Socially distancing, quarantining, hunkering down, holing up, lying low, whatever you want to call it, that’s what we’re doing nowadays while waiting for COVID-19 to run its course. After businesses were closed or severely restricted and residents were told to distance themselves from others, I asked whether people felt prepared financially and spiritually. The responses were interesting, revealing, and comforting.
Mary Perez closed her restaurant Enchiladas Ole for 14 days before reopening for takeout orders recently.
“We have to keep paying rent here,” she said.
After years of doing business near Sylvania Avenue on the East Side, she relocated Enchiladas Ole to bigger and better digs near TCU earlier this year. Just before the pandemic hit last month, she was riding a high after her cafe’s queso was named among the nation’s best in a USA Today poll. Now, business has cratered, and Perez is hustling to sell enough family takeout orders to cover the rent while “reading, writing, and working on house projects” during her downtime at home.
“I am good with God,” she said. “No fear of living or dying.”
Folk singer-songwriter Summer Emerson said, financially, she is “not prepared at all!”
Spiritually, though, she is doing better.
“I was made to stay in bed,” she said. “I’ve got that part covered!”
She wants everyone to “continue to be safe and very cautious going forward for the sake of family and friends. Keep pushing through. This will be over soon enough!”
Don Young owns and operates a stained-glass window business with his wife, Debora Young, and both are environmental activists. Staying alone for long periods isn’t unusual for the Youngs since they are “self-proclaimed introverts,” Don said, and work from home anyway. The stained-glass business is unpredictable, and the couple is used to preparing for downturns.
“We don’t have a big fat bank account, but we have enough most of the time,” Young said. “Social Security has been a lifesaver when business is slow.”
As for spirituality, “nothing has changed because of the coronavirus,” he said. “Our beliefs in ourselves, each other, and a higher power are steadfast, aside from occasional doubts.”
The couple finds solace in walking the 200-plus acres at Tandy Hills Natural Area, a prairie park just east of Downtown and across the street from the Young residence. They tend to their backyard garden and enjoy the comforts of their small but cozy home.
“We have grown more wary and careful about trips to the store,” he said. “Overall, we think it’s not a bad thing to now be more aware of our surroundings and habits that can be taken for granted. Mindfulness has been one of our mantras for years and is getting a good workout.”
Bonnie Mays lives with her husband, Jeff Mays, and their son in Burleson. She is a communications director at a medium-sized church that has gone to online services only during the pandemic. Her husband is a manager at a flooring and appliance store.
“We have a bit of savings, and we have money coming in, thankfully, from both of our jobs, but we still worry a little about the economy and future,” she said. “Since I have autoimmune [disorder], and my son has a lung abnormality as well as pretty serious asthma, we are concerned by the amount of people who are not taking it very seriously. A lot of our neighborhood has offered help in buying groceries or picking up things that we may need, and that has really given me a good sense of people taking care of others in our community.”
Locals know Tony Green as the “Mayor of Magnolia,” a cultural influencer, host of the popular video series Hello, I’m Tony Green, and a cocktail slinger at a bar.
“Financially, being in the service industry, I can say with full confidence that I’m certainly unprepared,” he said. “I also have the confidence that I live in one of the most supportive communities in Fort Worth — Fairmount.”
He is focusing on staying emotionally grounded during the stressful times.
“I got depressed when it rained for a week last year,” he said. “This time, I’m making the best of this by getting every creative I have currently working on the show and more to get together and reformat a hopefully bi-weekly quarantined edition of Hello, I’m Tony Green. We will stream to YouTube and Facebook, spreading the happiness and hopefully raising a few tips for our small team and giving a platform to the places that can help during this time. Stay tuned.
“Can’t wait until we can do a song again together less than six feet away from each other,” he continued, referring to a regular music/talk show I host, Toast & Jam. He was my guest back in January 2019.
Melissa Rodriguez Lawler is an office manager in Tomball who feels lucky to have maintained some financial security since she and her husband, Jace Lawler, are able to work from home.
“But our hearts are heavy for our friends and family members who cannot,” she said.
Quarantining for long periods day and night with her husband and son has been mostly “nice” but with the occasional “tense” moment.
Rodriguez has gained a new appreciation of public educators since she and her husband have been home-schooling their child.
“We are not trained educators,” she said. “We have to create schedules that include school time, some kind of socializing, and even recently a daily workout schedule since his swim has been shut down. You come to realize how much the school does for them. Their mind, health, and social skills are all things that are provided by the schools.”
Independent artist and art teacher Trista Morris feels “fairly prepared” spiritually for whatever post-pandemic reality lies ahead.
“What can you do in the wake of something that is bigger than you?,” she said. “You have to ride the wave of what is hitting you, or you will drown in it.”
Financially, she is “not OK,” she said.
“I am a full-time artist and entertainer, so my options for making a living were essentially flushed down the toilet when everything began shutting down,” she said. “Not only that, but this concept might be quite permanent. Many of the bars and venues I teach classes at are local and small and may not survive the wreck that we are witnessing.
