Photographer Jim Nimmo’s ‘QuarantineScapes’ series
From the beginning, the year 2020 was unlike any we had seen in KC. It started with the first Super Bowl victory in 50 years and then it began to go bad.
As a restaurant worker, we relished the first two months. Business was booming and people were happy. We might have heard some little thing on the news about some virus or flu….whatever! We were Super Bowl champs and we were invincible.
But then it started to change. Fewer people were coming out because of that new virus or flu or whatever it was. But how bad could it really be, we asked. Then we started noticing the stories of horror coming out of New York, but that was a coastal problem, not ours. Then suddenly there was talk of shutting down restaurant dining rooms to “mitigate” the spread of the virus and our world came to a sudden and stunning halt. These are photos from living life under quarantine.
Once our world looked like crowded restaurants filled with people enjoying themselves. And then came the orders that there could be no more than 10 people (including staff) in any business. Fine dining restaurants became take out joints with the majority of the staff laid off.
It started ironically enough on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. One of the busiest days of the year for KC bars. Instead of lines out the door, the doors were closed and locked. Once bustling kitchens were left quite. Patios prepared to open for the season never did. The downtown streets were empty and ghostly.
Within hours, restaurants were forced to re-invent themselves for their survival. Rieger Distillery began producing hand sanitizer which was immediately sold out. Sales were done curbside to reduce the spread as we all learned new words like “mitigation” and “social distancing.” Paper towels, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies became very scarce as people rushed to stock up. Toilet paper became the new “gold standard”. Our favorite neighborhood retail stores that always knew our order, hid behind shields and closed doors.
Even restaurants that were a part of the city’s culture had to remind us that they were still open. Large retail stores began limiting the number of customers allowed in at any given time resulting in long lines just to get into the store. Grocery stores began reserving the first hour of business for those at high risk.
Signs. Signs. Everywhere were signs. All to explain what our new normal would be. And it was NOT normal by any standard we knew.
Local musicians were as hard hit as restaurant workers were. Here Kian Byrne of the Elders looks over his instruments and equipment stored in the garage until there are gigs to play again. Even busking on the Plaza was gone. It’s hard to make money when your only audience is homeless. Some musicians began live streaming concerts from home playing for tips paid through venmo.
And it kept getting worse. Restaurants that were closing would give away food to unemployed restaurant workers. Here Char Bar hands out meals-to-go for anyone with a restaurant pay stub. An entire industry came together for survival. Because in the urgency to contain the virus, we in the restaurant business became unintentional casualties. Servers know that January and Febuary will be slow but we did not know that we would all find ourselves unemployed at the end of the slow season with only 48 hours of notice. Suddenly the concern of how late can I run the March rent went to how do I feed my kids. Food banks were needing more and more food. Thelma’s Kitchen, a pay what you can establishment began giving away meals at the door to the hungry. Their community table that sat corporate VPs next to the homeless was empty. Thanks to Thelma’s Kitchen a lot of people took the bus home with the comfort of a good meal when they arrived. Social services like Reconciliation Services became busier and busier.
The playgrounds were declared unsafe to play on and sat empty except for the homeless. Swings and slides blocked by police tape like a crime scene. Where do the children play became a driving question as opposed to an old song title. There were so few people on the streets that wildlife began making an appearance in the city limits.
Home Schooling was a logistical nightmare for each district. Making sure everyone had access to computers at home to follow along on classroom instruction was an unbelievable task done with no warning or time to prepare. High School Seniors watched their last semester disappear without any of the end of school events that make that year so special.
In mid-April, KC lost it’s first EMT to Covid-19. A few days later, the first nurse also died from the virus. As a city, we began to redefine our understanding of heroes. Heroes were nurses who worked long hours and then showed up as counter-protesters when anti-quarantine protests began. Heroes were the first responders who showed up never knowing which person needing help might be a carrier. Heroes were the restaurant chefs who gave away extra food to food banks to keep the city eating. Heroes were the cooks who volunteered to work in areas of the city hardest hit with infections.
We began to see protests against the quarantine. Angry, scared people who did not know how they could live with their businesses shut down. All mixed in with an election season.
To fight the boredom, we picked up old hobbies. Went for long walks in the park. We found crazy ways to entertain ourselves at a socially safe distance. We learned to bake. We put out Christmas decorations because….why the hell not? We set out stuffed animals on our porches for the kids to find on neighborhood walks. We spent time alone. We meditated and prayed. We spent time with out families. We actually met our neighbors. We learned to adapt. We took time to watch the sunset. We learned that you can see the smile behind the mask. We prayed for our heroes and honored them by turning the city blue.
Perhaps when this is done, we will remember the lessons we learned when the world shut down for a few weeks. Perhaps we will remember the peace we found in sunsets and each other.
Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.