Pandemic, for me, is over.
Never mind the New York Times, which warns that Sangamon County remains at high risk – there's a neat-o gizmo on the home page, updated daily, that lets you check out disease danger, county by county, nationwide. Two months after getting my second shot, I felt guilty, then giddy, when visiting Aldi last week. I'd started toward the door, remembered I'd forgotten my mask in the Toyota and was ready to turn around when I thought: Wait a minute.
The next day, I was watching Candace Owens talk to Republicans at Bank of Springfield Center. Out of 1,500 GOP stalwarts, fewer than zero wore masks, and I didn't, either. Sheriff's deputies showed up, stationed at doors as Owens spoke; there were city cops positioned outside as patrons departed after the show. We live in dangerous times, but I saw nothing amiss.
The keynote speaker stayed between guardrails, mostly, attacking Democrats and talking about transgender kids and calling Donald Trump the greatest president in modern times. I'd covered a 2015 Trump rally at the same venue, back when no one gave him a chance, despite the Bank of Springfield Center never having drawn a larger crowd. Trump, outside Twitter, drones, and after 30 minutes or so of off-the-cuff-oft-disjointed schtick, even loyalists head for exits like ball fans after the seventh inning – don't want to get caught in traffic.
The room Thursday was attentive, hardly a murmur between bursts of applause, and few bathroom breaks. Owens went on for an hour with nary a pause or "um" separating thoughts. "We've got a senile puppet for a president," she declared, which might be true. It is good that someone like Owens, who says that she might seek the White House and speaks stream-of-consciousness style better than Trump ever imagined, isn't electable.
The most notable moment came before Owens took the stage at the Lincoln Day Dinner, when a couple high schoolers who'd penned essays each pronounced Ronald Reagan their favorite Republican president whilst elders thundered approval. David Bowie didn't know politics, but he knew truth: We could steal time just for one day, we can be heroes forever and ever.
Tomorrow, I will board a jet and travel 2,000 miles, equipped with N95, just in case and because airlines require masks, fearing nothing save airport food. On the other end is family I haven't seen since August, when I rode a motorcycle and camped. Outside seeing Mom and Dad, my goal is decent pho and forgetting Springfield, where the familiar got regurgitated at last week's city council meeting.
I fell asleep in the front row, coughing distance from Ward 1 Ald. Chuck Redpath and not much interested in an agenda that included a $65 million subsidy for ballfields alongside the scant-traveled driveway to Scheels – the 8-3 vote in favor was a lock before they recited the pledge of allegiance, our surest bet on prosperity since the council approved a half-billion dollars in 2005 to build a coal-fired power plant. A jury had just awarded $750,000 to the family of a boy who drowned in Lake Springfield 14 years ago. I wanted to know what city officials thought about that, so I went to the council meeting – I often buttonhole folks afterward rather than wait for them to return phone calls.
Three hours is a long time.
I woke when Ward 6 Ald. Kristin DiCenso got into it with Ward 2 Ald. Shawn Gregory and Ward 3 Ald. Roy Williams, who both voted against fields of dreams in her ward. What about cannabis tax revenue that's going to the east side, DiCenso asked. "What I don't want to hear is, every time I want something for our community, 'You got the weed money,'" Gregory retorted. "It's disrespectful." Williams asked why the alderwoman had brought up weed grants from the state. "How much did that cost the city?" Williams asked. "What I'm trying to understand is what one had to do with the other."
The state has reserved $236,000 in weed grants for a feasibility study and design work on an east side sports complex with no site and a ballpark cost of $300 million. The money is rolled into an $800,000 allocation for a tiny nonprofit that's also promised a prisoner reentry program funded by state cannabis revenue. I suspect all those hundreds of thousands of dollars for the east side will accomplish as much as tens of millions of dollars spent in Ward 6, but I am an optimist.
However it ends up, we're all in this together.
"We're supposed to be up here working as a team, with the common goal of improving Springfield," Williams said last week. Which sounded a lot like what DiCenso said a year ago, when council members, eight days after George Floyd died, agreed that we need to do better.
"When it comes to issues of racial inequality or gender inequality in this community, this group needs to support each other, period, because we have to work together and we have to have each other's backs," DiCenso declared back then.
Which seems eons ago.
Contact Bruce Rushton at [email protected].