It goes way beyond, also, that my daughter is quarantined in an apartment in Queens, New York, with coronavirus. You can only imagine the toll it has taken not only on Jeanie and her fiancée Daniel, who also has it, but on Alexis. In our 30 years together, I have never seen the look on her face that has been there this week. At times, I had to look away.
“Now, I can’t taste or smell ANYTHING,” Jeanie texted my wife last night.
Loss of smell is a key symptom of coronavirus. There are some of us who would question that maybe we’ve had a mild form of this all along. I can barely smell anything anyways or even really taste stuff. If someone farts and clears a room, I can just sit there in the stank. The same principle applies to gourmet food.
Exquisite mahi tuna?
Tastes the same to me as fish sticks at St. Thomas More in seventh grade. I joke. I hurt. You cry. I cry. Sometimes it’s inside our cheeks - there’s not real tears running down. But make no mistake – we’re all crying in one form or another.
Then for the whole week, I drove down empty roads to an empty building, turned on the lights in an empty studio, and started talking. I gave you people all that I have, and I will do the same this week. But for a good hour on a Sunday morning, I took time for myself to run the same route I ran as a seventh-grader at St. Thomas More school.
Track coach Eddie Hreha, who went on to be the athletic director at Bishop Noll, would line us up in front of school on Calumet Avenue, raise his arm, and then dozens of sixth, seventh and eighth graders would head north on Calumet Avenue to the liquor store. That’s where we’d hang a right down Ridge Road.
We’d run Ridge Road for a while – a mass of white tee shirts and graying Chuck Taylors. We’d run past the old Lanier school and the old Munster police station, where a few years hence I would spend some time in the basement. We’d hang a right on Columbia and run by Munster Middle School, where guys like George Lane, Mike Sterling, Jon Pupillo and others would point at us and yell. Sometimes they would throw things.
We were the Catholic kids running in our underwear around the middle of town. I’d probably laugh too. These guys were my friends. I’d feel slightly embarrassed, but only for a while. I loved, and still love, to run and sweat and think of things that wouldn't normally come up.
We’d go past the Munster football field, where huge high schoolers in red and white jerseys and massive helmets and shoulder pads crossed Columbia to go to practice. Then we’d hang a right on Fisher St., hugging Schoon Ditch to avoid the traffic. Once, Joey Chruby fell in the ditch and got his Chuckie T’s all muddy. Once Chuckie T’s lose their color they never get it back, no matter how many times you run them through the washer.
At Calumet Avenue, we’d head back north past the Boy Scouts offices and the Lake County Public Library, where both Linda Biedron and Joyce Rovai broke up with me. At least it’s also where I discovered Dickens and Hemingway, Bradbury and the Los Angeles Times on a bamboo pole.
In the last straightaway, we would all try to sprint. If you were near the front, you could look back and there’d be all these boys and girls running after you…. all in their tight white shorts and tight white tee shirts. Run, Forest, run, or they’ll catch up with you.
We’d get to the church parking lot and sprint as best we could to the finish line where coach Hreha would be sitting with team managers and a priest or a nun. They would be talking breezily, seated at a card table, as if they were in the backyard on a summer day. We were sweating, pulsing, pushing, and there they were smiling and conversing. It pissed me off then and it pisses me off right now.
One of the things, though, that was consistent through all of this was not only the smiles on the faces of those not running, but also traffic. You couldn’t do now what we did then. When we ran to the corner of Calumet and Ridge, there would be 18-wheelers on their way to the Pepsi plant right next to us. Along Ridge, there would be garbage trucks, Volkswagens, motorcycles without mufflers carrying hippies with long hair.
On Columbia Avenue in front of the high school, there would be all sorts of vehicles pulling into the “horseshoe” and others crisscrossing the various parking lots at high speeds.
The worst stretch was Fisher Street where Chruby fell in the ditch. It was a tight two-lane road that was once a country lane but turned into a road in the middle of town. You had to run on the street and look over your shoulder the whole time or risk being run over.
And then there was Calumet Avenue, which wasn’t as wide back then and didn’t have a sidewalk the whole way. You could veer into Community Park, which was on your right, or you could slip into the street and hope for the best. Everyone who wanted to finish in the top ten always opted for the near-death experience of running in the street.
As always, it’s taking me forever to get to my point, which is this. I just went for a run on that exact same path that I and 50 or 60 other kids would run every day all through the 1970s. … and I saw six cars. That’s it. Where have all the people gone? The Twilight Zone has come to Munster, Indiana.
True, it’s a Sunday morning and there wouldn’t be nearly as much traffic as there would be at 3:30 after school. But all of the churches are closed… and so are the restaurants and bars. There’s no pancake breakfasts or cookies after mass. You are not supposed to leave your house. You can go for a run on the route you ran 45 years ago, but you can’t go to your dad’s house and shake his hand.
That’s how surreal it is. Look at the photos. I ran south from Ridge Road to Columbia Avenue, past a couple of churches and the high school, and didn’t see one car.
Not one car on Columbia Avenue in front of Munster High School, not one car turning off 35th Street, not one car slowing down to see the ode to my high school football coach John Friend.
Not one pedestrian, bike rider, guy walking his dog. Nothing. Nada. Squat.
Same thing on Fisher Street, which runs along Community Hospital’s emergency room. You’d think that with all the corona around, there’d be people coming and going through the emergency room and a ton of cars.
That is not the case. If you drop someone off with coronavirus symptoms, you gotta leave. In the last week, the number of deaths has risen exponentially. Many die without a loved one around. No one – NO ONE – is allowed to congregate right now, not even relatives at the foot of the bed of a dying loved one.
Sometimes, through no fault of your own, you die alone.
Per usual, I snapped selfies. In one I’m standing in the middle of an empty Columbia Avenue and in the other in the middle of an empty Calumet Avenue.
Then I got to the St. Thomas More church, where they were streaming video of mass inside but not one car in the parking lot. I got on one knee in the lawn by the front door. For the first time in a long time, I said a prayer.
I prayed for my daughter and Daniel, asking God that they can weather coronavirus from their apartment in New York City. I prayed for everyone else after that. It would have looked a little odd had you been driving down Calumet Avenue at the time –an aging athlete with a gray goatee on one knee with his head down toward the front door of a church.
But you didn’t see it. That’s because you weren’t driving down Calumet Avenue. No one was. And that, my friend, is all I have for you today. Stay safe.