We’re living in the here and now, which bears scant resemblance to what was. Having worked from home and worn the masks and sheltered in place for nearly two months, this has come to seem our new normal. Every so often, though, news breaks to remind us that nothing about this is normal.
Today brings another jolt. The AJC Peachtree Road Race, the focal point of Atlanta’s Fourth of July since 1970, is moving to Thanksgiving.
You knew it was coming. The Masters has been reset for November. The Braves’ opener at Truist Park was postponed and still awaits rescheduling. Our Final Four was canceled 23 days before it was to begin. Nothing in sports, and almost nothing in our world, has gone off as planned. But still …
The red, white and blue Peachtree being staged on an autumn day known for a parade held on the streets of New York — it takes more than a moment to settle. Will enterprising runners pull massive balloons of Snoopy and Shrek up Cardiac Hill?
The Atlanta Track Club, like every other sports entity, had no choice but to play for time. Our state has only partially reopened. We haven’t yet seen what the effect will be on public health. We know the reason for staying home was to slow the spread of the virus; we also know slowing isn’t the same as curing. As has become apparent, shuttered pro sports are moving toward reopening without fans. But how could an event with 60,000 participants work in our time of social distancing?
It couldn’t. Come Thanksgiving, there’s no assurance the dynamics will be much different. But there was no way, given what is known, the race could be run on the Fourth without the threat of Atlanta becoming the hottest spot on the chilling global map. Sixty-thousand runners/walkers, several times that many spectators, thousands of volunteers: The sound you hear is me shuddering.
The Peachtree occupies a special place in the fabric of Atlanta. There’s nothing else like it. It’s a sport, and it’s also a civic celebration. Almost nobody cares who wins. People run/walk to be part of something; people get up early on a holiday to come watch because they want to be a part of it, too. It’s 60,000 people of varying ages proceeding, some faster than others, 6.2 miles down one of the most famous streets in these United States. Every time our nation puts another candle on its cake, that’s how we celebrate in the A-T-L.
Not to get all sappy, but it’s a glorious thing. If you’ve never participated or attended, you should. I wouldn’t, however, have advised you to join a downtown throng on July 4, 2020. There’s too much we don’t know. It’s a risk no city can take.
Yeah, it’s sad. Our existence has become a daily struggle against sadness. Lots of people have died. Lots more are sick. Jobs have been lost by the millions. Some folks who still have jobs aren’t sure they want them bad enough to go back to work. Amid such gloom, a part of me wonders if the Peachtree on the Fourth mightn’t have been the feel-good moment we need.
That part, alas, is the stupid part. I think of my wife, who has walked the Peachtree many times. I think of the nice folks I’ve come to know around my favored vantage point north of Peachtree Battle. They’re of an age that puts them at risk. (For the record, so am I.) There’s no feel-good moment worth the potential consequences we — and not just us on the high side of 60 — face. This ain’t no fooling around.
The line comes, as many of you know, from a 1979 song by Talking Heads. Its title: “Life During Wartime.” No, nobody’s dropping bombs on us, but the virus has taken more Americans than the Vietnam War. Of all the grim numbers, that resonates the most. Having grown up with Vietnam as a nightly TV fixture, I know how sobering and divisive it was. (My junior high classmate’s brother died over there.) I also recall how many years it lasted. COVID-19 has done all this in three months.
Maybe the worst is over. Maybe it’s not. Until we know more, there’s no call for us to gather in numbers. The AJC Peachtree Road Race is the greatest ongoing Atlanta event. With this postponement, it just did Atlanta a great service.
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