Young white blossoms frosted the dogwoods in Clark Park on a clear, warm Sunday afternoon.
“These blossoms just kind of feed the soul,” said Wendy Brown.
It was her 75th birthday, and there was little she and her partner, Carolyn Dyer, 76, could do to celebrate on a day when the coronavirus had shuttered so much of the city. Things hadn’t gone as they expected since arriving in Philadelphia. They had come March 6 from Iowa City to visit Dyer’s sister, ill with cancer, and during their visit she died. They felt they couldn’t leave without settling her affairs, and now wondered if city offices would stay open long enough for them to complete the necessary paperwork.
“I’m not so worried except that we’re out of town and if we get sick here it would be an extra burden," Dyer said.
So they sat together at a small cafe table in the middle of the West Philadelphia park and watched impromptu dancing and parents with young children and the unfurling of a new spring’s pastel beauty amid uncertainty in a city not their own.
The coronavirus had changed life in Pennsylvania so swiftly the past week. On Sunday, Philadelphia balanced at an inflection point between the old routine and some new normal. Supermarkets had been stripped of mundane household items. School was canceled. The city’s famed cultural institutions like the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes closed. The city had eight confirmed cases of the coronavirus Sunday night, and the state 65, and health officials said those numbers were likely to rise as testing expands.
Some carried on as usual, albeit with small bottles of hand sanitizer in tow. At Clark Park, near the two women, a pair of musicians played Old Time, a type of Appalachian string band music, and a woman who identified as “first name, Line, last name, On Some Trip" decided to dance beside them.
“Half my friends are really serious about quarantining themselves and the other half doesn’t [care],” said Jordan Rast as he took a break from fiddling. “I live in a house with four other people, so if one of us gets it we’re all stuck.”
At the Art Museum, the paintings were off-limits but the front steps were still attracting tourists. So was the Rocky statue at the foot of the steps.
“Way I look at this, we’ll go right through it,” said Frank Capone, 54, who with his daughters was visiting from Medford, Mass., outside of Boston, to see colleges and family — all shortened because of the pandemic. “Just another battle America’s going to win.”
They had stopped in Hartford, Conn., and saw that city shut down, and called off a stop in North Carolina. Here in Philadelphia, they visited family and posed, arms raised, in front of Sylvester Stallone’s beloved character.
Others did not underestimate the virus’ threat. They hunkered down, tried to make the best of it, and bemoaned lost opportunities.
One mom figured she and her family might as well make a game of it. Maxine Gesualdi, 44, of King of Prussia, developed a March Madness-style bracket of movies they expected to watch in the coming weeks, with an elaborate scoring system for her, her husband, and their two children, ages 10 and 14, to find their ultimate favorite.
Drum lessons or sports practice will be replaced with screenings, and each film will be scored by soundtrack, story, and acting. Saturday night was Sound of Music vs. Back to the Future. Sound of Music won.
"I was pleased,” Gesualdi said.
Others found ways to keep connected with people while still remaining largely in social isolation. Alisha Miranda, 34, a project manager who lives in South Philadelphia, is updating her Instagram story throughout the day to interact with followers about shows to binge, movies to watch, recipes to try.
She’s also spending her time organizing her time, using project-management skills to organize her new, working-from-home life. Using the app Evernote, Miranda created a three-pronged plan to lay out both immediate and long-term tasks related to cleaning, food preparation, and working from home.
Importantly, Miranda said, she and her partner are trying to pace themselves in everything they do — working included — to not get sick of doing one thing, or burning out on another.
“We have no idea how long this is going to last,” she said, “so I don’t want to wear my energy out so quickly when there is unknown.”
The unknown left others to throw up their hands and just carry on.
“You can pray or you can worry,” said Kirk Norwood, 54. “If you pray you don’t worry.”
Norwood was among about five pairs of people playing tennis on courts in Fairmount Park near Stawberry Mansion. He had to call off a party for his tennis club, 33rd Street Tennis at Strawberry Mansion, scheduled for March 21. He didn’t know when it would be rescheduled.
“We don’t want to scare any of the old people,” he said.
He’s been washing his hands, he said, and trying to avoid his friends. His tennis partner, James Leggett, had his own ideas on how to stay healthy. An alkaline diet heavy on fruits and nuts would be helpful, he said.
“A lot of herbs,” he said, adding, “elderberries.”
In Clark Park, Dyer, still mourning her sister, mentioned her mother, too, who in 1918 survived the Spanish flu but missed a year of school as a result. She and Brown had cats at home in Iowa they wanted to get back to, but weren’t sure when they could leave Philadelphia. The situation is changing so rapidly, they wondered if as they tried to cross the country by car they would find gas stations suddenly closed.