This Lousy Pandemic Script

A few days ago I watched an online talk featuring two of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman and Nora K. Jemisin (you can find it here  here). At one point they note that this pandemic is not the apocalypse that science fiction writers had anticipated.

Your standard plot usually assumes that there are at least some grownups around; and even if it all goes wrong at the start, eventually the grownups take control and show the stubborn bureaucrats what really has to happen so that everyone can survive. But here in the US right now, the reality is not just a serious lack of grownups at the national level but a coterie of leaders who seem to be going out of their way to actively make it all worse. And it turns out that the real heroes of survival are found in the local community groups just trying to do their thing. If this were a movie script?

Rejected. Combines surreal levels of political horror with mundane little acts of caring; unrealistic and unwatchable.

There are grownups in power in some places at the state and local level, mostly Democrats. I count Governor Wolf here in Pennsylvania as one, using a measured and science driven response in the face of impossible demands. In contrast, the Sister-in-Law who lives in Florida is horrified that (Republican) Governor DeSantis is reopening the beaches there. Which has prompted one Floridian to stalk the beaches dressed as the Grim Reaper, as seen in this screenshot from Twitter.


OK, the optics are funny, but this script is veering into the absurd here, writers; maybe rein it in a little?

And then there’s Governor Hogan of Maryland, telling the Washington Post in an interview that he’d had to enlist the National Guard and state police to protect a shipment of Covid-19 tests from potential seizure by the feds. This came after Massachusetts Governor Baker reported that a planeload of PPE (personal protective equipment) had been seized by the federal government. (Both of these governors are Republicans.)

Hey, what idiot thought it was a good idea to have “state governments having to fight a venal federal administration in a desperate bid to keep doctors and nurses safe” as a major plot point?

Meanwhile, who would have anticipated that you could storm a state Capitol building while waving an assault rifle, as long as you are part of a group of similarly incensed white people squawking about not being able to hang out at your favorite bar. (If black protestors had done this, we’d be reading their obituaries, even supposing they’d been able to get within half a mile of any government building while carrying guns.) Yes, this really happened in Michigan. The same people who are always going on about the importance of law and order and “support the men and women in blue” were screaming into the faces of the cops standing in front of them.

Ugh, another ludicrous plot twist, writers.

What is it about this country that it seems to have more than its fair share of whack-jobs? They’re a very small minority, but the embarrassing relatives you hope will keep quiet at family gatherings are now out and about, screeching that they have the right to get sick if they want to and equating not being allowed to get a haircut with the policies of Hitler. As shown in a photo series at The Columbus Dispatch on April 18 (photo gallery), one of which is shown below, the slogans on the placards waved around in Ohio were distinctly, peculiarly white American.



The “don’t tell me how to live my life…no forced testing or vaccines” slogans are of course coming from the same people who protest outside abortion providers.

Oh, come on, that’s just too unsubtle; this script really has been penned by rank amateurs.

Meanwhile, America’s fault-lines have been laid bare, particularly the profoundly disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on people of color. PA Governor Wolf has announced a task force to examine why this is so.

Maybe start with the ongoing impacts of 400 years of systemic racism? Did anyone do any research before starting to write this?

In this unexpected apocalypse script, the real heroes are the people slogging through their days as essential workers—the nurses, yes, but also the janitors and the Amazon warehouse workers and the bus drivers. The grownups keeping us all going are not leather clad warriors carrying rifles, they’re neighbors getting together to make sure elderly people get their groceries (because, forget deliveries, they just aren’t happening reliably around here). They are the many people helping out at our local foodbank and the restaurant owners who are donating food to the hospitals. They are the teachers figuring out how to keep kids educated online, and our local home and school association trying to create special memories for the soon-to-graduate high school class of 2020.

Another hero in our community is the local amateur photographer who launched a Porch Portraits project—walking around the neighborhood and taking pictures of people on their front steps and porches, then posting in the local community photography Facebook page. (Someone caught the pic below of him doing his thing and posted it online.) Many neighbors have asked that his series of pictures be turned into a book when this is all over. The local “buy nothing” Facebook group is also up and running again, with people posting stuff they can swap or donate, from clothes to kitchenware, plant cuttings to kids’ toys. This is how we survive.


