Looking Back, Venturing Forward

A year-end message from Jerry Cimino

An extremely clever TV commercial has been running the last few weeks from Match.com. Satan is matched with a beautiful woman named “2020” and they become an item. They fall in love over the course of the year, stealing toilet paper, taking selfies in front of dumpster fires, spending alone time together in public gyms and movie theaters. At the very end they’re sitting on a bench watching flaming asteroids fall on a bridge leading into a large city. Satan says, “I just don’t want this year to end,” and 2020 says, “Who would?”

Parklets on Green St sit empty
Outdoor dining parklets on Green Street sit empty

I was speaking to a friend last week who said, “Once 2020 and its aftermath is finally over, I can’t help but wonder if the impact might actually look like the after effects of a World War.” Being a student of WWII this really got me to thinking. Because when all is said and done through the postwar era, I believe even though the Allies “won” and the Axis powers “lost,” at the micro-level there really were no winners or losers coming out of WWII. If you weren’t among the dead, you were simply one of the lucky survivors.

Parklets on Green St sit empty

The biggest lesson of war you hear over and over in all the great stories is the randomness of events. Yes, at the macro-level planning was important, military skill and discipline were important, resources and industrial might were very important, but for the average person in a war zone it was the happenstance of everyday moments that determined individual outcomes and survival. 

In 1939, an occupying army comes marching into town and some citizens capitulate while others fight back. Individuals are killed on all sides, regardless the choices made. During the Blitz, thousands of people in London fall asleep sheltering behind blacked out windows while the Luftwaffe rains down bombs on the city. Most of those people wake up and go about their normal routines the next day, but there are some who never live to see the dawn break. On D-Day, four squads go charging from a Higgins Boat onto Omaha Beach, two split left and two split right and everybody on the right side gets taken out by mortar fire. In 1945, the population of an entire city in Japan falls asleep on a normal war torn night and at dawn the next morning the world’s first atomic bomb explodes.

Desolation on Grant Avenue
A desolate view of Grant Avenue

Living in North Beach this last year, traveling around the city of San Francisco during 2020, I can’t help but witness this very same randomness tied to our current everyday living. Friends who own bars and restaurants find their potential incomes determined by the number of parking spaces in front of their buildings. Some have narrow sidewalks and some wide ones allowing for seating, some are in front of bus stops or at busy intersections allowing for no seating, all of which, in the age of COVID, either help or hinder their business prospects. Some spent tens of thousands of dollars on beautiful outdoor parklets only to see their businesses shut down due to a second wave, before they can even make enough money to pay off the builders. 

Parklets at Filbert & Grant
All quiet on Filbert Street

I know business people who have been told by their landlords, “As long as I continue to own this building your business will be here when this is all over.” I know other people whose landlords have demanded they meet their full rental obligation even though their receipts are down 90%. In our own case, despite our being closed since March, we’ve been able to increase our online sales in the last six months which has helped enormously. And even that success is now being threatened because Postmaster General Louis Dejoy’s efforts to break the United States Post Office for election purposes have been recently realized. In December the USPS fell weeks behind on deliveries, causing many families to miss out on Christmas gifts. Who knows what any of this portends for businesses that depend upon reliable shipping services going into January and February?

Like looking both ways...
“So far 2020 is like looking both ways before crossing the street then getting hit by a freaking airplane!!!”

Speaking of what’s coming in January and February, I saw Doctor Fauci on TV earlier today telling us to brace ourselves for a very difficult two months. Apparently 1 out of every 17 Americans is now infected, whether we know it or not, and one of out every 1,000 Americans has already died of this virus. Many hospitals are completely full, so now is definitely not the time to fall and break a hip. In 1941, the USA went to war when 3,000 Americans were killed at Pearl Harbor. We went to war again after another 3,000 were killed when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. Today, starting this past month, more than 3,000 people are dying every single day because we can’t get people to wear masks. Three thousand people a day is the equivalent of ten jumbo jets crashing—every single day.

I believe San Francisco and California leaders made the correct choices by shutting us down early, compared to most other parts of the country, and yet even we have seen too much death and sorrow. I also believe too many political leaders at all levels of government made decisions because of politics as opposed to health and safety concerns. And given I tilt decidedly Left it likely won’t surprise anyone when I say I believe many of our current woes can be blamed on a rudderless ship of state whose captain is totally out of his depth.

Every Little Thing is Gonna Be Alright
“Every little thing is gonna be alright”

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned about life is when you reach the point where you’ve done all you can do, and you still find yourself at the mercy of the winds of Fate, it is then you must continue to put forth your very best individual effort while simultaneously surrendering to the overall flow of unfolding events. Trusting to the wisdom of floating downstream is a lot less exhausting than struggling to swim upstream against the prevailing current.

I do know this: when it is my turn for the vaccine sometime in the next few months I will roll up my sleeve and take the shot. 

I’m also going to do everything in my power to keep The Beat Museum alive for as long as I can, and however I am able.

To 2021. And to better days.

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