck a beer which I can’t find anywhere – turned into a proper leader. A crisis turned him into a statesman. Who knew?

As Spring weather starts to bring its thoughts of rebirth to the County, everyone is looking ahead, to see what the summer might hold. I’m optimistic, but that’s my nature. I fall down a five-step flight of stairs and thank God it wasn’t a 12-step set of stairs. My brother Rick was something of a pessimist, and he described an optimist as someone who puts on his seatbelt before he starts the car. Get it? Because an optimist assumes the car will start!

It’s amazing how most Canadians were instantly on board with the Health Canada rules: Safe distancing, handwashing, masks, etc. But Canadians are like that. They do it, not out of fear, but out of caution. And that incredible ‘help thy neighbour’ attitude which defines Canadian culture. We don’t just act to protect ourselves, but to protect others.
If you’re like me, the ‘new normal’ is already firmly entrenched. It now freaks me out if someone comes within six feet of me. In No Frills, where the aisles are marked with arrows (which make you go up the cereal aisle at high speed, so you can go down the soft drink aisle) you still occasionally need to pass someone who is paused while trying to decide between the Shreddies and the Cheerios. My New Instincts stop me cold, and then I paste myself against the opposing cookie shelf, hold my breath, and creep by.

The point of this rather disturbing behaviour is that we have absorbed the most important lesson to be learned, with a tip of the hat to Covid-19. Close contact, hugging and handshaking are now part of the past. Actually, I never cared for much of that to begin with. Fortunately, I’m graced with a personality that does not inspire people to hug me, and mothers with small children will bustle across the street if they see me approaching.

There will be a time, soon, when it will be business as usual. As you know, business people in the County are hurting badly and, when shops re-open I sincerely hope that you turn your back on Wal-Mart and shop locally. As Joni Mitchell said: “You don’t know what you got til it’s gone.”
Making a business survive in the County is hard at the best of times. There’s a lot of hand-wringing out there now, as most local businesses are tapped out in the winter months, and have no guarantee that the Summer that keeps them alive is ever going to happen.

A lot of people have been extending a great amount of thanks to people hurt by this crisis. It re-evaluates our need for medical pros, hospital care, food suppliers, truckers. We should never forget that. Now we call them the Frontline Workers. They always have been, and maybe we occasionally need to be grabbed by the shoulders and shaken before we realize how fragile our community – and our country – is. And how dependent we are on each other.

If there’s an upside to this, my hair is as long as it was in 1968. My mom hates it, but I told her I can’t find a barber with six-foot arms.
We are truly all in this together and, as Blue Rodeo puts it: Lost Together. But we’ll find our way out.

  • Steve Campbell is editor and publisher of County Magazine, and the author of several books, including The County Handbook: How to Survive in Prince Edward County.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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