Black Friday 2020

Black Friday Shopping
Photo: Public Domain

One of the things I like about Thanksgiving is the gathering of friends and relatives. You spend time sharing and catching up on a lot of things that happened during the year. Kids would be playing together, outside and inside. Laughter and warmth would be the atmosphere of the home as the wonderful smell of turkey slowly cooking filled the air. It had been properly defrosted and brined (brining is an absolute must for a delicious turkey). Some of us would be in the kitchen doing the final stages such as warming up the cranberry sauce made the day before, making the mashed potatoes (often my task), or preparing a nice salad (Greek style).

Sometimes you learn new things as well. A missed item like whipped cream makes you learn how to make it yourself. It is not so hard to do even if you do not have a stand mixer. You do it the old-fashioned way my grandmother did. A chilled bowl, whipped cream, a little vanilla and a large whisk. You stir fast to get those stiff peaks and that it will not easily fall out of the bowl when you turn it over (a test required in culinary school to make sure you have done it right). Once you realize how easy it is to make, those store ones are hardly needed. Those aerosol ones are pretty awful (mostly air and sometimes not even any cream in it-just flavorings!) so making it yourself means some pretty delicious whipped cream for your pumpkin pie.

This year Thanksgiving was very different. Restrictions differed from state to state and even within states. Mandates on how many could be present, mask requirements, having to do it outdoors and more. Some officials even said to avoid the holiday and stay home. It was hard for families, used to visiting with each other, to not gather. Many states are already going back to nearly shutting up again. Once again small business owners are being impacted and for some, I fear, it will be the final blow. They endured months of lockdown and only managed to stay afloat with disaster funds. Some were reopening just as those riots hit destroying the business they had worked so hard to build. Shattered windows, doors busted in, and all the products taken by the mob that had done this. Most just gave up at that point. Signs of “For Rent” or “For Sale” now appear on boarded-up storefronts in many areas.

Black Friday saw thousands storm into stores and malls to shop the bargains. Massive traffic jams occurred keeping police busy directing traffic. News and police helicopters were overhead also watching what was unfolding below. This year it will be much quieter. Most major stores are directing people to their websites to get the same deals they would have gotten in the store. If the store is allowed to open (and that varies depending on state and county), there are restrictions on how many can be in the store. Masks are required and markers indicate where you need to stand for assistance at counters or at checkout stands. Plexiglass screens are up everywhere as well.

Recently I had to travel using our local rapid transit system for a required appointment. It was a Tuesday morning, and the parking lot was mostly empty. The train never really filled up as it made its way to its destination. After I arrived, I walked out of the mostly empty station into what normally would have been a crowded area of people heading to work. It was nearly devoid of people. There were some people about but not many. The coffee shop person indicated that their only traffic now were critical federal office workers from the nearby federal courthouse and government office. The post office, banks and the nearby UPS Store were open but that was about it for the area. With so many offices and businesses closed, they only had a quarter of what was once a booming trade. They had to lay off some staff as well since they could no longer afford them. Money is still quite tight. Now with the prospect of having the coronavirus restrictions extending well into the New Year, it will get harder for the small business owner to stay afloat.

Christmas will be dramatically scaled down as well. Not as many outdoor or even indoor events will be held. Christmas tree lighting will occur but will be streamed instead. Probably a lot of Christmas concerts, stage plays, and ballet will not be held as well (possibly streamed, though to an Internet audience). Every business that used to rely on Christmas events to bring in revenue is going to suffer, both large and small. Some companies will weather it by selling online. Many businesses though cannot do that so easily or at all (like event production companies that create, staff, or build equipment for events). And that will trigger, sadly, a lot more businesses that will shutter triggering more problems for the local and state economies.

When I returned back from my appointment, there had been no extra cars that had parked in the lot. I was just one of a handful of people that got off the train. As I walked the plaza to the parking lot, it was just as empty as it was when I came in earlier that morning. I stopped at the grocery store on the way back. It was fairly crowded but then again it is Thanksgiving week, so people were busy stocking up. I spotted some familiar faces and they indicated they were only buying for themselves and not for the usual crowd they would have over. I mentally calculated that must mean fewer sales of some items. A lot less Yukon gold potatoes, spices, items needed for stuffing, less gravy needed etc.

As I headed home, I wondered how it was we went from a nation that once said: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” to now shutting ourselves down because of a virus. I am not downplaying its seriousness, but something is out of whack here. We rose up from that terrible day we were attacked on December 7, 1941. We rebuilt our fleet, got our industrial sector producing needed war materials rapidly, and got sailors and soldiers trained. By the end of 1942, we had won a decisive victory at the Battle of Midway where we sank four Japanese aircraft carriers. We went on from there to push the Japanese back to their main islands and ended the war in 1945.

Now we are in fear and retreating into isolation. Sheltering in place, nonessential businesses closed, and houses of worship shuttered. Is this the hallmark of a post-industrial civilization that mastered malaria, fought measles, and made polio a thing of the past? We made it through a Great Depression that wracked our country in the 1930’s. Millions were out of work, yet we managed some impressive things like building the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam to name a few. Roosevelt was right about fear and that generation knew not to let fear guide them. It appears that lesson has been lost and giving into that fear will cost us enormously economically and politically as well.