2391: Life Before the Pandemic
|Life Before the Pandemic|
Title text: I can't wait until this is all over and I can go back to riding my horse through the mall.
Megan and Cueball are having a conversation about life before the pandemic, which was declared as such on the 11th of March, 2020 by the World Health Organization. They talk about what they miss about life before the pandemic, but Cueball says that he can barely remember it. This is borne out by the rest of their discussion: None of the activities they list were ever common and most are strange, some are even forbidden and various items are misconstrued as existing for pandemic mitigation purposes.
After they finish reminiscing, Megan says that she can't wait for a vaccine, further implying that she can't wait to have all of these things "back." Both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are making vaccines, with Pfizer/BioNTech making their application for emergency use on November 20th, 2020, 7 days before this comic's release. It is expected to be approved for use by the end of the year.
Scuba diving without a mask
Scuba stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. It consists of a tank of compressed air, which is conducted through a tube to a mouthpiece which allows the diver to breathe underwater. A mask is a fundamental part of scuba diving to allow the diver to see underwater better. Cloth masks, to help lower the spread of the virus between people, are a recommended precaution when in public, but wearers are advised not to wear them when swimming. Megan is conflating these two different types of masks, misremembering a world where scuba diving did not have masks involved. You do not need to wear a cloth mask if you are scuba diving, but you do need to wear a scuba mask–irrespective of whether there is a pandemic.
Scuba masks previously rated quite well on the mask effectiveness scale in 2367: Masks. However because the regulator is technically not a face covering, Megan's Scuba club may be requiring full face or "hardhat" style diving equipment, which would justify her complaint.
Free refills at gas stations
Gas stations are locations where you can buy gasoline, which powers internal combustion engines, especially those in cars. Many of these locations have a small convenience store attached, where customers can purchase snacks or drinks while having their car filled up. It's unknown whether Randall/Ponytail meant "free refill" of gasoline or of drinks from the convenience store, but either way it was not a business practice that was common. Free refills of drinks are more associated with restaurants and diners, who allow free top-ups of relatively cheaper soft drinks, tea, or coffee, in the hopes that it will attract people to come in and buy more expensive meals to cover the cost. COVID has curtailed the hospitality sector to various degrees and it's likely outlets that once offered free top-ups have ceased to do so, whether because of hygiene concerns, lack of staff, customers tending to not buy as expensive meals due to the associated economic recession, or even due to cancelling eat-in service. While gasoline stations (that we know of) don't offer gas refills to cars, there are quite a number of locations offering free "refills" for electric vehicles. Electric vehicles were considerably less common before the pandemic, thanks also to generous incentive schemes in many countries. This might explain why the characters have a ghost memory of "free gasoline refills".
Grilling in the library
Grilling food generally poses a significant fire hazard (and can produce toxic carbon monoxide) and is thus typically not allowed indoors, especially in libraries, whose shelves full of flammable paper books present both an increased fire hazard (as the fire could spread more quickly with plenty of fuel, and the shelves could potentially hamper efforts to evacuate the library if the fire made that necessary) and a liability (because if the books burned, they would be destroyed/unusable, and it would likely cost a lot of money to replace them). In the pandemic, many libraries discourage people from spending time there, preferring that visitors only check out or drop off books. Some libraries have even removed chairs to achieve this.
In light of this Randall might be making a wordplay on "chilling", meaning to hang out, or the other use of the verb grill that means to question intensely. Before the pandemic libraries would frequently host guest speakers, often authors, but sometimes speakers, academics, local community leaders or notable VIPs. This is because libraries serve as public event spaces in small towns across the United States and Megan is the type of person who might enjoy a lively Q&A with said speakers.
Even if grilling (either kind) were allowed in Cueball's and Megan's library beforehand, it would not be allowed during the pandemic, as it would involve eating in an enclosed area, an activity specifically warned to increase the contagiousness of the virus. Backyard (or library) cookouts have been discouraged by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, because of this. Thus, two activities are described here as one, both of which are discouraged during a pandemic, but together discouraged regardless of COVID-19.
