Tag Archives: Austin Pandemic

Dancing Is “Discouraged” – Texans “Should” Remember That We’re In A Pandemic

By Bill Oakey – May 20, 2020

“Dancing is discouraged.“ Those three words tumbled out of the radio and jolted me awake this morning. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has announced his official guidelines for the reopening of bars under Phase 2 of his back-to-business pandemic initiative. But like most of the language found in Trump’s Federal response papers, it’s all about “should,” and…gosh…”Ya might want to consider.” There’s nary a trace of “You must” or “Thou shalt not.”

After all, to Republicans there is nothing worse than a dreaded government regulation. Even ones that could save millions of lives. I have to wonder, though, if the Republicans ever stop to think how ridiculous this stuff looks. In the published protocols on the Governor’s website, the word “should” appears 16 times. “Dancing Is Discouraged” would look absolutely hilarious on a big sign at the front entrance to Billy Bob’s Texas. It would also be perfect as a historical meme to represent Trumpism during the 2020 pandemic.

Some of the big Texas dance halls are not ready to open yet. When they do, the tables are supposed to be well separated, and only 6 people will be allowed per table. Employees are considering wearing masks. It seems like club owners, employees and customers would all be better served if they had clear and firm rules. But it’s pretty easy to guess why all the “shoulds” are in there instead of “musts” – lawyers. Trump, Abbott and the rest of the Republicans want to make sure that no business faces a liability lawsuit. So, it’s up to you to protect yourself.

Many bar and nightclub owners have been busy trying to prepare for their reopenings. These are hard working folks who deservedly want to get the revenue flowing again. But their challenge is a little bit different from, say, a bookstore or a dry cleaners. Alcohol and good behavior have been known to diverge, at least once in a while.

One of the biggest dangers in a Texas honky-tonk is simply temptation. With beer and whiskey, things can get risky. If they didn’t, a lot of country songwriters would find themselves out of work. If dancing went away, how easy would it be to steal somebody’s wife away. With social distancing, it would be harder to approach the woman you might want to commiserate with over a broken heart.

Using good old fashioned songs as an example, Tanya Tucker could not sing, “Shuffle with me Houston stranger, it’s a cowboy loving night.“ And the character in the George Strait song couldn’t walk right up to a gal with a beckoning smile and say, “Pardon me, you left your tears on the jukebox. Let’s fall to pieces together. Why should we both fall apart?”

We are all tired of staying cooped up at home. Yet, there are no enforceable, common-sense protections to keep us safe while going out. Most business owners are left largely to police themselves. Masks are one of the most basic means of preventing spread. But those are often regarded as optional. There are no standards or certifications for consumer-grade masks. Any old “face covering” will do, even if it’s made of thin, porous material. If the economy does not rebound quickly, it will be because too many well-informed, reasonable people will not subject themselves to risky, flimsy and ridiculously absurd “protocols,” issued by politicians without the good sense that God gave a garden grasshopper.

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece

1. “Cowboy Loving Night” – Tanya Tucker
2. “Let’s Fall to Pieces Together” – George Strait
3. “I Won’t Dance” – Frank Sinatra
4. “Your Mama Don’t Dance” – Loggins & Messina
5. “I Should Have Known Better” – The Beatles

A Novel Message – The Coronavirus Speaks Out

By Bill Oakey – May 7, 2020

I just overheard a private conversation that I wasn’t supposed to hear. But since I did, you need to hear it too. And share it. This virus is not really a silent enemy. The little spikey things communicate with each other. We’re not supposed to hear it, but somehow I caught this conversation:

“If the latest news reports are true, we can beat these humans. They’re not very smart.”

“Well, what makes you so sure?”

“OK, Let’s start from the beginning. They have no idea where we really came from or when we infected the first person.”

“Do they still think we started in a Chinese lab?”

“Most of them don’t, but that doesn’t really matter. Our biggest advantage is how easily we traveled around this planet in the beginning. And, get this! They’re not taking serious measures to prevent the easy traveling environment that helped us spread in the first place.”

“You’re so right! We got to America by plane. If we inhabit the body of just one passenger, we get the freedom to spread in a closed cabin for up to 4 or 5 hours on a single flight. But planes are mostly empty now. Won’t they have tough regulations when the passengers come back?”

“Not hardly. There was talk of keeping the middle seats empty and requiring masks. But there are no mandated government regulations. Only phrases like “recommended,” “You might want to consider,” etc. It’s a joke! And, lucky for us, the aisle seats are a lot closer than 6 feet from the window seats anyway.”

“Wow, so we’ll get to spread almost as easily as we did last winter. Some of the masks might help them, but those aren’t regulated either. They can be made out of any old hokey thin cloth, decorated with flowers.”

“Well, I have one other airline question. What about those older humans? And the ones with vulnerable medical conditions. Won’t they be isolated in a separate, protected area of the plane?”

“I’ve read a lot of their news stories, and nobody’s mentioned it. They might ask people if they’ve been sick or even take some of their temperatures. But we can spread from someone who doesn’t even know they’re infected.”

“About the masks. Don’t they have companies mass-producing millions of masks that are certified for the best possible protection, at affordable prices for the general public?”

“Nope. There are no standards at all for consumer-grade masks, and many states have decalared wearing masks optional. And only a portion of the medical supplies are purchased in bulk at the Federal level. The states have to bid against each other for tons of it.

“What about this reopening of restaurants, hair salons, beaches and all the rest?”

“The humans should have read their own history. They could just Google ‘San Francisco 1918 pandemic.’ After their world war ended, San Francisco held a big celebration in the streets. They took off their masks and threw them in the air, and danced like crazy. They opened their businesses way too soon. The flu came back with a huge spike and killed a lot of people. I heard that San Francisco’s current mayor is not going to let us get that same advantage. But plenty of other cities are willing to let us start spreading again.”

