Downtown Chicago, empty. (Photo by Ronnie Ovando-Gomez)
Downtown Chicago, empty.

Photo by Ronnie Ovando-Gomez

Living in Illinois’s Hotspot

April 11, 2020

The Decaturian isn’t in your hands on a weekly basis but we’re still here, trying to give a voice to Millikin students. That being said, we’re giving you our stories — how we’re getting along in a new world. This is part assignment, part reporting and part recording the world we live in now.
These first excerpts are from Newswriting students and Decaturian reporters. But we’d love to hear from you as well. Tell us what your life is like. And send a picture of your experience. Send your story to Athena Pajer and Sydney Sinks at [email protected]
Thank you and stay safe.
– The Decaturian Staff

Spring break, for me anyway, is about enjoying what I can’t in Decatur: civilization, freedom, travel.

It’s not an insult to Decatur or Millikin by any means, but rather an insight as to how different Central Illinois is from Chicagoland. Coming home means I can enjoy downtown, international cuisine,  world-class museums, Lake Michigan, etc.

Well, that’s what my break was supposed to mean. Now it just means staying home.

That’s honestly been the hardest part about being in quarantine–emotionally, at least. I was looking forward to new volunteering opportunities, and possibly going to neighborhoods other than Wicker Park. There’s always something new in the city, and I was ready to make it my home again, even if it was for a week.

This doesn’t feel like home. It isn’t.

I look at the nearly empty buses whenever I join my parents on an essentials shopping trip, and it just reminds me of what freedom to me now is dangerous for everyone. Measures to further protect transit workers and essential passengers such as rear door entrance and limited passengers have only been implemented as of April 9th. Decatur’s own system, DPTS, actually beat the CTA on something.

My mother took an essential trip to the loop a few weeks ago, and I asked her to take some photos for me. It’s so astonishing how bare the city was. You could actually cross the street without looking both ways safely; that’s how empty it was. What would have been a packed train had no one but my mother and PSA’s about social distancing.

The decision whether to live in Decatur or back home was already answered for me by the time I asked myself, but I hesitated. Yes, I currently live in the county with the most cases and population density in the state. However, I also have access to better medical care should I need it. Not to mention, I wouldn’t have to worry about getting basic necessities, even with all of the panic-buying. My parents have memberships to Sam’s and Costco, and there’s a lot of supermarkets right behind my house. Not to mention, most Hispanic-owned stores had plenty in stock, though we don’t often shop there.

It was really the money, time, and privacy that made me want to go back to Millikin. The money I had already spent on my college career, the time I lost to this pandemic, and the privacy the Woods apartment would give to me.

In hindsight, I would have been more tempted to visit friends had I gone back. There’s a lot to do in the city or with friends, but not in the suburbs.

I do wish my suburb’s local government would be as proactive as Decatur’s. For starters, we have no official Facebook page, nor even an official news platform. Most of us get our local news from the nearby suburbs’ Patch articles or our unofficial beat reporter, who did not (and probably couldn’t) report the first death related to COVID-19. Instead, Patch did. Our official general health clinic page for our township has not been updated, only the Behavioral Health-related one and Senior Center pages have.

Other mayors have also been more involved, especially by social media, encouraging others to social distance and stay safe. Had my local mayor made a YouTube video recognizing the importance of social distancing and proper hygiene, as well as the amount of COVID-19 cases, it wouldn’t have made a difference to others who already haven’t taken this pandemic seriously. It would have resonated with people who assumed this virus was a “downtown” issue; who assumed suburban living would have kept them safe.

Social media, last time I checked, was free. There’s no excuse not to take advantage, especially in a time where media’s importance is being recognized while also being labeled as fake and nonsensical.

There’s some hypocrisy I guess, with me also not doing much in general. Depression makes it difficult to find a way to continue doing homework or finding a substitute for my weekly radio show. I have a lot of essays to write, along with a lot of apologetic emails. It’s really easy to ignore everything by not doing anything.

I’m trying to find a home where there isn’t one, because this isn’t home. This isn’t spring break, or my Woods apartment. It’s a pandemic, and it’s teaching me that life is not only fragile, but constructed.

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