Caught Ovgard: A boy and his rod at the end of the world
Without a doubt, I always expected the events of Sept. 11, 2001, to be the cause of the single greatest crisis Americans would face in my lifetime. I no longer believe that to be true.
When this whole COVID-19 business got off the ground, my immediate response was to dismiss it out of hand as political maneuvering and overreaction to what is, to the vast majority of those infected, a milder version of the common cold.
I viewed it as an inconvenience, an unfortunate reality borne of a chain of knee-jerk reactions to something that, at the current death toll, won't even break into the top 20 leading causes of death in the United States — as if there ever were an "acceptable" number when referring to the loss of human life.
But now, I view it as something that could be a turning point in the United States and the world. While the virus itself certainly scares me — particularly for my older relatives — it is the effects of our reaction to the virus that scare me more.
Today, I'm not going to write about fishing. Well, not much, anyway. I'm going to write my reaction to the science fiction reality we're now living and how we can save our nation, our economy and our cultural identity without losing our humanity in the process.
Last year, I listened to a lot of audiobooks while fishing and traveling around the country to fish, and two of them have been on my mind a lot in the past week or two.
The first is titled "The Warehouse" by Rob Hart. It tells the story of a post-crisis United States, devastated and shaken. Though many people die, many more refuse to leave their homes to carry out basic functions out of fear. As a result, the economy collapses on a scale that makes the Great Depression seem like a slight economic downturn in comparison. Millions lose their jobs, homes and very way of life as small businesses and entire sectors of the economy simply cease to exist.
In the resulting economic vacuum, one company excels: an Amazon stand-in named "Cloud."
As Cloud grows in strength, the economy migrates almost entirely online, driven by social isolation and fear-mongering. By creating a fleet of automated drones to perform deliveries, Cloud puts logistics companies out of business. It eliminates traditional retail. It gains a market share almost overnight that makes Walmart's seem laughable. Cloud becomes the unstoppable force in the world that is ultimately more powerful even than most world governments, driven solely by the inertia of panic and fear, much like what we're seeing with COVID-19.
In the face of hoarding and the rampant fear of public spaces, online retail giants like Amazon already are benefiting. Amazon's stock prices were up almost 7% when I wrote this column — despite the downward spiral of most major players in the economy and some of the largest single-day drops in world history.
Tragedy has befallen us, and it's not over yet. In the United States and around the world, those who have died deserve every bit of respect and mourning they receive. However, what we cannot do is allow their sacrifice to be in vain, nor can we use it to justify a lack of humanity.
When I wrote this column, Gov. Kate Brown had just banned all gatherings of 25 or more people, limited restaurants, bars and coffee shops to takeout and delivery services only and extended the school closures through the end of April. I have mixed feelings about these actions, but I think the move will ultimately save lives ... at the cost of thousands and thousands of jobs, foreclosures, evictions and a rampant increase in homelessness.
This, far more than the virus itself, terrifies me.
As someone who derives most of his income from the state and federal governments (teacher and member of the National Guard), I'm fairly blessed in these uncertain times to know I'll still be receiving a paycheck, but most people aren't so lucky.
What happens to the small business owners? The restaurant waitstaff, baristas, bartenders and everyone else who depends on the in-person, service economy? Many businesses already are laying off employees. Not because they're heartless monsters but because they have to feed their own families and make sure they don't have to close their doors entirely. It's a horrible time, and those of us who still have access to an income must continue to support the economy, help our friends in need and do everything we can to curb the real danger of the coronavirus: complete economic collapse.
The other book I mentioned, called "A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World," was written by C.A. Fletcher. It tells the story of a world decimated by "The Gelding," an event which leaves most humans infertile. It is another take on the apocalypse, but rather than focusing on limited natural and economic resources, like "The Warehouse," it focuses on a lack of human resources as the titular characters range across the landscape in search of supplies while trying to find their way home.
Like most dystopian science fiction, these books are cautionary tales to problems we never thought we'd see. Yet here we are. We're closer than we've ever been in peacetime to the brink of collapse.
I cannot simply say "go fishing" and, in good conscience, hope that's enough to stem what likely will be the largest quarterly spike in unemployment in Oregon since the collapse of the logging industry nearly 30 years ago.
What I can say is appreciate what you have. Tell your family members you love them. Be there for those who need you and don't be afraid to share. Help those around you, and if you are fortunate enough to catch some fish while trying to keep yourself from going mad with boredom, don't be afraid to keep them, clean them and give them to that elderly friend or neighbor or recently laid-off waiter you know.
The America we know doesn't survive with every man for himself; it survives with us reaching out and helping one another in their darkest hour. Even if we can't physically unite in solidarity, we can do it with our time, our money and the resources some of us have been so blessed with.
God bless, stay healthy and stay human.
This column is scheduled to appear in our Tuesday, March 24, print edition.
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