The Last Day Outside / Thursday’s Journal

text and photographs by Telo Hoy
Thursday, March 12, 2020

The last day I will remember before self-isolation. News continues to shake the world moment by moment, updating in real-time the details of how life is altered in every country. The pandemic has continued to spread widely into every culture. I wonder if the internet will continue to sustain our connectivity. If we will have the money to pay for it. If we will have the money to feed ourselves. If we will continue to be defined by money. If money will cease to exist because it will all be spent trying to keep the world from unemployment, recession, and poverty. If governments will collapse trying to sustain their peoples. If people will begin to see past money; money will no longer be able to define their lives.

I spend the mornings of the last week overly following the developments of the coronavirus spreading across the Earth. On Thursday afternoon, my partner and I meet friends at a bowling alley. The televisions of the bowling alley on and buzzing; the NBA cancels its season. ESPN is the only channel until Governor Pritzker began his daily press briefing. The briefing is projected on the wall above bowling pins, muted, with no subtitles. 

A few other die-hards are here, aiming for strikes that will be the last for a while. The bar is still open, a small bottle of hand sanitizer hiding next to the taps. People are eating chicken wings with messy fingers. The news continues to roll in, as I hear employees laugh about “corona.” 

Even this last outing seems risky. The bowling balls might have the virus on them! Friends and I order a pitcher of beer. I discover my new found anxiety of watching the bartender pour the beer, wondering if her hands touch the rim, if she has coughed or sneezed. 

A hand-sanitizer dispenser at the arcade bar greets our entrance a 5pm. A friendly bouncer checks our I.D.’s and we continue into the empty bar. We play air hockey, car racing, and pac-man. Normally these games are taken up by enthusiastic arcade players. Despite the odd time of day, the transitioning world has already created emptiness in the arcade.

The coronavirus sends us all inside indefinitely. I wonder how every human being is affected. I pour across the news, looking for the effects of COVID-19 in Burkina Faso, Singapore, Seattle, New Mexico, Iceland, Illinois, New York. It reunites our humanity into a global struggle, while continuing to underline our divides; how each human uniquely struggles with the disease. Our moral instincts are turned upside down when going to the grocery store could mean life or death. Perhaps these interconnected discrepancies have always existed and “corona” only helps define them.

Since that day, March 12, 2020, the world outside is quiet, yet only slightly. The streets and skies are more fully empty – absent of their usual plane/car sonic clutter. Simultaneously, sidewalks are still full, the working-from-home’ers take their walking breaks throughout the day. We are locked down with an unlocked door. Images from Paris, Italy, and Spain circulate the internet, of European city streets ghostly empty. Chicago contains a different reality, of citizens confined to a neighborhood, but not to a home. Will this be enough to contain the coronavirus? The question everyone wants answered – along with, “when can we go back to normal?” I’m uncertain each time I encounter city sidewalks with their usual filled capacity. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020 

Two weeks confined inside. The amber alert appeared yesterday afternoon, the Lake Front is closed. More extreme measures of social distancing are required. The previous day, Wednesday, we bike along the lake front with thousands of others, congregating. Hopping police DO NOT CROSS barricades to continue their bike rides on the warm day of sun. We follow, hop the concrete barrier, protecting the eroded path from walkers and bikers. The police nearby don’t stop us. They are huddled in a group circle, all within two feet of each other, not six. We bike South, towards downtown. The flashing lights behind us appear, we try hard to listen to the loudspeaker. “Please continue moving!” – “I think that’s what they said?” We continue South, then turn around shortly thereafter. The undercover cars with blue flashing lights continue towards us, slowly. We go North, past them. I stop, attempting a few photographs. The lighting is bright and flat; difficult to capture the sea of people attempting to get their vitamin D despite the dire need for social distancing. Further North, we reach the first barrier POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS. An officer is present, “turn around folks, the path is closed.” We continue North, back to the house. 

The next day I go for a run on the path, except this time heading North, then South. I notice a squad car circling the small roads near the lake. I notice the orange cones, then more squad cars making their way towards the entrances of the lake front, then park crews putting up barricades. They’ve closed the lake front.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

New routines become accepted now. We’ve been in this new era for about a month. Today, walking in the bright foggy 8am sunlight, the neighborhood feels alive. Inhabitants are outside, roaming, starting their day. Nothing has changed and everything has changed. It’s hard to tangibly notice. Inside we live a life plugged in, wireless frequencies connecting us globally – non-physically – the virus has denied us that. Outside, we wander with a force-field of 6-feet on all sides. I remember the advice to hold my breath when passing by another person. Seriously? I wonder, but yes, it’s a good idea. 

The difficultly of waking up fades. Before, I feel the dread, sadness, of the world in pandemic as I wake. Now I’ve normalized this feeling – despite the continued stories of individuals in much more dire circumstances than myself. This week’s Chicago Reader has the title: “Staying home may not be heroic, but it is.” Last week there was no printed version. This week there is, we wonder if touching it to read is safe, yet I am desperate to read something off the computer screen. 

The heroism of doing nothing is a new way of thinking, forcefully imposed over the last weeks. It goes against our previous philosophies. How can we help others if we stay home? How can we be human without face-to-face interaction? I still run in the mornings, trying to keep my distance while feeling cruel for skirting other humans. A man says “good morning” while from a distance, another apologizes for his dog barking, “she’s stir crazy these days.” I respond, “me too”, under my breath. 

Vital interactions, even from a distance. The spontaneity creates humanness, community, joy. I fear that the pandemic will push us further along the path of digitization, virtuality, impersonality. If our worlds become more and more a stream of ideas catered to our individualities, how do we change? On the other hand, I hope that this social experiment will remind us of the value human interaction. We cannot live without it. 

NOTHING HAS CHANGED AND EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED.

IT’S HARD TO TANGIBLY NOTICE.

We FaceTime with friends for the first time today. It feels like a hangout, yet the silences in the call remind us of the awkwardness of a silent phone call. Thursdays are the days of progressed events. Today the world hit one million cases. It was bound to happen. We talk with friends who live only a 20-minute walk away. They are drinking, enjoying themselves. How do we continue to socialize? Can we call this socializing? We discuss those less fortunate than us, without safety nets in place. The times we wake up and routines we strive for vary. I feel like a workaholic in comparison, but it keeps me sane. A routine, early morning for no specific reason. 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Today was quieter than past Thursdays. A good friend celebrated his birthday, over digital pixels. A sleepy morning rise. I clicked on my new bookmark; a map of coronavirus cases. Deaths worldwide today look close to 100,000. The world has adjusted. The news has slowed, there are less new stories on the virus. While new perspectives lurk under the surface of state and federal press briefings. Stories of grocery and pharmacy workers working without protection, physically or financially, gain intensity. Continued attempts to project the total deaths, total cases, and end point. The radio broadcasts from home studios.

I’m worried about next week; the Thursday progression. We hear that Illinois virus cases may peak on April 16; another Thursday.

Telo Hoy is a composer/percussionist and photographer from Santa Fe, NM based in Chicago, IL. He is also the co-founder and an editor of The Documentarian.