This week I decided to photograph COVID-19 and social distancing by showing where people aren’t. So I headed over to Manhattan Park in East Grand Rapids, at Cascade and the East Beltline, to see what I’d find.
Mid-afternoon on a beautiful Saturday there were a couple of park maintenance staff cutting the grass, a father and young son using the near-empty parking lot to practice riding a bike, and a few people using the beach volleyball courts.
The baseball diamonds looked sad. Groomed, sort of, with evidence of kids on bicycles having ridden on them, but no evidence of baseball games.
The children’s play area, with all the fun things to ride and climb and slide on, were marked with caution tape.
A skipping rope left behind in the mulch seemed symbolic, and tape over the larger playground area.
A sign greets you on the sidewalk leading from the parking lot to the baseball diamonds, with a list of the park COVID-19 policies and practices. The spirit of that COVID-19 list pairs nicely with the sentiment in the plaque on a bench: “Honoring Steve Saltsman. Thank you for making us smile and laugh!”
It was kind of a depressing story to photograph. But it’s the story of the moment, not just in West Michigan but around the country and the world. Like everyone, I hope the weary disciplines of social distancing will pay off and allow us to figure out a “new normal” as we carefully “reopen” over the summer. I’m still leery of imagining “get back to normal” in a stronger sense.