It was a Corona.
As God as my witness, the last drink I served on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, was a Corona.
He was a handsome fellow in his early 30s. REI-chic with a good hairline and the makings of a sleeved tattoo creeping under his short-sleeved shirt. He said he was from Michigan and wanted a “real” beer. Because Keys On Main had less than five people, I took pity on him and sold it without comment.
“No lime,” he smiled. “I’m sure they’re safe but I don’t like citrus touching my beer.”
That was a month ago. That was the last time I squatted down and pulled out the 80 or so bottles locked under the bar. It was the last time I organized each bottle on the back bar in a way only I could ever remember. It was the last time I hauled three 8-gallon buckets of ice from the back of the house to the main well. It was the last time I stocked the beer cooler and organized the walk-in fridge in the liquor room. It was the last time I grabbed the “essentials.” These are the five bottles I stash under the counter in case I get busy: Tito’s Vodka, Peach Schnapps, Watermelon Schnapps, 1800 Tequila, and 101 Wild Turkey.
When the night ended early, around midnight, I didn’t know this was the last time I would be repeat those steps in reverse. I would I have said a longer good-bye to Missy Lynn and Mitch Carter, the night’s entertainment. And I would have hugged Aron Murray just a little bit longer. Aron has been my door guy, consultant, and greatest nemesis for a decade. Like all younger brothers, he’s challenged me since Day 1. We’ve argued to the point of fisticuffs over Motley Crüe, the deficient, Winnie the Pooh, bedroom techniques, the value of a good knife, and why he’s an idiot for supporting Donald Trump.
We’ve argued for so long about nothing in particular we actually came up with a name for it: Shark Hunting. Years ago, I went on an overnight fishing charter launched from the San Diego harbor. Me and a dozen old geezers loaded up and spent 10 miserable hours bobbing up and down in the Pacific Ocean. I didn’t catch anything but a cold. The other fishermen spent the entire time drinking beer and bitching about their wives. Hence, Shark Hunting.
It would have been nice to know this would be the last time in a long time I’d get to go shark hunting with my junior officer aboard the Dueling Piano Warship known as Keys On Main. I know Aron doesn’t read but I know he knows that I know he knows that he’s been a great friend and colleague.
5 Cities • 4 Planes • 3 Days • 2 Time Zones • 1 Pandemic
We should have stayed in Salt Lake. Rudy Gobert had contracted the disease, NBA season was over, NCAA Tournament done, and we had about 4 cans of stewed beets in the cabinet. My wife and I were woefully underprepared to travel cross-country, but a promise had been made. I told my father six months ago we would be there for his 73rd birthday.
The Old Man lives in Worcester, Massachusetts. Pronouncing Worcester correctly the first time is almost as hard as spelling Massachusetts on the first go-around. Pa and his wife, Ellen, recently moved from Avon, Connecticut. He’s a rheumatoid arthritis physician and Ellen manages a managed care facility. They’re both incredibly smart and excellent hosts. Plus, Ellen makes a sour cream chocolate cake worthy enough to risk driving through an Ebola outbreak for a slice.
Frankly, we shouldn’t have gone. Considering how haywire the world had gotten in the previous 72 hours before takeoff, it was lunacy to leave our small home and fly across the country during a pandemic. We had to board our dogs and hope food riots wouldn’t result in our home being looted. But a promise is a promise as Lyft was summoned on our way to the SLC Airport.
Usually it takes 40+ minutes to get trough TSA—it took 3 minutes. I spent more time getting my belt and shoes off then I did getting through the screeners. The airport was a ghost town, maybe 500 people. After getting coffee and taking advantage of every hand sanitizer station, we waited two hours before boarding our flight.
First stop was St. Louis. I can’t remember the last time a Southwest flight was loaded to the gills with people. Traditionally, Southwest Airlines is packed like a prospector’s donkey heading out into them darn hills. Instead of being stacked like cords of wood, nine deep, on every row, there was enough space on the plane for every passenger to have their own seat. In fact, every passenger had their own row!
And the flight crew was acting bizarre. They weren’t snarling at us or throwing bags of pretzels to distract the passengers. They made eye contact and reframed from using profanities when asking how much Shasta diet cola we wanted. Even the ice was cold. It might have been the best Southwest flight I have ever taken.
We landed in St. Louis early and this is where things got spooky. Lambert International was abandoned. There were more employees in the airport than passengers. Imagine walking off a plane into an abandoned airport and the only thing you see are Cardinals caps for sale. We found a bar, drank a couple of local microbrews—Bud Light—and eventually boarded the next Southwest plane to Hartford.
I was beginning to see a trend on our adventure. Each plane we took on this trip had less people then the one before it. Salt Lake City to St. Louis to Hartford. Hartford to Baltimore to Salt Lake City. All four flights were essentially empty with less than 70 people on them.
We were told repeatedly to wash our hands and keep as much distance between one another. When you’re flying on a massive cigar tube in the sky, this is virtually impossible. We were breathing the same air.
Back to the Beehive State
I wonder about the next time I’ll get on a plane. It was supposed to be this morning. We had tickets for Pearl Jam in Denver. It was going to be a 36-hour whirlwind trip, but Eddie and the Boys smartly cancelled the show. They’ll make it right, but it sucks not to be walking throughout Denver daring each other about buying edibles.
We still have tickets for Italy. Can you believe it? We booked a dream trip starting in Venice and ending up in Rome. Erin and I have talked about visiting Italy together even before we started dating. I’m not sure how it’s going to work out but we have until August 25 to figure out how to get our money back or risk flying to Europe’s boot. It’s hard to be disappointed considering how apocolypic the people of Italy have had it. Italy will survive and conquer this fucking virus. When they’re ready for us, we’ll go and celebrate Italy.
COVID-19 is a son of a bitch. For those directly affected by the virus, I’m genuinely sympathetic. I can’t imagine what Rudy Gobert went through but if it’s half as bad as what Chris Cuomo has endured, it wasn’t a picnic. For the 88,000 people dead, my heart goes out to the families and friends. To the thousands of health care professionals, the world collectively owes you a beer.
And I’d be remised if I didn’t recognize those non-medical, essential workers who are keeping us together. Specifically, grocery store employees and the DABC. When we got home from the airport, there was a mad dash to get food and supplies for the house. Holy smokes, I was shocked when I saw the shelves bare. It wasn’t like anything I’ve ever experienced. You forget how lucky we are to live in a time and place where you’re not a hunter/gather.
If there was ever a reason the minimum wage should be $20 an hour, this is it. From the bakery to the meat counter to produce and all points in-between at the Harmon’s, every employee deserves a salary increase and hazard pay.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Less people listen to me these days. That’s because I’m staying at home. Sure, I walk the dogs early in the morning, but I’m not grocery shopping twice a day. I’m not crowded Millcreek Garden Nursery. I’m not golfing at Forest Dale. My job is to stay the hell out of eyesight. And if you can, so should you.
I’m incredibly grateful that we made the trip back East. I don’t know the next time I’ll get to see my father again. Add the fact that I got to spend time with my brother, Mike, and his two boys, the juice was worth the squeeze. Now it’s time to continue hunkering down and keeping socially distant.
I’m certain we’re getting through this together. Wash your hands. Stay healthy. Stay safe. Keep on keeping on. Be kind to your family and call your mother.