It is 7:30 p.m. on March 27, 2020, and it is, in some ways, a typical Friday night in the early spring for the Pacific Northwest. Flowers are beginning to bloom, the temperature is in the upper 40s and rain has been falling off and on all evening. For many people, Friday night signals the end of the workweek, a time to meet up with loved ones at one of our local restaurants or breweries.
This Friday night, however, is the first after Gov. Jay Inslee issued a stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Journalists are considered essential under his order, so I am able to roam the city to document how it has changed.
I leave my house with minimal camera gear, gloves that I wear when I photograph football and a bandana around my face. I look like I’m ready to rob a liquor store but I’m just trying to be cautious. My car smells so strongly of Lysol that I have to crack the window.
I start my evening by swinging by the popular Golden Corral restaurant. The lights are on, but it is otherwise vacant. My next stop is Vancouver Mall, where the parking lot is empty of all but a few cars. Lights reflect off the rain-soaked pavement.
I hurry to Vancouver Waterfront Park so I don’t waste the blue-hour light after sunset.
The waterfront is empty except for a woman and her dog and a man with a stroller. It feels surreal to see all the lights on with nobody around. I take a few photos of the Grant Street Pier and a nearby apartment complex.
Next, I scout local restaurants. I heard some are open for takeout but most are closed tonight. I see signs of life at my favorite Thai restaurant and hold up my press pass to see if I can take photos. The workers decline to let me in. I stop by Heathen Brewing’s Feral Public House, normally packed on a weekend night. It is deserted. I notice that Vinnie’s Pizza on Main Street is open. Staff let me in as long as I stay far back in the dining area. Empty to-go pizza boxes line the wall.
I pause outside Kiggins Theatre, where the marquee reads, “Goonies Never Say Die.”
Farther up Main Street in the window of Center Stage Clothiers, the mannequins still wear outfits for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations that didn’t happen this year. I cross into Uptown Village where I see a person camping on the sidewalk across from U.S. Bank, not far from the swanky Uptown Apartments.
I swing past Main Street Marijuana, which the governor’s stay-at-home order considers an essential business. It has a few shoppers. A man panhandles out front.
I continue north and notice Dairy Queen has a couple customers. I attempt to photograph a couple waiting for their ice cream. The man gets angry and starts cussing at me. I try to explain what I am doing but he refuses to listen, maybe because I look like a masked bandit.
He insists on taking my photo and a photo of my car’s license plate, so I let him. I understand.
We are all jumpy these days.