The Coronavirus in Nashville.

Or, why all my friends and I are out of work.

For the past two years,

I’ve been balancing full time grad school and part time work. For the last 8 or so months, I’ve been lucky enough to work at the downtown location of Frothy Monkey, a coffeeshop/restaurant/bar here in Nashville.

On an average morning, Frothy’s front seating area would be completely full. This week, it was nearly empty.

To be clear,

Frothy isn’t firing anyone, or laying anyone off. I have no ill will towards anyone there, and if anything, the GM there has been nothing but concerned with the well-being of the people she’s having to give this news too. Whenever the exponential growth of the coronavirus calms down, and social distancing precautions start to relax, and business comes back, I’ll have a job at Frothy, and will be happy to return.

However, it is Tuesday, March 17th. On the last day of the month, I’ve got to pay rent.

I got that call from the GM at 5:20pm. At 5:30, one of my best friends and coworkers showed up at my place, just before receiving the same call from our GM himself. At 5:40, a number of friends came over, and out of the seven people I hung out with that evening, four of us were service industry workers. The other three are involved in music, and almost all of us are almost completely out of work.

As a city, Nashville subsists off of tourism, food & drink, and music (usually all at the same time).

On a day to day level, and even a yearly level, those industries have a pretty high level of volatility. Pay mostly consists of tips, and on a good day, that pay is great. On a bad day, not so much. On top of that, the summers are always better than the winters, and even someone who is good at math might struggle to average the tips into an actual prediction of an hourly income.

Six months ago, I read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book, Antifragile.

In his book, Taleb argues that industries like food & drink, music, tourism, or even taxi driving all have short term, very obvious volatility. However, he argues that the very nature of those businesses also mean they have long-term stability, and an ability to respond and even grow in the midst of chaotic circumstances.

Taleb has made a career out of analyzing risk,

particularly what he calls “Black Swan” events. There are catastrophes that exceed the scale and disruption of anything previously on record, and as such, overwhelm any coping measures that might be in place.

Credit to KCET

Before that event,

the highest recorded tsunami in that area was much smaller than what the plant was hit with that day. A thirty foot seawall is quite a significant piece of construction work, and it would have seemed absurd to suggest that maybe the plant could be vulnerable to flooding. After the fact, it seems absurd that the seawall hadn’t been built higher in the first place.

We are in the midst of another “black swan” level event, and one that will have significant repercussions for literally years to come.

All credit to Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team.

Nashville is like an engine with a supercharger attached.

Tourism brings in absurd amounts of money and new people moving here, which brings new businesses, and then everyone who does live here gets their paycheck and reinvests it in the city.

After two days processing my lack of work, I find myself oddly at peace.

You see, you wouldn’t ask a chameleon to predict the color of the tree it’ll be on the next time a predator rolls around. It doesn’t need to know in advance; all a chameleon has to do is hide effectively when a predator does show up. In the same way, human beings are wired to deal with immediate threats, not predict the kinds of danger we could face in the future.

my hope is that as this crisis progresses, people do what they’re meant to do — band together in the name of both “flattening the curve” of virus spread and ensuring that no one misses a rent payment as a result of it.

What’s next?

For one person, that looked like footing the bill for a $1000 tab at Dino’s, a bar in east Nashville, so that anyone in the service industry could get a hot, free meal on Tuesday evening.

Finally, I’m terrible at accepting help.

Rather than just get a free meal here or there, or a check from the government, I’d love to actually earn my own keep. My next few days will be spent looking for anywhere that I can actually make that happen, and I know I won’t be alone in that.

Years from now,

children will read about the Coronavirus epidemic of 2020 in history class, just as I read about the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. I have no doubt we’ll give those children something to be proud of.

“In our age, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.” — Dag Hammarskjold.

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Lorne Jaques

Writer. Teacher. Pastor. Interpreter of strange times, and aspiring polymath.