It turns out survival for me includes figuring out how to join a family Zoom for someone’s 65thbirthday (with nine family groups on the call, it was chaotic and noisy, just like our in-person gatherings, but definitely better than nothing). It also means re-reading some of the books on my shelves—but not the ones in Mira Grant’s post-zombie apocalypse NewsFlesh series. These books are brilliant but just a bit too on point right now.


For all the whining of some protestors, the US version of lockdown is downright tame compared with the rigorous shutdowns enforced in Spain and parts of China. While parks and public spaces are closed here, there’s no limit on how much you can go outside, on foot or in a car. Despite being Covid-central for Pennsylvania, restaurants in this area are allowed to stay open for takeout. So, another key aspect of survival is restaurant managers figuring out how customers can order online or over the phone and do safe pickups.

A couple of days ago, I picked up hoagies for the family (that’s a long roll sandwich with a distinctly Philadelphia accent). This meant calling the local Lee’s Hoagie House, ordering and paying by credit card over the phone, then sitting in my car in their parking lot while a young person with a clipboard (and mask and gloves) checked my order number on the list, then collected the order from the restaurant and brought it out to the car. Not exactly a hardship.

Face masks are now required when you go out and about where we live, so I’m adding the neighbor who knows how to sew to my list of unexpected grownup heroes.  makes masks that are CDC compliant, with washable double layer cotton, ties in the back, and a metal strip to shape over your nose. She even made us a kid-size one for the World’s Greatest Granddaughter.

I have no idea how this god-awful script will reach any kind of satisfying conclusion. Governor Wolf has released a color-coded map for Pennsylvania (below, from the state website) showing what counties will start to see some controls lifted in the next week or two. We’re in Montgomery County in the southeastern corner, firmly in the red still, with (at time of writing) 4,839  confirmed positive cases and 393 deaths county-wide since March 7.


At the national level, election day is November 3 and the presidential inauguration isn’t until January 20, 2021. That’s a lot of time for the virus and its attendant whack-jobs to wreak havoc on this country.

OK people, scrap all this; clearly, the country that brought us the brilliant movie ‘Parasite’ is the only one that came up with a good script for Covid-19.

But wait, there’s more! Murder hornets have been spotted over in Washington State (the top-left hand corner of the USA). Our beleaguered honeybees are now at risk of getting their heads bitten off by an invasive alien species twice their size. So, compared with honeybees we have nothing to complain about?

According to National Geographic, there’s a strain of Japanese honeybees who co-evolved with the murder hornets and can defeat them— these bees surround a hornet in a big ball and flap their lil’ bee wings so fast it creates a heat vortex that literally cooks the hornets…which is not only metal as hell, it sounds downright inspirational.

Coming soon to your favorite streaming service: Sensible people forming swarms and flapping scientific papers and full copies of the constitution so fast it makes the alt-Right idiots spontaneously combust.



About abroadintheusa

An expat Brit who's lived and worked in the USA for more than three decades.
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6 Responses to This Lousy Pandemic Script

  1. Lisa Jo Rudy says:

    Love your writing!!


  2. jimpressler says:

    This has inspired me to make tomorrow’s writing post about believable writing. With your permission, I will link your post to give an idea of how non-fiction does not mean sensible.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Marta says:

    Great piece! It does seem indeed like a bad script, hahaha. Reality is often more unbelievable than fiction…

    That book “Feed” looks interesting, let’s see if I can get my hands on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Yes, Mira Grant’s zombie apocalypse books are very good–Feed is the first in the trilogy. Set about 20 years after the zombies have appeared; features a brother and sister and their team of news reporters covering a presidential election. So there’s political shenanigans as well as thrilling (and occasionally heartbreaking) zombie encounters, and a frighteningly-feasible backstory as to how the whole zombie thing started. Strongly recommended if you’re into that kind of thing.


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