I was tested for coronavirus today. My friend Lizzy volunteers for Medical Reserve Corps. They’re administering free tests at various locations around the city. It’s not like before, when the tests were in limited supply, and they’d shoot a laser thermometer at your head to prove you had symptoms before wasting one. Now they want everybody to get tested to prevent a second wave. It’s taken me forever because I’ve been moving to a new apartment. All I do is work and move.
My new place is in the upper ninth ward, close to the tracks, sandwiched between two overpasses. This area is like a secret suburb on the Bywater outskirts. Today the testing site was on Harrison Ave in City Park. My GPS tried to take me north to Florida Ave. The roads were blocked off no matter where I went, so I turned around and took St. Claude to Esplanade to City Park. I didn’t appreciate that fifteen-minute detour. It was hot, and I was on my bike. When I got to Harrison, I couldn’t find the location. The address appeared to be a small foot bridge leading to the restaurants and boutiques on Harrison and Canal Blvd. It made no sense. I texted Lizzy, “Are you sure this place exists? I can’t spend another minute being this angry on a bourgeois jogging path. I’ll get arrested.” She told me to look up Gernon Brown Rec Center, and that got me there. The test itself was quick, easy, and painless. A volunteer even watched my bike while I was inside.
I really wanted to get tested after protesting the extrajudicial killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. I was exposed to more people than I had been in months. I didn’t realize the demonstration would be so huge until I got there. I’ve been to protests with thousands of people, and I’ve stood outside City Hall with eight people chanting, “Kavanaugh has got to go.” My friends Alex and Aisha invited me to go with them on Monday. It was their first protest ever. They’ve been cooped up in their house together with little outside contact. It didn’t hit me until we got to the march and I saw how many people were there that this might not be safe, from a quarantine perspective. We speculated that people might be jumping at the opportunity to do anything social after months of being told it’s irresponsible to go outside. Now suddenly, it’s irresponsible not to go outside.
For whatever reason, I’ve spent the last year replacing my free-wheeling friends with a more concern-prone, heavy-hearted crowd. Finding my tribe, I guess. It felt weird to get judged by one friend for not attending a protest the first weekend, only to get judged by another friend four days later for attending a protest instead of maintaining social distance. When you’re forced to choose between exposing yourself to a deadly virus and ignoring state-sanctioned murder, that’s pretty much the definition of dystopian. Anyone else tired of winning?
Aisha and Alex must have really enjoyed their first protest because two days later they went back. On Wednesday, the police deployed tear gas against peaceful demonstrators on the GNO bridge, and Alex and Aisha were among them. They told me that tear gas doesn’t really hurt as much as you’d expect, but being caught in a blind, panicked stampede on a raised bridge was terrifying. What happens when the people closest to the guard rail get pushed over? Fortunately, that didn’t happen, from what I’ve heard.
Yesterday my friend Emma texted me while I was at work, asking if I wanted to go to that night’s protest. It was Thursday, the first protest since Wednesday’s violent police intervention. I hadn’t planned on marching any more after Monday, but in the wake of the tear gas incident, it felt important to keep the energy up. The violence could either temper enthusiasm or provoke it. Let’s make sure it provokes!
Emma picked me up around seven. We were running late. She had been buying last-minute supplies. Goggles, the children’s swimming variety. Milk, in case the goggles failed to protect our eyes. Snacks, water, extra masks. She even brought a sharpie to write an attorney’s number on our arms.
I brought spray paint. Emma wanted to hang out in the back, in case things got crazy like the night before. That jived well with my plan to duck off if the police overstepped and tag as many surrounding buildings as possible while they were distracted at the scene of the incident. Fortunately, it never came to that.
On Monday, I couldn’t find a single person without a mask. I guess the police violence blew the scene up too big to exclude irresponsible people. Plenty of naked faces last night. We tried to find our friend Ky, who was on a group text with Emma to be safe. Found our friend Tristan instead. He had Cliff Bars! Emma spotted a white person filming a sign that read, “White people: stop filming and start helping.” We all marched up to police headquarters on Tulane and Broad. It felt like, if anything’s going to happen, it’s going to happen here. We were too far back to hear the speeches. I braced myself for a commotion, a cloud of gas, a sound cannon. Any cue to run a few blocks over and start vandalizing. That moment never came. We quietly dispersed and gave Tristan a ride home. I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
This morning I woke up and went straight to the testing facility in City Park. The quaint, upscale neighborhood couldn’t have been more different from the ninth ward. I stopped at a gas station and bought a chicken sandwich and a candy bar. A middle-aged white man was in front of me in line. He wasn’t wearing a mask. He was open carrying. No badge or uniform. Just a gun in a holster on his waste. He was very chummy and garrulous with the clerk, who did not return his affect.