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Sunday Drive: COVID-19 Edition

Woodfliend Mall, COVID-19, Scenes from the Pandemic
Once the largest mall in America, Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, IL, is still among the nation’s biggest shopping destinations, and is typically quite crowded most Sunday afternoons–but this was no normal Sunday. Instead, this picture was taken on the first full day of Illinois’ “shelter-in-place” order. The landscape was similarly desolate all around the mall, save for the occasional restaurant manager carting perishables into rented vans.

My daughter and I have a history of hitting the road following extreme weather situations and taking in the wrath of Mother Nature. Floods, violent storms, and blizzards often leave impressive evidence of their fury, and a drive through the aftermath can help put the event’s impact in perspective.

A virus, however dangerous, leaves few visible clues of its presence. There are no giants piles of snow or abandoned vehicles, no broken branches or huge puddles of water. Instead–at least in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic–it is what’s missing from the landscape that is most telling.

On Friday, March 20, Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker issued a “shelter-in-place” order for the state. The Order was set to go into effect Saturday, March 21, at 6:00 PM.

Around 4:00 PM that Saturday, roughly a day into the shelter order, my daughter and I went for a drive to take in the sights–or lack thereof.

Our tour of Chicago’s Northwest Suburbs was rendered additionally eerie by my test car, a 2020 Lexus LS 500h. One might imagine traversing a post-apocalyptic landscape in a Jeep Wrangler or Toyota 4Runner, a vehicle with which to detour off-road when roving bands of toilet-paper hoarders begin flooding the road from behind parked Amazon delivery trucks. Instead, we viewed the still landscape from the soundless cabin of Lexus’s flagship luxury sedan, trolling parking lots in hybrid-electric silence. Well, it was silent until my daughter decided to crank up her Man or Astro-Man? album—a distraction I welcomed.

As I mentioned, it is what was missing from roads and parking lots that was more telling than anything we could see.

In the interest of social distancing, most of the images below were taking from within the car… not that there was ever anyone but my daughter within a dozen feet of me.

I don’t know if you feel as unsettled as I do at the moment, but I take great solace knowing that my parents and their parents before them endured greater periods of confusion and hardship, and came away from those experiences stronger and more resolute.

If you have any thoughts on these photos, or the pandemic in general, share them below. We’d appreciate hearing from you.

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Street Scenes from the Pandemic

The only time I set foot into a store on Sunday was this visit to Walgreens. Obviously, prescriptions need to be filled regardless of the situation, but I watched a guy leave the store with several liters of Diet Pepsi and a couple bags of Combos. And no, this location still doesn’t have any toilet paper.

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It’s interesting to note which restaurants are opting to make a go of delivery and curbside pickup, and which are simply shutting down for the duration of the lockdown. This rib joint seems to be doing some business; the other eateries in the strip mall are closed.

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Agio is one of the most popular restaurants in Palatine, Illinois, and its parking lot is usually packed on Sunday evenings. Depressingly, there is no sign on the restaurant door, just UPS pickup stickers. A pile of mail, visible through the glass door, has accumulated in the foyer.

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This Outback Steakhouse location is geared up for volume curbside-pickup business, though things were slow when I snapped this picture.

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This Sonic Drive-In location was doing brisk business Sunday. This is about as close to table service as any Illinois eater is going to get for a while. I assume patrons mostly kept their windows rolled up.

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Pizza and social distancing seem incongruous to me, but I appreciate this guy’s concern for his staff. Place was empty when we drove by. Here’s hoping for better business in the weeks ahead.

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I wonder if fast-food restaurant operators intend to make money during the shutdown, or if they only hope to keep inventory turning and key staff employed.

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Located in Schaumburg, Illinois, Egg-O-Holic is a Indian fast-food restaurant specializing in egg dishes. The menu seems a little too quirky for volume take-out business, but I hope I am wrong. I love this place.

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Roughly half of the businesses we drove past had something posted in the window. The notes ranged from terse to tender, and many struck an optimistic note. However, at this point I’m skeptical that all of these shuttered businesses will be re-opening by March 31.

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Before the shelter-in-place order, the State of Illinois closed restaurant dining rooms; the bottom sign in this photo was a product of that initiative.

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It’s hard not to worry about the people who rely on this social-services office for support. Here in Morton Grove, Illinois, home of Consumer Guide, the food pantry has begun distributing food curbside for those in need. The pantry volunteers appear ominous in their masks and gloves.

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Only the grocery store at the far end of this plaza was doing any business when we took this photo. I suspect there would have been more cars if toilet paper was in stock.

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Depending on who you ask, car washes are essential businesses. Nevertheless, they’re closed here in Illinois. The adjacent gas station is open, and fuel is the cheapest it’s been in years. Analysts predict even lower gas prices in the near future.

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The Schaumburg, Illinois, Medieval Times dinner theater should be packed with folks talking in the Sunday afternoon performance. Instead, the lot is almost empty. Note the horse trailer on the left in the distance. I suspect the horses used in performances here will be on vacation someplace for a while.

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Even couples can’t seem to agree as whether or not they should be wearing face masks. Of the people I saw out and about–mostly in grocery-store parking lots–maybe one person in 10 was wearing some sort of face covering.

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This image has nothing to do with the pandemic–it just struck me as an ominous find on an eerie day.

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Scenes from the Pandemic


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