Photos from Downtown in the Time of the Coronavirus

Blooms and the City, Knoxville, March 2020
Blooms and the City, Knoxville, March 2020

I continue to take long walks around the city during the current shutdown. It’s mostly quiet and a bit eerie. Spring is coming in hard on the downtown blocks. People scurry about, keeping six feet apart and inexplicably avoiding eye contact. We’ve become skittish about chance encounters. It’s a different kind of city. As much as I enjoy solitary walks, I miss the hugs, spontaneous conversation, and shouted greetings from friends.

The City and blooms, Knoxville, March 2020
Social Distancing, Suttree Landing Park, Knoxville, March 2020
Social Distancing, Suttree Landing Park, Knoxville, March 2020

I see a few people along the way who seem a bit too close to one another, but mostly people are doing their part while trying not to lose touch entirely. Sure, we’re all Facetiming, Zooming, Snapchatting, and beaming images and sound around in every imaginable way, but it’s not the same as sitting with a friend beside the river. Or wishing someone a happy birthday in person like the group below from the street. Happy late birthday, Ms. Rabbit.

Friends sing “Happy Birthday from the Street, Knoxville, March 2020
Jessica, the Birthday Girl, The Phoenix, Knoxville, March 2020

It’s a poignant juxtaposition, the hollowed out stores and lifeless streets with determination of humans to connect. We need each other, and I really feel for those who are sheltering in place alone. Some of us may enjoy the time to be alone and to turn more inward. For many the loneliness is probably crushing.

Downtown Grill Refreshes Its Interior During Coronavirus Shutdown, Knoxville, March 2020

I know so many of our local businesses are hurting. Some may struggle to return when this is over. Others are taking advantage of the break to do some needed updating and cleaning to be better than before whenever this passes. Downtown Grill and Brewery is pictured above refinishing floors, I think. Preservation Pub has gotten a fresh coat of paint and maybe more. Some things will be better after the wait.

One of the poignant sights in the Old City is Hannah’s decked out for a Saint Patrick’s Day celebration that never happened. The parade, at least, was cancelled. The beads and flags hang like a still born moment: never happening, never ending. As I walk past, it’s easy to imagine the celebrations that would have been.

The Saint Patrick’s Day Celebration That Never Was, Old City, Knoxville, March 2020
Empty Gay Street, First Friday in Coronavirus Times, Knoxville, April 2020

If you’re wondering what First Friday for April 2020 looked like in the city, the photo above captures the emptiness in what is always a hopping, throbbing night in Downtown Knoxville. Meanwhile, Market Square has a few people trickling by at any given time. I’ve noticed people spending more time reading historic and literary inscriptions, looking at monuments, and seeming to reflect more deeply about those things that we pass by quickly in normal times.

Market Square, A Quiet Spring in the Time of the Coronavirus, Knoxville, March 2020
Market Square, A Quiet Spring in the Time of the Coronavirus, Knoxville, March 2020
A Heart Over Knoxville in the Time of the Coronavirus, Knoxville, March 2020

I’ll end with another image of attempted encouragement. The heart on the side of the Hilton reminds us that the heart of the city continues to beat. We’ll be back. Maybe not soon. It won’t likely be the same, but we’ll be back. We’ll make it through. Stay safe, city that I love.