Hollie Grimaldi Flores: Crowd control
I watched the Sunday final of a PGA tournament recently in astonishment. Spectators were allowed back on the course. There were thousands of them. They followed their favorite players or roosted at a favorite hole. Near the end of the tournament, hundreds of fans overtook security to surround the leader at the 18th hole, nearly to the detriment of the golfer. It was not like anything I had ever seen in golf! There was nothing remotely resembling distancing, and one professional golfer, along with his caddie, reportedly sustained injury trying to get to the green to finish the round. People! Come on! We haven’t really lost all our social graces in so short a span of time, have we? We used to be really good at gathering in large groups!
I began thinking about a time, long, long ago when standing elbow to elbow in a crowd was part of the experience, but there were always boundaries. In the late-1970s, my friends and I would buy our general admission concert tickets. For about $3, we could see a favorite musical group performing at our local hockey arena. We would do our best to get to the entrance, hours before showtime, so we would have the best chance at hugging the barricade separating the audience from the stage. The doors would open, and we would rush forward handing our ticket to the security guard (who would tear it and hand half back to us). We would run down the stairs toward the stage, vying to get as close as possible, stake our ground, and then wait another hour or so for the rush of the lights going down, signaling the start of the concert.
By showtime, we were packed against the barricade with little room to move and sometimes, for those like me who are vertically challenged (OK, short), precious space to breathe. We navigated in and out of the crowd for bathroom breaks or beer runs. We stood shoulder to shoulder singing along, whistling our approval, dancing to the music. The sight of thousands of lighters held high, as spectators swayed to a favorite tune, is forever ingrained in my memory. When the lights came back up, thousands of patrons peacefully walked out of the venue and found their way back home. No one got trampled.
There was a time when I squeezed onto a subway in Manhattan, together with a friend, on our way to a major league baseball game. The closer the train got to our destination; the more people piled into the car. I was armpit height to more than one traveler, holding the poles placed sporadically down the sides of the car, keeping us stable, though it was unlikely anyone was going to have an opportunity to fall, so tightly packed in were we. No one got hurt.
In my teens, friends and I packed five across the back seat of my girlfriend’s Oldsmobile, long before seatbelts were law. We were crammed in so tightly that when we were involved in a head on collision, not one of us moved an inch. The only one injured was the driver, who left her two front teeth in the steering wheel.
I can think of many other examples of being in overcrowded situations: moving like cattle through winding ramps on cruise ships, or into football stadiums or theaters, stuffed into crowded elevators to avoid waiting for the next to arrive.
We knew how to function in a crowd. As humans, we learned to keep our elbows in, hold hands, move as a group. We were polite with, “Excuse me, pardon me” as part of the banter that moved us closer to the intended destination.
Even in our vehicles — on highways and bridges, at toll booths, in construction zones or in heavy traffic, leaving or entering recreational areas or event parking lots — we learned to merge and to exercise patience. We knew how to move in packs. Sometimes slowly, but almost always without major injury or disregard for our fellow humans (line jumpers always an exception).
Now, it seems, after 15 months of being separated by six feet or more, limited to a small number of patrons in any business, and the closure and cancellation of activities involving a crowd, I think we may need a training lesson on how to get back to being out together.
Like many others, I have been responding to surveys regarding my level of comfort in “getting back out there” or what would it take for me to feel safe back inside in mass.
As a fully vaccinated functioning adult, I am willing to give it all another go! I am excited at the prospect of once again spending an evening enjoying live entertainment, hearing the roar of the crowd, or to line up for my turn on a “magic mountain” or to watch players perform sports at a professional level.
As a person who believes she enjoys a hearty storage of antibodies, it is not the fear of contracting a virus that keeps me from buying a ticket or booking a reservation. It is the dread of people behaving badly that gives me pause. The golf tournament was not the first piece of evidence presented that suggests we have collectively lost our ability to handle ourselves in public. We may need in a refresher course in decorum. We surely need to remember to be kind.
We are on the brink of “back to normal.” Let’s all give each other some space and take back our normal, one step at a time. Let’s remember our manners. Let’s work on how to play nicely with others and, in the case of the PGA, let’s work on a little crowd control!
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire, as well as a podcaster at HollieGrams. You can hear her episodes at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1332253. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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