The marque of the old Orpheum Theater in Saugerties, N.Y. displayed this hopeful message for several weeks after I took this photo on May 24, 2021. The theater, opened in 1912, had been closed during the pandemic and only recently was purchased by Upstate Films, which has also operated theaters in Woodstock and Rhinebeck.
Briefly, the Saugerties marque listed two Jordon Peele films, but then the marque was bare, and no show times were listed online. Upstate Films has now decided to show movies only outdoors at what it is calling the Hudson Valley Picture Show, “a traveling cinema festival held under the stars… spreading our message of joy and togetherness…”
Sounds good, but closing the theaters feels like a metaphor for these fraught times, during which we have gone from bad to worse to cautiously optimistic — a brief sabbatical from pandemic fears — and back again.
Just as we were relearning the lost art of hugging, filling baseball stadium seats, contemplating a return to a semblance of normalcy, the delta variant surged, returning Covid hospitalizations and deaths to former peak levels, especially in the vaccine-resistant South, notably the states of the Old Confederacy that voted heavily for Trump.
We now find ourselves with pandemic fatigue, in a desert of despair and uncertainty, canceling long-planned trips from one crowded airport to another, masking or unmasking depending on crowd size and circumstances, with mood swings and hardening attitudes and anger towards the willfully unvaxed and their cynical leaders.
Add to this the “end” of the endless war in Afghanistan with no ticker tape victory parades or celebrations, after 20 years, countless deaths and billions spent, and for what? Voter suppression laws, the Texas abortion ban, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, seemingly all the plagues. What’s next? Boils? Or maybe frogs?
During the Great Recession, reporting a “Hidden Maryland” column for Maryland Life magazine, I went with my son Aaron, then 14, to the Eastern Shore in search of Hope, Harmony and Goodwill. “Lord knows, these are trying times,” I wrote. “Times of war, global warming, economic recession–and who knows what else lurks in the future to challenge us? It’s easy to despair. But in Maryland, at least, one can find Hope, Harmony and Goodwill.”
These are actually tiny crossroads communities. “If we could find them,” I wrote, “could 2009 be so bad?” Well, we did find them, and, at the end of the day, I could report, such sanguine qualities also did exist. The skies brightened even as dusk set in, and so did our spirits. “We sure could use a little good news today,” sang Canadian country singer Anne Murray sang in her 1973 hit. So, finally, I am happy to report some good news:
On Tuesday night, on a 3-2 vote, the Talbot County, Maryland County Council voted to remove the “Talbot Boys” Confederate monument from the courthouse lawn after years of protests. The statue will be moved to the Cross Keys battlefield in Virginia, where “Talbot Boys” on both sides encountered each other in June 1862.
A dissenter’s argument that a Maryland monument should stay in Maryland was specious. Gettysburg contains many state monuments, including one to the Second Maryland Infantry, C.S.A. A “unity compromise” offered by one council member would have added a Union monument to the lawn. As if both causes were equally righteous, when one side fought to keep human beings enslaved. As if this were a popularity contest, with the decision hinging on the numbers of pro and con emails, rather than on historical truths.
My friends Jim Richardson and Martha Hamlin from the bay hamlet of Claiborne were among the many “move the monument” supporters who gathered outside the courthouse where the Council meets. “There are many ways to take down a statue,” Jim texted me after the vote. “Some take longer than others, but I feel good about the way we did this–with thoughtful arguments and education, and always keeping the high ground.”
After the vote, there was much to celebrate. “We are very happy and relieved,” Jim wrote me.
As is this were not enough, the recall vote in California failed by a wide margin, and the hapless Washington Nationals, in the battle over the basement of the National League East, beat the Miami Marlins 8-2. Quite a night. These are tough times, to be sure, but it’s not all bleak. We must keep hope alive. The best is yet to come.