Gary Horton | Hope: It’s More Important Than Ever in America

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We’re in Groundhog Day – going on day 16 or 18 or was it 20? Days are blurred now in a Twilight Zone milieu of waiting, waiting, flipping the laptop and “working” – and the search for paper towels or any paper product.

Why, oh why, the run on toilet paper and paper towels? 

It is a curiously amazing thing that you can now gain entrance to a Ralphs or a Walmart and find everything under the sun – except for paper goods. Fresh fish from all over the world. Any meat you can think of. George Foreman grills. Seventy-inch TVs, all the vegetables your doctor wants you to eat! 

But no paper towels. 

Did coronavirus kill all the trees? What happened?

I’m giving up on the whole paper towel thing. Mom used washcloths her entire life – we had a little rack to dry them on the kitchen counter. Mom was right – and I’m switching retro-style to washcloths.

Leading to this big decision was last Sunday’s search. I headed out early in the morning figuring things would be slow and there’d be a good chance of paper on the shelves. Drove to the Ralphs. A long line of disparaged hopeless-looking cart-pushers queued up in front. No way — I’m not doing the Soviet-era dejected Russian shopper thing. 

Drove to the Walmart. Store was wide open, everything stocked to the brim – until the paper goods aisle. Trader Joe’s? There too, a long Soviet-style line. Home Depot? No paper goods and the clerk couldn’t believe it himself. 

Aldi? A line for an Aldi?

Last hope: Vallarta Supermarket. Bingo! Toilet paper – limit one pack per family. Fair enough. No paper towels, but at least we got other needs met. And no lines – that’s nice.

Amazon isn’t shipping paper towels until April 21. And that’s just one brand. The others are simply “out of stock” with no vendors shipping to our area.

Sigh. 

We’ve got 1,000 workmen at our company. Our industry is deemed “essential” so we’re still working. We’re also committed to 100% complete safety for our workers.

Think paper towels are tough? Try finding masks and gloves and disinfectant and hand sanitizers for 1,000 workers – per day! It seems America has run short on everything we never quite planned for. Our “just in time” inventory system ran out and we’re all waiting for the factories we no longer have to make what we urgently need but never planned for.

There’s going to be quite a realignment when this whole thing is done. A reconsideration of what needs to be made in America, versus simply the cheapest source. National interest might take priority over individual profits. My little situation with paper towels is nothing. We’re out of ventilators, medical safety gear, and, extremely important, the compounds used to make many medicines. 

Here’s hoping we’ve got the serious minds in Washington to sort these things out. Maybe having a narcissist reality show host leading this whole effort isn’t the best timing.

Meanwhile, we’re keeping our heads down and working hard. We can’t say what’s out there lurking in our economy and society in the next two or three months. Will everything just “fire back up” as though nothing happened? Or, are we headed for another long recession as everything slowly sorts out?

We’re in a fog and right now it’s about anyone’s guess how all this ends. We’re hoping for the best — so on hope, each morning we head for the kitchen, grab the coffee, flip open the laptop and head to our virtual offices. Workers drive on mostly empty freeways to dig, fit, mow, trim and plant — and hope against hope their jobs stay in place.

And that’s the point. Boiled down, this is really a battle of hope against uncertainty. Of resolve against dejection. Of commitment to stick it out versus giving up. As these Groundhog days turn to Groundhog months, the struggle to maintain hope will intensify.

“Hope” is paramount to holding a locked-down society together. We’re not just hoping for paper goods, (although apparently that’s on everyone’s mind) – we’re hoping for something so much larger: a return to something resembling normalcy. 

And our actions, our policies, our messaging – all must give “hope” veracity and legitimacy, from our family circles to the circles of national power. 

There’s going to be real work and hardship ahead to fix all this, and we’ve got to stay pumped up and hopeful for the challenge.

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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