Tennis without a "safety" net
Tennis is a sport where two players use racquets to hit a ball at each other. The game is played on a court divided in half by a low net. The net is not used for anyone's safety; it's to ensure that the ball must be volleyed to the other player with some minimum height. Megan seems to believe that the net is there to ensure that the players stay on opposite sides of the net, in order to lower the spread of the virus. In the off chance that Megan's tennis club used some sort of virtual net system employing beams of light to detect the ball, a physical net may have been installed as a form of hygiene theater as part of their COVID re-opening plan.
Many indoor activities were moved outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, as poorly-ventilated indoor spaces vastly increase the chance of the virus spreading. Fireworks are explosives shot into the air for entertainment. Due to inherently being explosive, fireworks can be dangerous, i.e. cause injuries or even death. Some countries (for instance, The Netherlands) have temporarily banned fireworks because of COVID-19, reasoning the fireworks-induced injuries would put additional stress on hospitals that are already nearing maximum (intensive care) capacity due to COVID cases. Most fireworks are not suitable for use indoors; setting them off indoors is even more dangerous than they already are, even before the pandemic. However, there are specially designed indoor fireworks, most often used by specially trained and licensed pyrotechnicians. These are usually seen in large indoor venues for concerts and sporting events, both of which have been curtailed due to the pandemic. In this case Cueball would be accurately lamenting his inability to enjoy indoor fireworks.
Arcade claw machines
Arcade claw machines have a bin of prizes (often stuffed animals) with a claw mechanism hanging overhead. The player pays a few coins into the machine and maneuvers the claw over a desired prize. The claw will descend and "attempt" to grab the prize for retrieval. There is often a hidden percentage chance that the claw will not fully close.
This is a frustrating experience for the player (e.g. Cueball), but he misunderstands the purpose of the claws. While manipulator arms are also used for handling dangerous items, the claws in these machines are not to reduce coronavirus spread. Instead, they make toy-grabbing deliberately inefficient so that people may play again and pay more money. If people could take toys freely from the bin with their hands, operators would lose money, as people could take multiple toys or avoid paying entirely. It is unlikely that they would allow this even after the pandemic.
Out of frustration, some players attempt to reach through the deposit hole in order to try to take one of the stuffed animals or other prizes without the use of the claw. Since multiple people would presumably have already touched the metal interior, this is an effective way to spread the contagion quickly, which makes it even more imperative to discontinue this practice. There are other dangers to doing this as well; one can get their arm stuck in the machine, and can even cause themselves serious damage.
Again it is possible that the arcade used a ticket or token system where one could cash out their winnings for self-selected items such as plush toys. As a COVID mitigation, the arcade may have found it necessary to make the plush toys only available via an enclosed claw style "skill" game.
Title text: Riding a horse through the mall
A mall, in a historical context, refers to a large open walkway, such as the National Mall, where one could conceivably enter with a horse, although it was considered inappropriate to do so. However, it appears Cueball and Megan are referring to a shopping mall, where a shopper entering with a horse was never a regular occurrence, at least in universes where there isn’t a horse in aisle five.
- [Megan and Cueball are having a conversation.]
- Megan: What do you miss most about life before the pandemic?
- Cueball: I can barely remember it.
- Megan: I miss going scuba diving without having to wear a mask.
- Cueball: I miss free refills at gas stations.
- Megan: I miss grilling in the library.
- [Close-up on Megan, Cueball's voice comes from off-panel, to the right.]
- Megan: I miss when tennis players didn't have to have that safety net between them.
- Cueball: I miss indoor fireworks.
- [The frame returns to seeing them both, they are now walking to the right while talking.]
- Megan: I miss when arcades let you take toys from the bin with your hand instead of using that stupid claw.
- Cueball: Ugh, I hate that thing.
- Megan: I can't wait for a vaccine.
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