going back to normal, but normal might not be there to greet us

On Saturday afternoon I went to the Starbucks at Mary Brickell Village for a big strawberry Refresher and I took that big warm sugardrink down the block to Brickell City Centre, where I used to go every single day to either drink coffee or work as a busboy, but I hadn’t been there since March.

            It was sad to be there.

            So many places have gone out of business in just the past three months. Most of them are designer stores, selling fancy handbags and watches and things like that, so I don’t suppose they make many transactions in a month, right? There’s one place in particular, a watch store, where it was a big carpeted room with almost nothing on the walls and just a single table at the center, with a chair on either side, where one customer at a time would be brought in to examine different watches and, presumably, to buy one for a four- or five-figure tag.

I sat at a table outside Dr. Smood and drank my Refresher and did a little writing and afterward I went for an espresso at Pasion del Cielo and I took it to an outdoor table right in front of what used to be my job and I sipped it and stared at the now-blank storefront of what used to be The Big Easy, where I’d worked as a busboy and food runner from the first week of December to the middle of April, when they closed their doors for good. The restaurant next door to it has gone out of business too. That one was called American Harvest. I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere.

            Walking around the mall afterward I started listening to Bob Dylan on Spotify and when “The Times They Are A-Changin’” came on it made the whole trip more depressing. Blank storefronts make you think of jobs lost. The benches where people once sat and idled or took selfies have all been removed. On doors and walls and floors you see signs telling you masks are required, only four guests at a time, please stand six feet apart and wait here for service and “Due to Circumstances…”

It’s haunting. Only so many people are allowed to be in a given place at once, and they can only be there for so long, and menus are limited and hours reduced and the staffs are all smaller so the service is slower—none of this is calamity, of course, these are measures that need to be taken and I do think we’ll all get through this in pretty OK shape.

But it doesn’t have to be a political statement to observe that the whole thing is incredibly lonesome.

This past Saturday, on a ten mile walk through Coral Gables and back, I saw the blank storefront and torn canopy of what used to be my favorite bar in Miami, John Martin’s Irish Pub, which closed in April (they were allegedly planning a big blowout in May but decided to just cut their losses once the quarantine began), and as I kept on walking North, up Miracle Mile, I was shocked (I’m just as embarrassed by those italics as You are) to see that the Miller’s Ale House had closed as well. I felt so dumb to find myself gaping on the sidewalk, suddenly overwhelmed with emotion, “what the fuck”ing under my breath, over and over, tryna peer through windows. Between those two bars I probably spent a thousand hours chatting with friends over the past few years. Making friends.

            I guess the past 24 hours have given me a heavy impression of what a changed place Miami will be when the pandemic is over. That we’re all so eager to get life back to normal but maybe normal won’t be there to greet us.

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