The present is pleasant, the future cloudy

Opinion: John Rice

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

My assignment, should I choose to accept it, was to walk the length of Madison Street and report my observations. I stuck to the sunny side of the street because it was comfortably warm compared to the shady side. The first thing I noticed was that the usually bustling street wasn't bustling. In fact, bustling was forbidden as pedestrians gave each other a wide berth.

Not that there were many pedestrians. The few who were out were practicing social-distancing on what was once the most social street in town. We nicknamed Madison "The Street of Dreams" because we could find frivolity and camaraderie up and down the strip. Now it was downright somber — as well as sober.

Strolling past local businesses, I was reminded of a line from the film Citizen Kane. Charles Foster Kane has just returned from a Depression-era tour of Europe. A young reporter asks how he found business conditions in Europe. "With great difficulty," Kane replied. I was also finding it difficult to locate business conditions on Madison Street.

There were pockets of activity at restaurants still open for curbside pick-up. We've been patronizing these places. It's a win-win. We can savor the dishes we miss while helping local businesses on life-support. We got the same feeling from picking up a growler at Exit Strategy. It lifted our spirits in more ways than one.

The busiest place I spotted was the service window at Brown Cow. Ice cream is an essential comfort food during times like these. A handful of liquor stores were providing a different kind of comfort. By the time I reached Harlem Avenue, I was thoroughly depressed. 

This happens from time to time, but I only get discouraged when I look ahead. If I focus on the present, I stay pretty positive. I'm grateful that our circumstances are nowhere near as difficult as what others are facing. We have our health, for now, and remain gainfully employed. I'm thankful to have a column to write, even though it's never been more challenging.

During my walk, I broke down priorities. Number one, of course, is physical health. I suppose mental health is not far behind. Finally, there is our financial health which can be frightening. Staying home, though, gives us a sense of purpose and we try to make the best of our confinement. One night it was a Yahtzee tournament; another evening, we took turns asking Alexa to play our favorite songs. 

We rotate from room to room and soon the front porch will be the hot destination for our staycation. The situation is serious enough that I don't sweat the weddings that were postponed, the plane and hotel reservations cancelled, and all the other plans we put on hold. These seem trivial in the face of a crisis. 

Some believe this pandemic will produce real benefits. A history professor compared it to how Europeans reacted after World War II ravaged their continent. After the war, these countries were determined to stamp out the suffering they'd seen during the war. They set up social welfare states to provide necessities for their citizens. 

America, so far, has not followed suit. The professor, though, sees the pandemic as the first "world war" fought on American soil. He believes this may lead us to become a more compassionate country. Forest Park is already a compassionate community. A Madison Street store owner believes we'll be even more closely connected after the pandemic passes. 

As for me, I'll still visit Madison to patronize businesses, even though it won't be quite as pleasant a stroll for the foreseeable future.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

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