The latest news in the world reminds me of this scene from Airplane 2, when a host of problems culminates in panic.
Today the we have the coronavirus spreading rapidly, the stock market plummeting to the point that trading was halted, and the usual sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot making it all worse.
These are uncertain times. It’s hard to predict what the world will be like a few months from now, but people are getting the sense that big changes have occurred and will continue to mount, whether fueled by rational responses to real problems or otherwise. It feels like we’re living in a different reality now than the one we were in at the start of the year, doesn’t it?
In my city of Las Vegas, there’s concern in the air. To date there are only four confirmed cases in the state of Nevada (and no fatalities), but of course that’s likely due to severe under-testing. About 42 million people visit Vegas each year, including millions of international visitors, so there’s a good chance that the Vegas Strip is already awash in people with coronavirus who aren’t symptomatic yet. I’m not sure that the casinos’ efforts to put out extra hand sanitizer dispensers will make much difference.
There’s some chatter from people who work in the tourist areas about potential threats to their health from all the people they interact with each day. Who isn’t now wondering about touching the chips, cards, and dice that have been handled by so many people? And then of course these people all go home at the ends of their shifts to infect the rest of the city.
The local economy is heavily based on tourism, and of course there’s a big looming threat to that right now. A large part of the city’s income is from conventions as well, and many are being canceled – right after a major expansion of the city’s Convention Center was built where the Riviera Hotel once existed. The Vegas economy tends to swing more wildly in the same direction as the national economy, so when times are slightly good elsewhere, they’re really good here. And when the economy is slightly bad elsewhere, it’s a major downturn here. Even before today’s stock market drop, casino stocks were down significantly.
Local businesses seem to be in a wait-and-see mode while taking a few modest precautions. At a local fitness studio this past week, they’ve posted a sign about their cleaning and sanitizing procedures and which rooms have hand sanitizer available. After you use an exercise bike for an indoor cycling class, they clean it before anyone uses it in the next class. At Trader Joe’s they’ve relocated the coffee sample cups behind the counter, so people have to ask for them instead of everyone reaching for a communal supply, and I’ve noticed that cashiers are wearing gloves now.
So these small adjustments are happening here and there, but I wouldn’t say that any are particularly big sacrifices. There is concern, but most people seem to be taking it in stride. While some companies have the option of letting people work from home, that isn’t possible for those working as casino dealers, cocktail servers, bartenders, performers, etc. You can’t just dial-in your Cirque du Soleil performance.
Based on what we’ve seen from China and Italy, where millions of people are under quarantine, I wonder how far Vegas will go in terms of mitigation response. Will the entire Vegas Strip close down at some point, looking like a ghost town like those pics we’ve seen from Wuhan? Economically speaking, shutting down the casinos would be like turning off the city. But what happens when casino employees start getting sick or even dying from this?
Is it just a matter of time before that happens? Could it even be just a matter of weeks before the city is facing that kind of decision?
Is the current modest mitigation response likely to make much difference?
To some people the idea of such a large tourist area in the USA shutting down completely seems unfathomable. But is that denial? Is it false hope? Will we be there eventually?
At the rate things are progressing, I would expect that at some point this year, perhaps even within the next several weeks, there will be mounting pressure to close major tourist areas in the USA, including Vegas casinos, theme parks like Disneyland, concerts, and more. I think it could be just a matter of time before enough people get sick and enough people die that such ideas are seriously considered. We’re already seeing some major events being canceled or postponed, such as the SXSW event in Austin and the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco.
Burning Man, which has its big events every August in upstate Nevada, still intends to go forward with it this year, although they say they’re monitoring the situation.
Disney also recently released a statement basically saying that it’s business as usual at their USA theme parks while of course they’re being extra attentive to cleanliness. All of their Asian parks remain closed though. How long will this approach last in the USA, I wonder?
It feels to me like we’re at the point in Las Vegas (and across the USA and in many other countries too) similar to when the Titanic hit the iceberg, and a few people on the ship realize that their boat ride can no longer proceed on its original course. It takes a while for people to see enough signs to realize and accept that they’re no longer in the same reality.
This isn’t the same reality anymore. I know it can be tough to wrap your head around that, but that’s a wise thing to do consciously and deliberately. See if you can get your mind back in sync with the world as it is now and the new set of possible headings. Do your best to let go of where it was.
Of course there are fears and worries about what might happen next. But start with simple curiosity, so you can get back into sync with truth (i.e. the state of reality as it is right now). Take a moment to pause, look around, and assess this new and different reality that you find yourself in. Look with fresh eyes, and listen with fresh ears. The world has shifted. The expectations that you had in January may no longer be reasonable today.
You may not like how the world has shifted, and sometimes you may wish that things will just return to normal, but they won’t. Nevertheless, you can still align with reality as it is now.
This new reality will bring different lessons and experiences. Your story and your character will adapt if you let them.