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Sheltering-in-place is now all of California


Yesterday, it finally sank in.

The reality of the shelter-in-place, I mean. The order was only given in Northern California on Monday: four days ago, but it seems like months. And we don’t know how long it will last.

The boredom, lack of stimulation, the same four walls. The biggest thing is going stir-crazy. What to do all day long? I have three books I’m reading, one in the bedroom, one in the living room and one in the bathroom. The San Francisco Chronicle keeps me busy for a while. Walking Gus gets me out of the house. And T.V….as much as I love watching it, it’s getting tiresome.

I was out of laundry detergent so I went shopping yesterday morning. The first two supermarkets I went to were out. Finally found some at Target. But lots of empty shelves. I mean, lots! Which makes me wonder…

I haven’t been hoarding, yet, the way so many others are. But maybe it’s time. All those empty shelves are stark reminders, not just of hoarding, but of the fragility of the supply chain. Everything on a store shelf has to be transported there by truck from someplace else. And it has to be manufactured or produced someplace else. A can of soup…a bag of almonds…ramen…a six-pack of toilet paper…a box of laundry detergent…hamburger meat…Clorox…yogurt…eggs…these are things we expect to be there on the shelf when we want them. When they’re not there today, will they be there tomorrow? The next day? When they are there, do I buy just what I need—or do I load up, because who knows how long it will be before they’re back on the shelf again?

This is what we’re starting to wonder, I think. How far can this go before…before what? There was a story on the evening news a few days ago about how a local gun store, just south of San Francisco, was mobbed with customers. They interviewed some of them: they weren’t NRA ammosexual wackos, but ordinary people, parents concerned about their families. They’re doing the same mental arithmetic as I am: If things get really bad, there could be roving bands of brigands, banging on doors, demanding…toilet paper! Soup! Canned beans! Bread! Beer!

“Brigand” … an old word, Middle-English in origin, related to the word “bandit.” “One of a roving band,” says my Webster’s. Related also to the word “brigade” : “a large unit of soldiers; a group of people organized to function as a unit to do some work, as a fire brigade.” The word we’re really concerned with, though, is brigandage: “the practice of highway robbery and plunder.” My bathroom book is, by coincidence, “Wanderings,” Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews. In it he describes the overrunning of Roman Europe by bands of Visigoths, Vandals and other “pagans” and “barbarians” who swept in from the East and North and tended to steal, rape, pillage and murder along the way. They were brigands practicing brigandage. They brought on the Dark Ages, which lasted for centuries.

Are we…could we be…No, of course not. This is America. This is the 21st century, not tenth century Gaul. It couldn’t happen here. We have the American military to protect us, police forces, sheriffs’ departments, the National Guard. Don’t we? Surely our men and women in uniform would be in our hometowns and on our streets if there were the threat or actual instances of brigandage? We can rest easy at night knowing that nothing bad will happen.


There’s been a lot of reporting about how people are not taking the shelter-in-place seriously. They’re continuing to gather in crowds, walk closely, etc. And it’s not just young people: I saw a bunch of old people clustering together yesterday at the entrance of the Oakland Senior Center. A friend of mine yesterday (Thursday) afternoon told me she has a friend who was just fined $400 here in Oakland for not staying six feet away from somebody. That was an eye-opener. Really? But it seems to be true. Here’s a link to Santa Clara County’s shelter-in-place ordinance, which is the same as all the other Bay Area counties’: It explicitly states, “Please read this Order carefully. Violation of or failure to comply with this Order is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both. (California Health and Safety Code § 120295, et seq.).”

Now, this isn’t as draconian as in China, where the police literally grab pedestrians off the street in quarantine areas and haul them off to jail (which is why China is containing spread of COVID-19). China is autocratic; we’re not. You won’t get grabbed off the street for walking next to your spouse.

But you might be fined!

Things are getting spooky. That’s what I mean by “It finally sank in.” And yesterday, Gov. Newsom made shelter-in-place mandatory for all of California. This is real; it’s happening; it’s not going away. Trump doesn’t know what to do. Governors don’t know what to do. Like us, they’re watching this unfold in real time, throwing spaghetti at the wall, and keeping their fingers crossed it won’t get too bad. I really, really hope it doesn’t. For you, for me, for the poor workers who are getting laid off in droves, for the kids who can’t play with their friends, for us all.

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