Philadelphians feel hope and seek to socialize as city reopens


In the unusually long ad (155 seconds!) Wrigley’s Extra Eraser that has gone viral, people trapped by COVID-19 suddenly realize that it is safe to leave their homes.

They test the air, examine the sunlight, then break free with prison intensity to sneak into weed-smothered office buildings, happily hug trees, and – most noticeably – kiss with a freshly refreshed breath. Celine Dion sings “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”.

While the first official days of Philadelphia’s opening after the pandemic closed did not look like license-chewing gum bacchanalia (at least not publicly), people nevertheless expressed their joy at the idea of ​​reintegrating into the main circuits of life, once again connecting to activities that have been suspended, canceled or outright banned.

“It seems like I see raw bliss there,” said Ceallaigh Josse, 31, manager and bartender at Kensington International Bar. “From the crowd, which is still outside at the moment, I feel a great relief and a positivity that I have never seen before.

“People are probably kissing more than before COVID. It’s like we’ve all passed to the other side.

Philadelphia and its suburbs are reconstituting themselves, restored to their natural state after a surreal period of isolated confinement. The city officially lifted capacity limits and social distancing requirements for all businesses and events on Wednesday.

Josse boss William Reed, 53, co-owner of the International, as well as Standard Tap at Northern Liberties and Johnny Brenda at Fishtown, said it had been a “transition week”, bringing us all closer to the normality.

He added: “We are on the cusp of a big change. You hear the comparisons to the Roaring Twenties after the Spanish Flu of 1918, when America broke away after another tragic and trying cycle of disease. “A big sweaty dance party is just around the corner.”

“People are stepping in the water,” said Margaret Starke, senior director of community events and partnerships for University City District. “They thirst for interaction, for fun. For me, it’s like hope.

The most observable change: fewer masked people in the streets. Mouths and noses reappear, making humans human again.

“When we first saw people without masks during the pandemic, we mistook them for skeptics who did not believe in COVID,” said sociologist Joan Maya Mazelis, social ties expert at Rutgers University-Camden . “Now we see them as vaccinated people, following science and exuberant to be with others in a shared space.”

There are signs everywhere that Americans are ready for a reorganization.

According to UpSwell, a national marketing agency, about 80% of gym members say they are returning to training.

Various reports show that Americans, always aware that important aspects of themselves may have changed during the lockdown, were investing in Spanks. And people who were looking to make special friends spent more on deodorant and condoms.

According to McKinsey & Company Marketing and Sales, an international company, more than 50% of people “tired of the pandemic,” especially millennials, are eager to splurge on clothing, beauty products, and electronics.

For Nicoletta and Vittorio Maio of Penn Valley, the increase in the number of cars they see en route in the morning is happy proof of a closed global opening.

“The scenery returns at a steady pace and noise in a crowded environment – I didn’t like it before the pandemic,” said Nicoletta, 59, a professor of film studies at Dickinson College in Carlisle. “But I feel good about it all now.”

Her husband, Vittorio, 58, a health care researcher at Jefferson University, said the extra cars told him “life is back.” It contributes to “a general feeling of liberation, with people wanting to feel human in the sun. And they all want to show off now – buy clothes for the summer, get in shape. “

Nicoletta said she looked forward to small moments, like meeting colleagues in the hallways. These are precious contacts known as “weak ties,” said Mazelis, the little seams that help create the texture and rhythm of everyday life: chatting with strangers at the bar or at the bus stop, talk to parents at the school drop-off point.

“I hugged an unknown relative the other day,” said Lynn Bufka of the American Psychological Association in Washington. “It was unusual and pleasant. Now we see how much we value connection.

Of course, while many feel joy at restarting the company, Bufka said, any number feels return anxiety.

“Now normalcy doesn’t seem right, because it’s alien,” said Melinda Engel, 43, of Center City, who works for a software company. “Change can be difficult.

Genevieve McCormack, 45, a lawyer from Haverford, came into contact with her inner introvert during the pandemic, and that is who she is now.

“I like to hide behind the mask,” she said. “Don’t think about how I look, or if I smile. I don’t like crowds and I like to cancel plans. I’m 5ft 8in, but I look really tall on Zoom, and I like it. I want to keep the slower pace of being home. I will probably never go back to my office.

For Lesley Curtis, 43, of South Philadelphia, parent of a 7-year-old girl, the pandemic continues to rage.

“People with children under 12 are always very careful,” said Curtis, owner of a communications company. “There are no vaccines for the very young, and it would be pretty horrible to have been in over a year of isolation and to see your child get sick at the end of it.”

Older Americans also tend to be more cautious, according to Monmouth County psychologist Barbara Becker Holstein. “Over 50, you worry if you need a booster, if you still have to wear a mask,” she said. “You are more careful. “

For many of us, our brains are already reconfigured to live on a COVID-19 diet, experts say. They simply cannot forget the terrible warnings that have changed day to day existence just because the government is relaxing the restrictions. These people will continue, if not to wear masks and then wrap them on their wrists like blouses and take them everywhere it seems.

“For many, the anxiety is still as high as the ceiling,” Washington psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren said. “The thought of going out, of getting closer to people, can be a very steep climb.”

As the world celebrates and these people cocoon, they become more and more marginalized as they develop another source of stress, Van Susteren said: “” Everyone is happy now except me. “”

But, as vaccines choke out COVID-19 like water outshines fire, the parts of ourselves we’ve hidden and removed seem to be too strong to stay wrapped around any longer.

“My band played a few shows in Rittenhouse Park and we were greeted with unbridled joy,” said Sam Gellerstein, 27, of South Philadelphia, the trombone and tuba of the SNACKTIME Marching Band, formed during the pandemic.

“There were a ton of people coming to tell us that we made them cry because we were the first live music they had heard in 15 months.”

“I have to say it’s a relief to be a part of this celebration.”

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