S.G. Browne

Signs of the Times in the Age of Social Distancing

So we’re 10 days into the Shelter-in-Place directive for San Francisco that was put into place on March 17 and eventually extended to all of California just a couple of days later. Nearly two dozen other states have followed suit, with calls for social distancing included whenever we’re out and about for essential items, or because we need some fresh air and exercise, or because some of us are complete idiots. But for the most part, daily life is completely different and surreal for a good portion of the population in nearly half of the country.

Walking around these days in San Francisco, you don’t have to venture far outside of your shelter to come across signs of how life has changed. Some of the signs are physical signs, set up on the sidewalk by the Palace of Fine Arts, posted on residences by the SF Department of Public Health, or taped to trees outside of Swenson’s Ice Cream parlor on Union and Hyde.

Others are signs posted on the doors or windows of restaurants and coffee shops, informing customers about social distancing protocol and directing delivery drivers where to go to pick up orders for delivery. Also, when you’re walking around San Francisco and you come across multiple Starbucks locations that are closed up, you know the end is nigh.

There are also signs painted on the boarded up windows of bars like the Mauna Loa in Cow Hollow, Reed & Greenough and Donahue’s in the Marina, and Shanghai Kelly’s in Russian Hill–the boarded up windows themselves a sign of just how quickly our life has changed and how much of what we have taken for granted is no longer available to us.

After all, the bar is a symbol of social interaction, where people gather to share a drink and conversation and whatever else might follow. Now that outlet is literally boarded off, leaving us to drink alone or on video chats or prompting creative pub crawls from room to room where we can literally crawl to the next drink.

Still other signs are less literal and more symbolic of how our lives have changed over the past couple of weeks, from the virtually empty streets that we encounter driving or walking around the city, to the bounty of empty parking spaces in North Beach and Telegraph Hill, to the lines of customers waiting outside of Rainbow Grocery or Gus’s Market in the Mission–everyone standing six feet away from the person in front of or behind them. It may not be the dystopia we imagined or deserve, but it’s the dystopia we’ve been given, so we’re working with what we’ve got.

There are a few silver linings. For the most part people aren’t acting like douche bags, except for the bicyclists, who still don’t believe that STOP signs apply to them. But people seem to be friendly and understanding, since we’re all going through this together. And there’s less traffic and fewer tempers flaring, probably because there aren’t any Lyft and Uber drivers looking for passengers or stopping unexpectedly or double parking everywhere.

And Bob’s Donuts is open for take out, but they only accept credit cards and only one customer at a time is allowed inside the store. But it’s worth the wait. And in addition to their To Go food menu, Tacko on Fillmore is offering 16 ounce margaritas or draft beers for $3.00 to go. So you can still get your social lubrication. It’s just not quite as social as it used to be.


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