“Many people are now out of work, and all around, times are going to be difficult for a while,” she continued. “I know a lot of musicians and artists who are in the same boat as me, and the boat feels like it’s going to start sinking slowly unless our government steps up to the plate to help its citizens who drive the current economy and pull the weight off of us. My creative friends are drowning right now.”
She has been using her skills to help musicians and artists live stream performances from home, and she has been teaching stressed-out people basic drawing techniques to help them find relief from their anxiety.
“I believe that love is how we will survive this mess,” she said. “Love and understanding that things are going to be very bad, and we are just now seeing the crest of the wave as it looms over us. Times are about to get much, much worse. I feel also that it is a creative’s duty to document what is happening in the environment around us. Take pictures, paint the empty streets, and write songs and poetry about the things that are terrorizing us. Make history as it is unfolding so that maybe we don’t have to face another pandemic in our lives, so that maybe our future can be brighter once this wave passes.”
Susie Ramone works at a healthcare call center and feels “OK” financially since she is still able to work.
“I have the money for about two months’ worth of bills set aside,” she said. “That gives me some peace of mind but not a lot.”
Spiritually, she feels “good.”
“I feel like you’re asking about how my little soul will fare through all of this,” she said. “I am a people person, so I am connecting with people as I can, via phone or video call, instant messenger, social media. I miss being around people. I make time to go for a walk each day. My soul communes with nature as I do this, and I feel so much better.”
Ramone is hunkered down at her cozy house with food, books, puzzles, TV, and her dog. She worries about friends who are unemployed and about those working essential jobs who are putting themselves at greater risk of contracting the virus.
“I worry about all of them,” Ramone said. “The scariness of the unknown gives me frequent mild panic attacks. I have to remind myself that this isn’t forever, that we will get through this, and it will be OK.”
Aaron Ringo is a self-employed luthier, or guitar builder, in Weatherford and relies on word of mouth at music and guitar festivals to promote his Wood Ring Guitars. Those festivals have been canceled, but Ringo said he feels prepared financially for the short term.
“My business was exploding with lots of work when this all came down,” he said.
He expects to feel the financial blow eventually even though he feels “lucky to have around six to eight months of orders and work right now. I am also lucky to have a wonderful family to help support each other through this.”
Hunkering down won’t be difficult.
“If you call what I normally do each day a quarantine [stuck in a wood shop], life has not changed too much other than not seeing friends or local concerts,” he said. “It is a bit more stressful getting food, and we worry about the supply chains a bit. You never know what they are going to be out of next. I know there will be tough times ahead, but I will get through it. I just want my family to stay healthy.”
Izzy Jeffery is the youngest person to respond to my questions. The 20-year-old musician and barback feels fortunate that she had put a little money together to buy a travel camper but can now use the cash for food, gas, and other essentials.
Spiritually, she is cool.
“Prior to the outbreak, I had ventured into a self-reflective hiatus,” she said. “Rather than stress about social position or allowing the pressure of my career and future to weigh me down, I redirected my priorities on spiritual realignment. That meant no social media and staying off of my phone for the first three hours of every morning and being especially kind to others. Now that the entire world is placing their plans on hold, I feel further connected with humanity knowing that there are other people going through a phase of important self-reflection. Though these are hard times, I’m hopeful that once this is all over, we’ll be more conscious about what’s of most significance to us.”
Jeffery urged everyone to avoid “the void of endless digital entertainment” and go outside, write more, and find your inner child.
“When we do swing back into normal routine, we can remember what makes us grateful to be alive,” she said.
Thanks to everyone who responded for this article. Your thoughts are inspiring and beautiful. I hadn’t planned on including thoughts of my own, but one of the respondents, Don Young, asked me to share them, and so here goes.
I’ve been a newspaper reporter most of my life. It’s a calling and a passion. I love it.
The industry has struggled for years, however, and I’ve been preparing for the worst. Good thing, too. Anthony Mariani, editor of the Fort Worth Weekly, sent an email yesterday announcing that much of our salaried staff, including myself, is being laid off.
The future is unclear.
I’ve never been without a job. Yesterday, I filed for unemployment. I’d never done that before, either. It wasn’t as difficult as I had expected, and it feels good knowing replacement money might be on the way soon.
At 60, I’m too young to retire and too old to find a job easily and still have 10 years’ worth of mortgage payments to go. But I’ve been readying myself for this moment, including physically, mentally, and spiritually. I feel strong — sad and a little scared but strong.
Hopefully, this pandemic passes soon, businesses reopen, and we all return to normalcy. Until then, I plan to look for a job while continuing to contribute stories about the pandemic and its effect on Tarrant County residents to the Weekly’s pages. Why? Reporting is what I do. A reporter is who I am. Documenting this unique and uncertain time makes me feel helpful and useful. Maybe when the uncertainty blows over, I can go back to being paid for writing stories, taking photos, covering our city and its residents as we step through history, and shooting the Toast & Jam shows I enjoy so much.
If not, that’s OK. I will find something else to do.
Mostly, I worry about others. My elderly parents. My siblings and relatives. My friends who’ve lost their jobs and –– unlike me –– have the added responsibility of raising children. We should all worry about one another but not too much. Worrying doesn’t help.
I’m sending out love to all of you and feeling yours in return, and that’s enough for now.