Nick and Becca didn’t want to pick me up because Becca was going to visit her friends who have kids the next day and she wanted to practice good social distancing. Taking separate cars struck me as weird at first, but then, like so many things, quickly felt reasonable, and then normal.
So instead Nick and Becca idled on the corner. I put my dog Neon in shotgun, and then turned the ignition, flashed the brights at Nick and Becca and then pulled a u-ey in front of them. And then, in our separate cars, we caravanned onto Sunset Boulevard
The drive was only half a mile to Echo Park, to the Vons supermarket—or, more specifically, the Vons parking lot. It was after 9pm—and the Vons was closed for the night. All of the panicked shoppers had gone home. But the lot was still full. It took a minute for our two cars to find two adjacent spots, and we parked like cops, Nick and Becca facing in, me facing out, our driver side windows aligned.
Nick told me the station: 99.1 FM.
[BROADCAST] “You are listening to 99.1 FM KZUT Los Angeles California, That’s right. Dublab.”
They called it a “drive-in concert.” Four musicians, who were supposed to have had a show that night at Zebulon, had come out to the Vons with an FM transmitter. Anyone who drove into the broadcast radius could attend the concert without needing to leave their car and risk communicating the virus.
Here we are, all together, maintaining our social distance. This is an experiment, us figuring out how to do this broadcast for the first time, in a van, in a parking lot, in a city, on the earth. OK, Celia, let’s level you in.
And so the show-goers, people like us who wanted some form of social contact amidst the first 48 hours of COVID-19 lockdown—we had all turned up to tune in. All of us in our cars, dialed to the same frequency, listening separately, together. Social distancing. Distance socializing.
[BROADCAST] “That was Celia Hollander. [Cars honk their horns.] Oh God! Oh my god! Shhhh! We don’t want to get kicked out! We just had a little interaction with Von’s security…and everything’s OK. Refrain from honking even though it’s much appreciated it. And we just want to thank everyone for coming out, staying in their cars, being respectful generally, and we’re excited to see…[fades out].”
People generally obeyed the order to stop honking, but I did see folks getting out of their cars and gathering over by the origination point. It wasn’t hard to spot: a white van, only a hundred yards away from where I had parked. The interior lights were on, and you could make the out figure of the musicians as they played their sets.
Eventually I said fuck it and headed over, too, with Neon the dog under my arm.
I didn’t know anyone but I recognized people from around. There were those two women I met at that weird art show featuring a VR exhibition about the end of the world. There was the waitress I always see at the Brite Spot diner. We exchanged elbow bumps, and clicked shoes.
Almost everyone there, gathered by the transmitter van had also brought a dog. In this new moment, we weren’t sure whether we were allowed to pet each others’ pups, if we could allow them to sniff each others’ butts.
We all made idle chat about the end of civilization, stood around the parking lot, and listened.
It’s lovely, hearing about Italians singing to each other from their balconies—but there is also something so beautiful, so very goddamn American about all us rallied together in our cars, in a supermarket parking lot after dark, all tuning in to the same frequency. It is the communal dystopian moment of my teenage dreams.
I spent a lot of my youth like this, hanging out in parking lots after hours, fingers crossed for the benevolence of the on-duty security guard. Speaking at length—about our hypotheses for how the world would end. Though I don’t think I or any of my friends ever saw it quite unfolding this way.
But then again, no one ever expects a Spanish Inquisition .
[BROADCAST] “Whoa. Booker Stardrum everyone. That was the end of the performance so maybe you’re allowed to honk I guess, hahaha. [Car horns honk.] Hahahahaha! Thank you again to everyone to coming out tonight, it’s really a dream. Thank you so much, everyone drive home safe, til next time, thank you everybody.”
The show was over. I said goodbye to my new friends, human and canine. I started back to my car, Neon trailing me. Would this happen again? Would we look back on this drive in concert as the beginning of a beautiful tradition? Or the last gasp of connectivity before everything got worse?
Like everything else, it seems, the answers to these questions will be revealed slowly.
What did feel certain in that moment, though, was how proud I felt of us, as humans, of finding each other here, in a parking lot, through the radio, amidst global calamity. I felt proud of us as humans for inventing things like music, for inventing samplers, and sequencers, musical scales. For learning to encode their sounds into frequency modulation.
When I woke up hyperventilating two days later, this is what brought me out of it. This moment in the Vons Parking Lot. This moment that tells us that we still have each other. We still have the asphalt. We still have the night time. We all still have the radio.