How a Parking Lot Jam Session Refilled My Soul
on April 2nd, 2020
Today I leave my house for the first time in two weeks. I stay in my car, knowing that we are in quarantine, and drive down Third Street, near emptiness reflected back at me. Neighborhood parks have signs taped to the streetlight poles: CLOSED BY ORDINANCE OF THE POLICE. Yellow tape circles loosely around the basketball court, like a crime scene. Further down the road, a man stands outside the gas station, pumping gas with a glove on. The grocery store parking lot is packed, and a local coffee shop I love has already closed. They said they’d shut down when the milk ran out to make lattes. That was days ago.
Outside an abandoned strip mall that once held a Kmart, I park beneath a palm tree, open up the trunk of my car, and sit on the edge—a makeshift tailgate. A couple ride their bikes down the sidewalk, and I wave hello.
I am waiting on a friend, who pulls up into the parking lot a minute or so later, yards away from me. We sit in our separate vehicles, our legs dangling out of the back of each trunk. It is nice to catch up: to see a face and not have that face belong to a screen. Our televisions and phones have told us hourly updates on the spread of COVID-19. It is halting businesses and turning our workers into shapeshifters, our teachers into cyborgs, our grocery store shelves into ghosts.
On the screens, too, are memes, which try to be funny reflections, albeit hyper-aware, of our new existence. An amalgamation of images and words cut, stitched, and glued together like a child’s craft project. The blazoned chest of Tiger King, the conundrum of toilet paper shortages, the all-too-familiar dog in his kitchen surrounded by fire.
More than memes, the serious stuff resurfaces: Businesses will close forever if we don’t support them now! Someone asks the question of how to file for unemployment.
A daughter dances outside the window of her mother’s room in the senior care facility because she cannot go in and hold her hand.
Will Smith creates a quarantine playlist.
Patrick Stewart reads Shakespeare.
It’s a miracle we’d made it this far, all this scrolling. Like Russian roulette: what will we get next?
While in the Kmart parking lot, the seagulls come up to my legs, looking for bread. The beaches have been closed where I live in Florida, and I guess the gulls are just as lonely as we are. While my friend takes photographs of the birds outside her car, I listen to the silence of the world, worried it will stay this way for a long, long time.
It is then we hear the sound of a steady drumbeat.
“Where is that music coming from?” My friend wants to know if I’ve turned it on in my car.
We look at the entrance of the abandoned Kmart. A man had set up a full drum set and amplifiers in front of the glassy double doors. Another person arrives with a bass guitar and joins the drummer. They are six feet apart, but their impromptu concert echoes across the lot.
The bicycling couple return to listen, perched on their seats a safe distance away.
A father and his kid drive up and get out of their car. They dance together in the parking lot, as the music gets louder and louder.
It’s difficult to drown out the noise of the news stations. It’s difficult to shrug off the addictive tow of social media. It’s difficult to escape the cage that COVID-19 has built with its rising death toll, its lack of medical supplies, its invisible shape.
There is so much distance created because of COVID-19—emotional and physical distance that carries anxiety, worry, doubt, fear. And although we can’t help the physical distancing for the sake of saving lives, we can help the emotional distance we feel with one another. For the sake of our sanity, for the sake of our health, we must make our own noise that is not news alerts or crisis calls-to-action. We must carve out our own time to breathe, to dance, to laugh, to play.
Still in the parking lot, the father holds up his little boy, swinging him around and around, and I hear the child’s laughter soar above the band.
The seagulls take flight, shooting across the sky in waves, until they are nothing but white crescents above us.
This one moment, in this parking lot, this small world—proves it.
There is no distance between us—not at all.