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A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
It’s been a good while, but I believe I detected some movement last weekend, as we began gradually to emerge from the shells in which we have been cowering for the past year.
I responded to an invitation to attend an event north of San Antonio specifically for fellow model railroad hobbyists, a trade show of sorts, where modelers exhibit their train layouts and others sell off bits and pieces of their collections. While most of the vendors are private individuals, a few are retailers who build makeshift stores at these shows all over Texas and sell their brand-new products to anyone willing to pay premium prices.
Well, obviously, an event like this would necessitate quite a crowd in order to be viable. No one wants to go to all this trouble in setting up booths or operational model train layouts if there won’t be anyone visiting.
You can imagine I was a little skeptical. There hadn’t been a show in a year, the coronavirus is still a serious threat across the state despite the many vaccinations that have been given, and a lot of the people who attend these shows are… well, let’s just say they’re older than me. Really, these people are in what’s called the high-risk category for serious illness or death from the virus, if age doesn’t catch them first.
I argued with myself a while before going. They’re a sedentary lot, these model railroad hobbyists, I said, and they’re most unlikely to have picked up anything deadly at a frat party or some sweaty rave in an abandoned warehouse, having spent most of the past year hunched over workbenches or fiddling with little electric wires. You know, the way these weird duffers do.
I calculated that the risk was, frankly, minimal.
I also calculated that there would be ample distance between these people and me. There would be tables strewn with goods for sale, wide layouts behind which operators lurked in silly hats, and I should be able easily to dodge any inappropriate grouping.
So I went.
Fresh mask tightly applied, I paid my admission fee and entered the exhibition hall.
I half expected to find hordes of grumpy people, maskless, complaining in spittle-filled ire about the state of things, tightly knit cliques of model train brethren shrugging about anything from the weather to the accuracy of that Union Pacific caboose ladder… but I found none of those things.
Here was an example of how we can really do this back-to-normal thing. Here were people respecting each other’s space, waving instead of shaking hands, wearing gloves to handle money, never removing their masks, making sure no one stood too close to anyone or accidentally created a cluster, and above all determined to have a thoroughly decent time, possibly even a little fun again.
And it’s fun we’ve been missing, isn’t it?
We can do without shopping malls and dance parties, and we can do without a lot of things that really weren’t very healthy in the first place, but we’ve sorely missed just having a properly decent time with some acquaintances whom we haven’t seen in a while.
Everybody mingled loosely. Everybody bought something. Everybody ogled the caboose ladder (not kidding about that), and everybody saw everything that was on display.
Some people brought their kids, from the very young screamers to the moody teenagers, and still there wasn’t any misbehaving.
We can do this, I thought. We really can.
I drove home with happy memories of wonderful miniature trains, a bag of bits and pieces, and cheer at the thought of having seen friends again.
When I parked in my driveway, I sat for a moment, though, and thought about there having been some empty spaces in the hall, tables where vendors would be each year but where there had been nothing on show or sale, and where the folding chairs had been unused.
Those were the reminders that the virus is still very real, that it is still deadly and that there are a few friends we’ll never see again.