Living in a Real-Life Hollywood Disaster Movie


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LOS ANGELES - From alien invasions and climate catastrophes to pandemics, Hollywood has made countless disaster movies over the years. During this real-life pandemic, fictional Hollywood films and reality are starting to blur.

I live in Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood. Before the mandate to stay at home, it was not unusual to see a film crew on the streets of L.A. shooting either a TV show, movie or commercial. Since the lockdown, the film crews have disappeared and so have most of the cars on the normally congested freeways.

I feel that I am living in a post-apocalyptic Hollywood movie. Some of the films related to an epidemic or pandemic that come to mind include "Contagion," "Outbreak" and "I Am Legend."

There are plenty of other disaster movies, all following a similar plotline. They first show life as normal, with adults working and kids going to school. Then, a disaster hits and life changes. The world becomes almost unrecognizable.

That is the surreal movie-like world I live in these days, with the streets almost empty and businesses and schools closed. Grocery stores, however, are the opposite. Outside many supermarkets, anxious shoppers wearing masks and gloves stand in long lines with shopping carts, waiting their turn to enter. Everyday items such as toilet paper and milk are often in short supply.

I keep thinking of all the events that were planned just weeks ago - such as baseball practices and games - that now are canceled. Many parents with active elementary school-aged children, including me, have been trying to find a new normal during anything but normal times.

While mandated to stay home, the challenge is to work, keep our young children learning at home since schools are closed, and keep them engaged with activities. For my family, that means baking a cake or two and making do with whatever ingredients we find in the kitchen.

In true Hollywood fashion, we are also in the process of filming a mini-movie with toy action figures and a smartphone, creating backdrops with paper and markers.

When we venture out to stretch the little legs, I see a surreal world. Los Angeles - known as a car city - has fewer cars on the road these days. Travel time has been cut by more than half.  The air is cleaner.

When I am on the sidewalk, I see people jogging and walking their dogs. Some wear masks while others do not. Some practice social distancing but others do not. It is like a game of chicken in which I stare at the person walking toward me on the narrow sidewalk and see who will cross the street first.

A trip to the local park turns into a trip to an empty parking lot because there are just a few too many people in the park for peace of mind, even though everyone is staying 2 meters apart.  There is constant anxiety over the risk of getting too close.

So these days, after juggling work and home school, most exercising is done indoors through virtual classes on the web. That is our new normal. I am thankful that I can keep working from home, since so many people cannot.

In many of the Hollywood movies, people survive the disaster even though the world has changed. At the end of this real-life pandemic, perhaps people will learn new ways of greeting each other. Perhaps the world will depend even more on technology and robots to do certain jobs.

What that world will look like is yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure: The children growing up during this time will remember the pandemic of 2020.