The noise hit me as soon as I entered the park. I hadn’t heard that sound since two years before the pandemic, when my widow-brain calmed and I stopped going to concerts and ball games as a way to remember Mike.
The noise stopped me in my tracks. Everyone had been dutifully wearing their masks on the park-n-ride bus, and the staff was amply supplied with masks to give to those who had forgotten to bring one.
But entering the park, I didn’t see any masks on staff or concertgoers, except staff manning concession and drink stands. People were crammed together blanket to blanket, picnic wagon to picnic wagon, folding table to folding table.
And everyone was having a blast.
I went to the “merch” stand (mask still on), knowing Angelic Daughter would expect a t-shirt. I let my mask dangle from one ear, keeping my distance, sipping a beverage.
Then I found a bench to sit on until the pavilion opened, and sat down to read a free magazine, as hordes of people walked by, nearly brushing my knees, in search of an open patch of grass to claim as theirs. There were kids too young to be vaccinated, happily playing and running around and screaming and demanding ice cream, and I think I saw only one of them wearing a mask.
There were older people too–older than I would have expected for these two bands–older than me by a decade or more, some masked and some not.
Starting Monday, people in Illinois will be required to mask up again inside any indoor public space, regardless of vaccination status. Although I’ve been masking up inside ever since the delta variant made its ugly presence and its virulent spread known, I’m doubtful many people who have felt freed of their masks will dutifully don them again.
And, then, God help us, the mask wars will begin again, generating another round of virtual “crowd noise” on social media. And those who resist wearing masks based on some warped notion of “liberty” will continue to get sick and die. Innocent children, too young to be vaccinated yet, are filling up pediatric ICU wards with COVID, even in states with high vaccination rates, and doctors are warning that they’re running out of space to treat other sick and injured kids.
Last week I found an article by Arnold Schwarzenegger, published in The Atlantic, chiding mask-resisters for being selfish and failing to appreciate the historic sacrifices those who have gone before us made to preserve the American way of life. I never in a million years thought I would reference “Ahnold” for anything, much less an article like that one, but he made some good points.
And who could resist a title like “Don’t Be A Schmuck. Put On A Mask.”?
I had chosen a seat on the far aisle with about 12 feet between me and the rail holding back the non-pavilion-ticket-holders. But there was only one seat between me and the next two people in my row. Angelic Daughter had opted for a small gathering of friends instead of the concert with me. I was glad she did–she doesn’t like crowds and picks up on my anxieties immediately with her mysterious internal autistic “vibe” radar.
But in looking around, seeing how happy everyone was, how stoked to see their favorite band (a double bill of Vertical Horizon and Train, with genial partisans on both sides – VH for me) I decided to view the crowd as a resounding vote of confidence in the vaccines. After all, Lollapalooza happened in Chicago, and, probably due to a proof-of-vaccine or negative test requirement, didn’t become a superspreader event, although about 200 of more than 385,000 attendees did get sick.
So I took my mask off and sang along.
Vertical Horizon’s performance was great. Mike introduced us to that band, having discovered them online before they ever had a hit record. Once they did, we used to ride around in the car listening to their CD, Everything You Want.
They did songs from that record, but also one, Forever, I hadn’t heard before, from their next record. Read about (scroll down) and listen to that song, and I think you’ll understand why, after standing and singing along and whooping on the previous song, I found myself sitting down, crying.
I cried because I felt like the song was Mike’s way of joining me at the concert, saying he was glad I decided to go, and reminding me that we do, and will, see each other forever.
Regardless of my skittishness about the crowd, that made the evening more than worth it.
Getting a little teary again, I remain,
Your already-ordered-new-cloth-masks-because-I-knew-this-was-coming, resigned, languishing but trying to look out into the world with love,