Everyone I know in New York I know through beer. I’ve been working in the industry since the day I got here. New York is principally a drinking city. If I go out to any bar in my part of Brooklyn, I will invariably see a familiar face: a barback, a brewer, a clerk, a colleague, a warehouse worker, a bartender, a volunteer, an owner, a sales rep, a regular, a delivery person, a server, a buyer, an investor, a writer, a friend, a colleague, or a loved one of one of those people.
Our industry, by conventional wisdom, was always considered recession-proof. It’s half the reason I got into working in alcohol. Knowing how to bartend was a safe profession, if not a glamorous or retirement-friendly one. If you know how to bartend, you can always find work. Today, however, 95% of my friends don’t have jobs and they don’t know when or if they will have their old ones when things go back to “normal.”
I’m fortunate to still have my job at the brewery. But even that comes with its own implications and complications. I’m unable to earnestly commiserate with some of closest and dearest friends about one of the starkest experiences of their working lives. I do not have time to call, text, or write back almost any of the friends who have reached out. I have not seen Tiger King, nor have I watched any television without nearly falling asleep or thinking about how the characters are standing too close to each other.
Ever since our business was deemed “essential” by the state government, my team has been working nearly non-stop, both from home and at the brewery. When I’m not working, I’m thinking about work, I am checking my email, and I am thinking about anything we can do to stay afloat or ahead during this indefinite crisis. On my most recent day off I still ended up working six hours from home.
I don’t sit down. Sometimes I’m on my feet for 12 hours straight without realizing it. I usually think it’s two or three hours earlier than it usually is.”
I get up, I work over a cup of coffee at home, I wash my hands, I bike to work, I wash my hands, I put all my clothes in a particular corner, I wash my hands again. My colleagues cannot come within six feet of each other, so we move around our space in an awkward dance, careful to avoid each other, walking backwards, forwards, sideways, gesturing to one another to clear a space so someone else can get through, and then we wash our hands again, and sanitize everything. I don’t sit down. Sometimes I’m on my feet for 12 hours straight without realizing it. I usually think it’s two or three hours earlier than it usually is.
We’re redesigning our entire business day by day. We leave beer in designated spaces and yell to each other from room to room about who can pick it up. We get on conference calls and go to separate areas and communicate at designated times, and if someone talks, they have to leave the room so there’s no echo effect. We open a box of gloves and before I even know it, the box is empty. I’m accepting huge deliveries and sanitizing each and every product, everything I come in contact with. We have a substantial amount of beer left over in draft, and it’s my task to crowler everything up at a gradual pace. It’ll take weeks if not months to go through it all, but I might have time to do it. Any time I have a few minutes with nothing urgent to do, I fill as many crowlers as I can before something pops up. We’re canning up every drop of beer possible, and we’re selling it at triple the rate as before. The piles and pallets deplete through curbside pickup, deliveries, and shipping. Our vendors have delays and we’re having problems we never would have expected to have.
My dreams used to be about work every now and then. Now they’re about work every night. It’s hard to discern what was from the dream and what was from the previous day. Every day feels like one prolonged blur. They’re building on each other. The last few weeks are one seemingly endless day.
If it seems like I’m complaining, I don’t mean to. I’m grateful that I’m still working. My colleagues and I know every day is a gift. Two of my best team members stayed home for a voluntary self-quarantine and consequently, a group ended up working 60 hours on the floor in five days, to only go home to respond to email threads and texts to follow up on phone calls to then go to bed and go and do it all again the next day. We know our managers are working the same hours. We’re assured that we don’t have to come into work if we don’t want to, but we also know that other members of our team will just have to work more. The work won’t do itself. Every day of revenue is essential.
There’s nothing to say about what’s happening besides ‘this is crazy’ and ‘I still can’t believe this is happening’ and ‘this still feels like a dream’ and ‘wash your hands’ and ‘give me more space.’”
I’ve been unable to process what is happening to my friends and family members who are quarantined. I have to accept the fact that my father is in an indefinite quarantine and might be alone in his house for month. There’s a chance I might not ever get to see him again. I know that my colleagues are having the same thoughts. But we don’t talk about it. The trivial things from before are only more trivial now. There’s nothing to say about what’s happening besides “this is crazy” and “I still can’t believe this is happening” and “this still feels like a dream” and “wash your hands” and “give me more space.”
I’ve been unresponsive on the text threads with my unemployed friends who talk about how they’re afraid to leave their houses to get food. The streets are getting sparser each day. Every ambulance siren is a reminder that this is happening, that someone is going to a place that is much worse than where I am and I remind myself, over and over, that my situation is very fortunate. I’m not immunocompromised and neither is my partner. I’ve learned how many of my friends are, and I feel dread with every passing day, hearing rumors of friends getting diagnosed and others disappearing off the map. Two members of our team permanently left the city when we had to lay off our front-of-house staff. I used to see hundreds of people on my five-minute ride to work each day. On my bike ride home yesterday, the only people I saw who didn’t already live on the street were people being loaded into ambulances.
My gratitude and awareness of my good situation doesn’t change the taxing reality of working more hours, in different situations, constantly in flux and under unusual stress, increasingly disconnected from my partner, my best friends, and my family. In a fundamental way, I don’t understand what’s happening to them. I’m in another space. I’m too busy. I have to go back to work.