Dear old Dad had his eyes on an abandoned drive-in restaurant near our Catholic Church on what was once Oklahoma's major north-south highway. When the traffic moved to the interstate in 1959, fewer cars traveled on Porter Avenue. Car dealers moved west. Restaurants, too.
The drive-in property had speakers on each parking space that allowed customers to honk and place their orders. His idea was to make a drive-in confessional so Catholics didn't have to get out of their car if they were sick or hadn't cleaned up for the day.
He even had the sign picked out. "Toot and tell, or go to hell."
That just might sell today as we are all struggling to find some normalcy and even some levity in the face of a pandemic.
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In the grocery store, shoppers keep their distance. Eye contact is rare, too. Early one morning, I found myself in line buying ingredients for a key lime pie to take to a small dinner party. (Just six of us, thank you).
The Homeland clerk guesses on just what I'm making with Oreos, extra creamy Cool-Whip and frozen limeade. Great project for a stay-home day, he says.
The shopper behind me has a grocery cart full of champagne and orange juice.
"I'm working from home, too," he jokes.
• • •
It's an eerie, uncharted time in our world. Yes, it's spring break but the streets are nearly vacant on the weekend when tanned students return and hunker down for year-end projects and tests. St. Patrick's Day at O'Connell's on Campus Corner was limited with no more than 50 revelers inside at a time. When the rain finally let up and the sun came out Thursday afternoon, there was a rush of folks venturing out. They brought their dogs, too.
It's unlike a tornado, ice storm, range fire or flood which we have all witnessed here in Oklahoma. Those generally involve first responders and power companies and have a beginning and an end. The Coronavirus is unlike anything we've confronted.
It's also all encompassing. No one is immune. Anxiety is growing. When will we get back to some sense of normalcy?
• • •
Neighbors, keeping their distance, inquire about each other. At Walgreens, a customer came in looking for the driver of a silver Toyota. "You've got a really low tire," he told the elderly woman who was directed across the street to Firestone for help.
The oldest Americans seem more prepared. Some lived through the Depression and know how to save and make use of what they have on hand. Their freezers are often full, they have vegetables and fruits they canned and can stretch a few items into a meal.
Those shoppers who hoard toilet paper and cleaning products should be shamed in the grocery store line. In his book, "Our Kids," sociologist Robert Putnam writes of parents that worry about the success of only their children, often at the expense of other kids. We see that playing out among adults, too. Buy big quantities for yourself while others are left with little to purchase.
• • •
The pandemic has already taught us a few things:
The world is much more connected than we want to believe. Travel and commerce between countries is more commonplace now than at an time in our history. A century ago it took so long to let others in the world know about the flu pandemic that it was over and started again before some countries learned of it.
My children have heard me say many times they can stand anything for a little while. Self-isolation is fine for a few days but human interaction is necessary to feed the soul and remind us of our shared humanity.
God willing, this, too, will pass and we will return to some sense of normalcy. History will judge us not by how much toilet paper or Clorox we stored in the garage but how well we took care of the most vulnerable among us.