Around half-past noon on Monday, the downtown Minneapolis skyways were preternaturally quiet.
Inside, lunch lines normally forming outside Takatsu or Green and the Grain were gone. Outside, traffic was reduced mostly to buses trundling along outside the rain-spattered windows.
Two weeks after Minnesota’s first confirmed coronavirus cases, people seemed to be taking requests to self-quarantine seriously. Caribou Coffee baristas in the U.S. Bancorp Center said it'd been a ghost town all morning, the kind they usually only see on holidays.
A steady trickle of white-collar workers passed empty store after empty store, some whispering about canceled flights and hand sanitizer. In the relative hush, it was easier than usual to overhear strangers’ conversations.
“It’s been pretty dead,” said Greg Rachwal, who sat on a bench in the IDS center with a newspaper folded in his lap. He was still working out of his nearby office—for now. (Rachwal declined to name his employer.) But it was “basically” closed to the public, and employees were in the process of moving everything offsite.
Rachwal's doing all right, but some people are “more freaked out than others.” Every day, it seems, there’s a new update, a new situation. He doesn’t know what to expect.
Nor did the small crowd of shoppers siphoning themselves through the checkout aisles in the downtown Target, easily the busiest spot in the skyway system Monday. Everyone moved as though on a mission, though success was not guaranteed. There was no Tylenol. Canned food and boxed rice were getting scarce. In the toilet paper aisle, signs asked customers to limit themselves to one pack per customer. An excellent suggestion—even better if there had been any toilet paper left to buy.
Marisol, an employee at a skyway convenience store who preferred not to give her last name, said it’s the same everywhere. Hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes—customers keep asking, but she’s sold out. Everyone is. The same goes for kids’ medicine.
Her own child, dressed in a pink shirt, jeans, and pigtails, ran back and forth behind the shelves as Marisol tended the counter.
“I don’t have daycare,” she explained. “The daycare and the school are closed.”
She does what she can. She wears gloves. “The little ones” wear masks. She washes her hands and uses the small quantity of hand sanitizer she’s set aside for herself. Tomorrow will probably be even slower, and she’ll need to figure out where her kid will spend it.
A customer popped in for a few seconds, just enough time to buy a lotto ticket. Marisol provided it and watched him go, shaking her head.
“It’s unbelievable for me that people just come for the lottery,” she says quietly. “That is insane.”
Everyone in the skyways moved briskly from building to building. Some consulted a security guard in the Hennepin County Government Center, his mouth and nose hidden behind a mask. Some awkwardly pushed revolving doors with their elbows.
Others munched takeout salads. But for the quiet, it was like any other day.
The trains ran, another day passed, and everyone waited for everything to be normal again.