It was my birthday this past weekend. I hadn’t planned anything—not because of the coronavirus, but because I am lazy and filled with a baseline existential dread that makes the time from the holidays through mid-March a hard time for me to socialize. So an apocalypse was a perfect excuse to hide out at home and do nothing. No explanation needed for why I didn’t round up everyone to go get drunk and throw axes at that new spot in Koreatown. Everything, and everyone, is now cancelled. Like the little hatted dog surrounded by flames, I felt that this was indeed, just fine.
That is until my bestie suggested that we have a virtual happy hour instead. I wasn’t exactly excited about this but knew this was going to happen whether I wanted it to or not, since if you’ve met her, you know that resisting her whims is futile. Her plan was to use Whereby—a video conferencing site where we rent a room for our weekly D&D session—to invite a bunch of friends both here in LA and in New York to hang out. I was commissioned to create a special cocktail for the occasion that we are calling a Quarantini (basically a screwdriver with a sliver of lime to enhance its anti-scurvy properties, and a splash of Prosecco to enhance its total basicness).
As we do every week when the local players come over to kill demons in Avernus, we hooked a laptop up to the TV to better see and hear the remote participants and took our places on the couch. This would be like D&D: everyone drinking together over the internet, only without dice and funny voices. Not everyone knew each other already, which allowed for introductions and new lines of discussion—generally a good thing for mental health, since it can be exhausting for introverts to keep calm and carry on in a big conversation. For a lot of it, I got to sit back and just enjoy seeing people who I love meet for the first time. If you’re going to try this, and I recommend you do, be prepared with some cocktail party chitchat. (Hint: what shows to binge always works.)
People were in good spirits despite the apocalypse and everyone seemed game to try this New Thing. And it was hopeful to see friends just doing Normal Shit, keeping on keeping on.”
It went about as well as you’d expect if you’ve ever been in a video conference with a dozen people. Some couldn’t connect; others had bad sound or lighting or needed to move their cameras so we could get better views of their pets. Some people were cooking dinner or playing darts or both. Topics of discussion ranged from “Holy Shit the World Is Ending” to “Wait: What Are You Drinking?” to, of course, “Whose Cats Are Good and Pretty and Whose Are Chaotic Evil Hellspawn.” (For the record, mine is the latter.)
Was it fun? Yes. People were in good spirits despite the apocalypse and everyone seemed game to try this New Thing. And it was hopeful to see friends just doing Normal Shit, keeping on keeping on. Was it a vision of our future? Also yes. In fact, we’re doing one again this week. Big online group hangouts aren’t a new thing, of course, but they’re usually deployed in situations where people are oceans away, not mere blocks. With companies where everyone works remotely (though mandated, work-related happy hours seem like just Slack with drinks) and in countries that have previously instituted or are familiar with quarantines, it’s common practice already. The Japanese have a word for it. A tool that was once a generally annoying if necessary part of our work lives is now becoming an indispensable part of our social lives. Stock in Zoom––another video conferencing company— is up 275 percent this week. Which I suppose shouldn’t be surprising, given that Lysol and Lysterine eventually found their true purposes too.
Humans will need to have some kind of social interaction if we’re going to avoid going full Jack Torrance over these next few weeks (months?). And while I’m not sure why this technology isn’t better by now—not that I expect holodeck levels of immersion, but c’mon: it shouldn’t be that hard to stream multiple video sources—making time to connect with old friends (or inviting some new ones to say hi) is going to be crucial. Even if we’re just goofing around or reporting on grocery store inventories (the Los Feliz Albertsons is completely out of Guinness, BTW, but I got the last bottle of Jameson) we’re going to have to solve for some semblance of normalcy until we can go back to bullshitting in bars and taprooms. Virtual happy hours might not be the best way to accomplish this, but in the meantime?
They’re just fine.