We can all breath a collective sigh of relief that 2020 is in the rear-view mirror. And while we’re not out of the woods yet, the new year does offer hope. 2020 was a year I think most people want to forget; nevertheless, I can’t help but reflect on that annus horribilis at least one last time.
Personally, the year began on a great note—my Twelfth Night Party was huge success. The new venue, The Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture, was perfect and attendance at the party set a record. It killed me this year to not have the party, but there really was no choice. We’ll make up for it next year.
As the Carnival Season unfolded, no one could have predicted how crappy 2020 would be, although there were omens. The collapsed Hard Rock Hotel still loomed large like a gash on the face of the city and there were the tragic deaths of two people during parades. And the failed presidential impeachment emboldened the dark forces that erupted recently in the domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Then in early March, my good friend and long-time activist Stewart Butler died. I miss him terribly, but in a way I’m glad he wasn’t around to live through COVID.
When the city shut down in March, I had mixed feelings. Given the public health crisis, I felt it was the right thing to do, but the financial uncertainty alarmed me. Like most, I hoped the shutdown would not last too long, but I wasn’t sure. I wondered: How will my tour business survive if we’re not allowed to operate? How long will my shop be closed? And will tourists even come to the city when we reopen? Will the classes I teach at Loyola University be canceled? Will all the public speaking engagements and private tours I have scheduled for later in the year be canceled? Will my landlord work with me on the rent? How will I pay my bills?
The anxiety was palpable and only exacerbated by the closure of bars and restaurants. One of the most comforting aspects of living in the French Quarter was knowing there is always a bar open not far away at any time, day or night. It was reassuring to know, even if you didn’t necessarily want to drink, there was a bar—a community space—nearby. Now that comfort was gone, vanished with the stroke of the mayor’s pen. It disturbed me to know that I could not walk down the street and see friends, acquaintances, or just familiar faces. Hell, I even missed people I normally can’t stand.
It was strange. The Quarter was so quiet, so empty. No music, no drunk tourists, no street musicians, no parked cars lining the streets, no ghost tours blocking the sidewalks, nothing. The silence was eerie.
I, like many, breathed a sigh of relief when Congress passed the CARES Act. That afforded some financial security and although the PPP loan I received was utterly inadequate, it did help my business, the Crescent City Tour Business, stay afloat. For that I’m grateful.
But when the federal unemployment boost expired at the end of July, the financial stress returned. Mitch McConnell’s stubborn refusal to let the Senate even consider the HEROES Act, which was passed by the democratically controlled House of Representatives and which extended the relief in CARES Act, angered and frustrated me all at once. It also confirmed my longstanding belief that the republican party is a rich man’s party that doesn’t give a damn about working people.
The summer saw a re-awakening (and for some an awakening) of social consciousness. It was inspiring to see so many people, many for the first time, march and demonstrate for racial justice, but it was also sad and regrettable that such protests were necessary in the first place.
The rise of the anti-maskers was unbelievable and exhausting. The fact that wearing a mask to save lives became a political issue saddened me incredibly, as did the federal government’s completely botched response to the pandemic. If Trump had not disbanded the White House Pandemic Response Team (which Obama created) upon taking office, the worst of COVID would be behind us by now.
And then there is the gay calendar, which was completely upheaved by the pandemic. There was no Easter Parade, no Pride, no Gay Appreciation Awards, no Southern Decadence, and just a sliver of Halloween. With the pandemic getting worse, there will be no gay Carnival balls this season.
As much as 2020 sucked, there were a few positives. I was able to spend a lot more time with my partner and our dog. I expanded my cooking repertoire (and gained weight in the process), I read a lot of books, and I finally finished writing my latest book project—Political Animal: The Life and Times of Stewart Butler (forthcoming from the University Press of Mississippi). And Trump’s defeat in November was, of course, a bright spot.
My sincere hope for 2021 is that it doesn’t look at 2020 and say, “Hold my beer.”