Essential reporting in volatile times.

Not a Subscriber yet? Click here to take advantage of All access digital limited time offer $13.95 per month EZ Pay.

Interested in Donating? Click #ISupportLocal for more information on supporting local journalism.


“Enjoy your weekend!” the masked lady behind the plexiglass screen at the Dollar General store suggested on Friday, as I grabbed my yellow plastic bag of newly bought essentials (protein bars and Keurig coffee pods) and headed for the door.

“You, too,” I replied with a snort of appreciative laughter as I headed for the door. She gave me a strange look as I walked past, making me question my initial assumption that she had been going for ironic with the “weekend” quip. I mean, what makes weekends any different from weekdays in the age of coronavirus?

These days, most people stay home, all week long. My job as a newspaper reporter, surprisingly included on state government’s essential occupations list, makes it possible for me to leave the house and cover various news events, all of which have something to do with the coronavirus epidemic. After work and on weekends, I spend my leisure time at home either reading about coronavirus events online or watching them unfold on cable TV.

As I drove down the sparsely traveled main drag of Cross Lanes toward I-64, I actually began to miss the massive traffic jams that used to occur for no apparent reason along Big Tyler Road at any time of day. In that bygone era, just two months ago, people were out and about, going places and doing things for no other reason than they felt like it. When they venture out now, it’s usually to a supermarket or pharmacy to buy a few essentials and see if the war for toilet paper has ended.

On Friday, except for a few joggers, dog-walkers and folks making “essential business” visits to the drive-thru lane at Tudor’s, the road was almost empty.

Once on the interstate and headed for Charleston, I zoomed past the three message boards flashing out the words “Essential travel only...Stay at home...Order W.V. Gov.” Well, he’s not a hypocrite, I thought to myself. He’s had a fair amount of experience staying at home.

Once in town, I headed to my assigned news event, which proved to be a formal affair — mandatory protective masks and required body temperature readings taken at the door. Several of the folks already there called my name and waved a greeting. For a few moments I struggled with the COVID-19 recognition quiz — identifying people when most of their facial features are hidden behind masks.

Later, back in the newsroom — nearly vacant these days due to work-from-home options — I popped a pod in the office Keurig and checked the Twitter feed. One of my favorite threads these days is #WeAreTheVirus, which credits global stay-at-home policies for humans with immediate (and fictional) improvements to nature and wildlife.

My favorite post involved a video of an Alaskan brown bear swatting salmon from a stream into a shoreline brush thicket to dine on later. The poster commented that the bear was “saving injured fish from drowning,” and remarked upon the amazing healing power of nature once humans are out of the picture.

It’s good to see flashes of humor during this international era of anxiety.

Meanwhile, I look forward to a time when I no longer associate the aroma of hand sanitizer with drive-thru fast food, and if a friend mentions getting a case of corona, he is referring to a quantity of Mexican beer, not a disease.

“We laugh to take back control,” wrote Tom McTague in an Atlantic article that appeared last week.

Sort of like hoarding toilet paper, only a bit less antisocial.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.