CHICAGO, Illinois – By now, we’ve all seen those unsettling images of spring breakers packed on the beach tighter than a hoarded 24-pack of Charmin mega rolls. It would seem that here in the Land of the I’m-a-Do-Me, no manner of pleas by state and local governments—not to mention near-countrywide bans on gatherings of more than 10 people, and the shuttering of bars and restaurant dining rooms from Providence to SoCal—can keep a good American down, or inside. Even as horror stories of apocalyptic hospital scenes come out of NYC, people keep going out.
And the most dismissive among us of the new sort-of-compulsory social distancing protocols? Shockingly (read: obviously), it’s the Millennials. (To be fair, Boomers evidently can’t go without their wine-and-cheese socials, either, and the process of downloading and opening Zoom remains impenetrable).
That’s right, and according to the experts, the fate of the American medical infrastructure now depends on whether these straight-brimmed-trucker-cap sporting twenty-somethings—you know, the same ones who fork over half their gross wages on vintage sneakers and premium dog-grooming subscriptions for little Bailey, the black-and-white Boston Terrier whose Instagram page @wontyoubemybailey has 347 followers—can stay home for take out on the couch and a state-mandated session of Netflix and chill.
Unfortunately (read: predictably), it’s not going well.
Of course, as with all things Millennial, their cavalier, me-myself-and-I attitude has been met with snark and social-media sniping from the Boomers who raised them to be that way. But, in these strange days where anything is possible, the heedlessness of the high-fiving contingent in the midst of a major health crisis also drew the ire of one of their very own ilk.
Enter Abel Dixon, a 24-year-old semi-professional coffee roaster from Chicago who doesn’t have a dog, but sort of occasionally looks in on his octogenarian Abuela—Dixon is Ecuadorian on his mother’s side—when his mother and sister and other sister and uncle and each of his five cousins, all of whom have at least one child, can’t make it over to her modest bungalow.
Like most, Dixon was apathetic about coronavirus during the incipient phase of the crisis, but the more he read about the dynamics of transmission and how asymptomatic carriers could unwittingly wreak havoc on the elderly and immunosuppressed, the more the fact that all of his contemporaries were out galivanting to the near-certain detriment of the vulnerable started to gnaw at him.
‘I just feel like, we all need to do our part, even if the chances are that this disease won’t affect us personally, you know?’ he explained as he concentrated on swirling hot water over a medium-roast Ethiopian blend he described as ‘pretty rad.’ ‘I mean, I think of my Tita and how, if we don’t start doing social distancing like for real, she could get this thing and be dead before they even reschedule Coachella. I mean, wow.’
Shaken by a sense of the stakes for his family, Dixon took to his social media platforms with a vengeance, sharing every article he could find about flattening the curve, distancing etiquette, and the catastrophic effects widespread illness wrought in places like Italy and Iran that did too little too late.
But feedback was underwhelming. Each new post was met with fewer likes and re-tweets than the one before, and almost no fire emojis. He could tell early on that adding to the already biblically proportioned flood of COVID-19 Internet info wasn’t going to have the impact he’d been hoping for.
Then, one afternoon as he was preparing to post an innocuous meme to Instagram about the challenges of doing a chest-and-triceps workout in an apartment, the problem—and how to fix it—dawned on Dixon: blasting newsfeeds with the same-old, same-old wouldn’t cut it for Millennials. To foment real interest among his peers, they would have to be at the center of a movement for change.
Of course, a movement! That F.O.M.O.-driven paragon of virtue that any god-fearing Millennial will tether himself to an instant provided that twelve and possibly as few as eight other Millennials are already on board, and that their activism would be widely visible on social media. The prescient Dixon saw that what this thing really needed was a good old-fashioned Twitter bandwagon.
With this fresh insight came another: Dixon would need to engineer an injection of new corona content straight from the mouths of his peer group. But just how do you whip up twenty-somethings into a frenzy of content creation?
‘You pretty much just have to get them to meet up and do something, like anything, and they’ll post about it to no end,’ Dixon said.
So, a revitalized Dixon took to Instagram, Meetup, Snapchat, and every other platform Boomers have never heard of to set up in-person get-togethers of groups of no less than 10 people to promote awareness of the critical importance of social distancing.
More importantly, all participants were strongly encouraged to post photos of the gatherings to social media with pleas to their network to stay home, stay safe, and only venture out for basic essentials like craft beer, CBD oil, and 100% plant-based dog biscuits. Or, of course, to join an area gathering of the grassroots campaign that quickly became known as #GetOutAndStayHome.
An eerie analogue to the spread of coronavirus itself, the growth of the so-called ‘Oh My G.O.S.H.’ movement was rapid and exponential. In a matter of days, novel subchapters had sprung up in cities all over the U.S. Amazingly, and likely because a critical mass of baristas and bike shop managers were on temporary suspension with nothing better to do, some gatherings have drawn crowds nearly 250 deep.
But even in the larger groups a sense of intimacy, community, and common purpose abides. Almost every chapter has developed its own intricate full-contact handshake and, as a show of devotion to sacrifice and the greater good, at the beginning of each assembly one member volunteers to pass a single vape pen around the entire group of participants, so that even the most economically hard hit among them with no juice of their own can take a moist hit before shuttling it down the line.
‘I can’t tell you how super cool it is to come out and chill with some new bros while also making a difference in the world,’ said a young man who introduced himself simply as ‘At Gavin.’ ‘You know, when you’re stuck in the daily grind of trying to bogart your neighbor’s WiFi to send a lightly touched-up D pic to your coworker’s roommate, it’s easy to forget what life’s all about: sharing, man. Sharing time, edibles, and most importantly, physical contact with as many people as possible.’
Back in Chicago, ground zero for Dixon’s miracle G.O.S.H. campaign, a massive downtown rally is planned for this coming Saturday. ‘We’re expecting maybe a couple thousand people,’ he said, ‘and we’re really going to make this one count.’
The plan is to march through the city and personally take the OMG message into the places it matters most: hospitals and nursing homes. Some in leadership are even working on getting a group of members authority to enter I.C.U.s throughout Cook County to shake edge-of-death COVID-19 victims awake barehanded and dose them with what no medicine can: hope. ‘We just want the most vulnerable among us to know that we’re here for them, and that we’re doing everything we can to make sure that people keep their distance and avoid large groups at all costs, no matter what.’
Dixon and his acolytes are excited. But, even with the glimmers of hope radiating from G.O.S.H., the stark reality of this pandemic has not ebbed. In an ironic twist, Dixon’s Tita ended up contracting the virus shortly after, at his mother’s insistence, Dixon dropped off a single bag of groceries to the matriarch’s home, leaving her not only with food but a kiss on the cheek and caress of her withered face to let her know how much she meant to him. She has since been admitted to an area hospital and is currently in critical condition.
But Dixon himself remains steadfast, and his Tita’s illness has driven home just how vital the work he’s doing really is. He’s even added to his collection of body art thanks to a local artist tattooing out of an unsterilized alleyway van with a new wrist piece bearing the calligraphic phrase: Staye In For Tita.
His ambition notwithstanding, after the rally Dixon plans to take some time to clear his head while Tita’s fate hangs in the balance. For as long as he can remember, there’s only ever been one place that can instill calm when his mind is unquiet. ‘When the march is over,’ he said as he finished off the last of his Ethiopian beans, ‘you can find me at the beach.’♦