Miami green screen photo booth for Yamaha Outboards

How the Pandemic Kills Creativity

Chapter 1

I stood in front of the baggage carousel, luggage dropped and spun around, but mine are always last.  Not because I’m a glass half full kind of guy, but because my cases are huge and require special handling.  If they even come out on the regular belt.  Often, they drop across the vast baggage area at the over-sized ramp.   For me, happiness is an airport where the over-sized comes out on the main belt.  Nirvana!

Miami green screen photo booth for Yamaha Outboards
Our last green screen photo booth for Yamaha at Bassmasters in Birmingham Alabama March 2020

CNN’s news loop played on each television above the carousel.  The sound was off, and I ignored everything except the crawl on the bottom third of the screen.  Way back when I was a little kid, my sister and I would look for typos and misspellings on the early cable weather crawl at my grandmother’s house.  We were bored.  There were lots of misspellings.  She later became head of a high school English department.  She has her doctorate in English.  I have to spell check my blog.  Whatever.

The date was March 9, 2020.  And CNN’s Dow Jones Industrial Average crawl had a typo.

It said the Dow was down 2,000 points.  Someone put an extra zero in the number.  Oops.  I idly flicked my phone on, and thumbed over to the stock market ticker.

The Dow was down 2,000 points.

With that, the real 2020 began.  And my year — at least my business year — ended.  It was March 9th.

March 9, 2020 was a Monday.  I was returning home from the Bassmaster Classic and had moved my flight up early, since I had to turn around and drive to Philadelphia on Friday for the Travel and Adventure Show.  Matthew had worked the Washington Travel and Adventure Show while I took Bassmasters, and he’d reported attendance had been extremely light.   Fears of Pandemic were whispered throughout the convention center.  Bassmasters — held this year in Birmingham — hadn’t looked any different than 2019, except for a few extra containers of hand wipes.

The news was buzzing about the new virus; but everyone said it was a “bad flu”.   I wasn’t worried.   Trump said it would “go away”.   For once, I agreed with Trump.

I was stupid.

A few days later, as I was packing to head to Philadelphia, I received a call cancelling the show.  Suddenly my phone started ringing, emails poured in.  All with the same message:

Cancelled.  Cancelled.  Cancelled.  Cancelled.  Rescheduled — wait, no — cancelled.

My schedule cleared through June.  Second quarter of work: gone.  A few months later, it would clear again; this time, through the end of the year.  There would be no third or fourth quarter.

For someone who never sits still; whose rarely in the same city for more than a week, to be suddenly and thoroughly grounded was odd.  Surreal.

At first, I thought I’d catch up on projects.  Then, as the financial impact became obvious, I spent my time making sure we were on sound financial footing. I looked at savings, proposed government programs, credit lines.   I put a financial plan in place.  We’d be ok.

Then I watched Tiger King.  Then Game of Thrones.  Then series after series after series after series.  Some reminded me of travel.  They made me sad.

My mind slowly dimmed and narrowed.  The city buzzed right out my front window, where there’s a bus stop.  Outside, it looked normal.  Except for the masks.

I kept abreast of the news.  Like every other American, I tried to predict when things would start to return to normal.  About June, the pandemic seemed to settle down.  Maybe — with special COVID policies in place — events would start again.

The second wave hit, crushing any hope of a rebound.  One of the event photographers I know emailed me.  He’d finally booked an event — a conference with a medical group discussing the pandemic — and two days later he was sick.  COVID slammed his family.  I haven’t heard from him since.

Dr. Anthony Fauci: a vaccine may take years.  Dr. Anthony Fauci:  Perhaps until 2022.  I don’t even need to tell you who Dr. Anthony Fauci is: you already know.  How crazy is that?

Some days, I felt ok, normal even.  Events would come back.  People couldn’t stay barricaded in their homes forever.  We’d be ok.  Business would be ok.  “It will be ok, Matthew!” I’d say. Other days, the closest thing to depression I’ve ever felt dropped like a brick.

First thing in the morning, I’d do my COVID workout.  A regular gym rat, Planet Fitness was closed.   Now my gym time consists of big rubber band things.  Miraculously, they seem to work.  I’ve stayed in good shape.  That said, every day the couch beckons at 2:30 pm.  Maybe just one Top Chef?

I used to say I had two main worries:  worry one and worry two.  Worry one was not having enough work to make financial ends meet.  Worry two was having too much work and not having time for family.  How quaint.  Innocent.  Two silly worries.

I spoke with my mom almost daily.  She kept dreaming up projects for me:  help her make masks.  (Not happening.  My idea of sewing is to Stitch Witch).  Photograph people in my neighborhood; family portraits.  (Yeah, whatever.)  Go work somewhere.  Just temporarily.  Do something.

I thought about that.  I even put in a few applications.  I could return to retail; I’d had a successful stint as an HR Executive for Target before joining my mom with what would become US Event Photos.  Maybe I needed to join the ranks of the essential workers:  you know: retail.  Groceries.  Bars.  I could day drink.  I filled out a few applications: there was no response.  What the hell?  Don’t they know I’m awesome?  Bite me.  I don’t want to work for you anyway.  Not really.  I was going to ditch you as soon as COVID ended.

I’ve worked as a photographer for 19 years.  I never thought I’d do anything else.  When a client asked me when I would retire I said something non-comital.  I still think of myself as the young, hotshot photographer.  Never mind I’m 52.  Whatever.   I’ve always been convinced:  when the next door was ready to open, it would open.

Maybe this was the door?  I just didn’t expect it to spring open under my feet.

(To be continued…)