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Across the Universe

Teagan Ward doesn’t need The Weather Channel to understand the current climate in America.

“One of frustration, I suppose,” she says.

Ward works in the travel industry, developing tour packages to be sold by travel agents. She’s also a singer and songwriter on the Rochester scene, with her band Teagan and the Tweeds.

For most of 2020, I’ve been working from a second-floor room at my house in Charlotte. Typing, doing phone interviews, waiting for a neighbor to finish mowing his lawn so I can record something for broadcast. October came and went quietly. For the first time ever, no trick-or-treaters showed up at our door on Halloween. 

Optimism has been in short supply throughout 2020.

And clarity is virtually nonexistent. The Supreme Court has declared that New York state’s attempt to force churches and synagogues to adhere to coronavirus pandemic guidelines is a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom. But after a tough day at work, if all you want is to sit down in front of a beer and listen to a blues band, your favorite bar is finding it tough to survive under those same COVID-19 guidelines.

Amy Collins has never seen the northern lights. In the coming months, she aims to address that glaring hole in her soul.

Collins and her husband, Tim Clark -- both folk singers -- were hurtling down the New York State Thruway earlier this week, after leaving Rochester the day following the election. Behind them was Burlington, Vermont. Just ahead, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. They were at the head of a 52-feet-long, one-ton truck, pulling an RV trailer loaded with things they’ll need over the next five or so months of touring the country.

Danielle Ponder and her band -- Avis Reese, Derek Bennett, Levi Bennet and Jonathan Sheffer -- are on the stage at The Little Theater. In front of them are 280 seats, virtually all of them empty.

This is not the gig from hell. This is the COVID-19 reality.

It was 1966, and Armand Schaubroeck was ready for his close-up.

“He had us sit on that couch that’s on The Velvet Underground album,” Schaubroeck says. “I don’t know if he was trying to make the couch famous, but that’s where he shot most of his photos and his screen tests.”

A murmur of excitement rolled through the area’s movie-going community, long in coronavirus limbo, when word came out early Saturday afternoon that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had just announced that theaters throughout the state – umm, except you, New York City -- could reopen as of this Friday.

The news seemed to catch everyone by surprise. Then reality hit: Restarting an industry is not as simple as firing up the popcorn machine and hitting the projector “on” switch.

Winter’s coming. A long season of coronavirus discontent is settling over us.

A shift in our community interactions has already proven to be inevitable.

After a slow, downward spiral, one of downtown Rochester’s iconic bars, Richmond’s, closed last weekend. The place goes back more than three decades, back to when it was Schatzees.

Morning glory vines have overtaken my backyard this summer. They are deceptively beautiful, with their lush greenery and scattering of delicate trumpet flowers creeping up the deck railings, thin tendrils reaching out to embrace the legs of the grill. The morning glory grows with startling virility. If the dog stood for too long within its reach, I might have to tear the vines from her legs.

But in truth, the morning glory is a lie. It is a noxious weed. If I allow it to spread, it will kill everything beneath it.

For fans of metaphors, the morning glory is 2020.

As best as Francie Marx can reassemble the story after more than seven decades, Robert Marx was 19 years old, serving in the U.S. Army Air Force as a military policeman somewhere in Europe. World War II had just ended, and he was assigned to sit outside the cell of a prisoner. Francie recalls Robert describing him as "a pathological killer."

"And if the guy wanted a cigarette, Robert would light one, put it on the floor, push it forward with his foot," Francie says. "This guy could then smoke the cigarette."

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