“Well, hey, I think we should terminate this conversation immediately.”

“Why is that?”

“We forgot to activate our communication suppressors. One of those humans might be listening.”

“OK. Are you and I still on for this afternoon?”

“Sure thing, buddy. See you at the beach!”

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece:

  1. From a Distance – By Nanci Griffith, 1987, original version. Or Bette Midler, 1990
  2. Don’t Stand So Close to Me – The Police, 1980
  3. Behind the Mask – Fleetwood Mac, 1990
  4. A Year’s Worth of Distance – Kenny Loggins, 2007
  5. Keep Away From Me – Graham Nash, 1986
  6. Drop the Mask – Diana Ross, 1999
  7. Keeping My Distance – Martina McBride, 1997
  8. Mask Upon My Face – Jeff Bridges, 2000
  9. Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home – Joe South, 1969
  10. All By Myself – Nancy Sinatra

Lyrics to “Behind the Mask” by Fleetwood Mac – Written By Christine McVie

Don’t you come too close to me
You’re dangerous, can’t you see?
You can make the darkness mean more
Than it ever did, ever did before
(It’s a Devil’s disguise)
Angel in black
And I recognize the face behind the mask
(It’s a Devil’s disguise)
Angel in black
I don’t know if I want you back
You’re the cool nights of the desert
And the hot kisses of the sun
Why is it that I don’t believe you
When you say I’m the only one?
I know I’m the lonely one
(It’s a Devil’s disguise)
Angel in black
And I recognize the shadows from your past
(It’s a Devil’s disguise)
Angel in black
Don’t you know it’ll never last
The face behind the mask
There will never be a second chance for you
Oh no, not for you
(It’s a Devil’s disguise)
Angel in black and I recognize
The face behind the mask
(It’s a Devil’s disguise)
Angel in black
Don’t you know it’ll never last
The face behind the mask
(It’s a Devil’s disguise)
Angel in black and I recognize
The shadows from your past
(It’s a Devil’s disguise)
Angel in black
I don’t know if I want you back
I don’t know if I want you back
Don’t you know it’ll never last
The face behind the mask

If They Build It, Will We Come? – A Partial Solution to the Small Business Challenge

By Bill Oakey – May 6, 2020

The grand reopening of Austin’s economy scares the hell out of some people. And it is gleefully celebrated by others. Is there some kind of midpoint between staying home and shopping online, versus going out to restaurants and retail stores? Well, maybe there is, if local businesses could pool their resources and develop a new concept. I’ve been pondering this idea with some of the many hours of free time lately.

Try to imagine a giant food court with 50 or so restaurants and food vendors. Instead of being inside a mall, it would be set up in an outdoor area that people could drive to. It would be sort of like the restaurants at the airport, except you would drive up to your favorite one and get your food.

it would be an interesting challenge to design such a layout. It would need to accommodate a large number of cars, without requiring people to spend a long time waiting. There could actually be several concurrent lines of cars – one to enter the overall facility, and other sub-entrances inside the facility for each of the vendors. Architects might be able to come up with a few design options that would work. These would be dependent on the size of the facility. And of course, if the concept is successful, there could be several facilities of different sizes around Austin. These would need to be located away from the dense, core areas of the city.

Options for financing this type of venture could include the participation of large real estate or other companies that could develop the facilities and lease the spaces to the small businesses. One possibility might be to tap some undeveloped land and utilize it on a temporary basis.

It might be fun to have such places where people could go and feel safe. To complement our “Keep Austin Weird” motif, there might be all sorts of creative ways to liven up the atmosphere at these outdoor dining havens. Perhaps we could think of it as a Trail of Bites instead of a Trail of Lights. Video screens and speakers could be installed to provide some entertainment. This could include performances by local musicians.

The businesses could raise extra revenue by including some (but not too much) advertising on the video screens. Corporate sponsors could also participate in various ways with signs and art installations. Some vendors could have a speedy drive-through for people who want to just grab their meals and go. But they could also maintain a separate, more relaxed area for people to come and enjoy the entertainment while they’re eating or while they’re waiting for their food.

If the restaurant concept is deemed to be workable, then perhaps other retailers could set up drive-through stores in a similar type of outdoor layout. The technology setup for both the food and the miscellaneous other retail could be developed and enhanced over time. We could be stuck with the virus for many months, especially if it comes back in the fall and piggy-backs with the seasonal flu.

I can envision a portable device app that customers could use to do pre-orders before they arrive at the facility. The app would specify the lead time required for each type of purchase. For restaurants, there would be simple menus where you could tap on which items to order, along with daily specials that could be changed by the restaurant at will. The non-food retailers could have listings of products to choose from, along with coupons to tap on. A single app could be developed collaboratively and shared by all of the participating retailers. This would make things easier and more efficient for both the businesses and the customers

Some retailers could opt to have separate parking areas, in addition to a drive-through. In the parking areas, customers could request that an item be brought to a safe distance from their car, so they can take a closer look before deciding whether to buy.

This whole idea may seem like a lot of trouble for retailers who wold much rather have their customers come into the stores and browse and buy as they normally do. But these are not normal times. If the grand reopening of Texas leads to a big second wave of the virus, then large numbers of potential customers may choose to stay home. Having a new kind of onsite shopping option available for local businesses might be beneficial. This is especially true for businesses that are too small to maintain a major presence on the Internet, similar to Amazon.

The balancing act between preserving safety and boosting the economy is a tough nut to crack. But Austin should be a good place for people with the right technical skills and business expertise to explore new ways to defeat the silent enemy.