As of today (3/5/20), there have been more than 98,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus COVID-19, including more than 90,000 in the past five weeks since the WHO officially declared it an international emergency, and more than 80,000 in China, where the outbreak originated. Cases have now been reported in 89 countries and territories, including nearly half of the states in the United States, from California to New England. The stock market has been plummeting, flights are being cancelled, and hand sanitizer is selling on Amazon for $400. Even I have bought literally into the panic, loading up on dried beans, and taking out $300 in cash -- you know, just in case. You can never be too cautious…
Until you are.
Take the case of my favorite Chinese food truck: Tran’s Chinese Food, on 7th St., between Walnut and Chestnut St., in Old City, Philadelphia. The line is typically long, 10+ people at any given moment between noon and 1 pm, but moves quickly; Mr. and Mrs. Tran have it down to a science. At least twice, sometimes three days a week, I get a big platter of lo mein with chicken (or occasionally shrimp) and my choice (alternating, depending on my mood) of style: vegetables (w/ gravy), garlic, curry, kung pao, hot spicy, sweet & sour (chicken only), or General Tso’s (chicken only). A huge tasty meal for $5 or less:
But I admit, as of late, I had been avoiding my favorite Chinese food truck, in fact my favorite lunch spot period, with the coronavirus caution -- and unfortunate Chinese stereotyping -- multiplying even faster than the virus itself. Part of this, to make excuses for myself, is that I challenged myself to go vegetarian for the month of February (shortest month of the year), and so it was easy to cut back on the Chinese truck; I can only eat vegetable lo mein egg foo young so many times a week. But that does not excuse March. It did not excuse today.
And so, today I went. I walked over at 12:30 pm, peak lunch rush hour, and what I found was heartbreaking. There was not a soul in line. With great pride and honor, borne of something like moral courage, on top of my great craving, I ordered the shrimp lo mein, with garlic sauce. Should I say something? I thought. Apologize for my fellow man, to Mr. and Mrs. Tran, my fellow Philadelphians who spent no more time in China these last few months than I did. (I know, because I see them 3+ times a week). No. Better just to smile, pay. Eat, enjoy, and return the day after. And the day after that, and the next day, and all days.
Because I worry: even if the coronavirus does not take their lives, it could take their business, and either way, after this all passes, I may never see them again.