90210 OPENED MY EYES
Right out of the gate, I hope and pray that each and every one of you are keeping safe and healthy at home. The abnormal has become the new normal.
SKIP FINALLY SEES THE LIGHT -WEDNESDAY MARCH 11TH
Never did I think my first blog would be writing to you during a pandemic! Everything about this is totally insane and feels like a really bad Twilight Zone episode, only one you can’t change the channel because every channel is showing the same episode, over and over and over again, just like a "Groundhog Day” horror movie. So here is my own personal account of when both Skip and I realized this virus was real, very real and very dangerous:
AVRA - SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 29TH
I am not what you would call a naïve or stupid person, especially after living in New York City for most of my adult life. I am streetwise, I've traveled the world, and as the saying goes “been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.” This I did not see coming at all, neither did Skip, aka “My Sports Guy.”
The following is my personal recap, a series of events that led up to my eyes being opened wide about the state we are all living in.
So get this: it hasn’t even been 4 weeks since Skip and I met our dear friend for dinner at one of the hottest restaurants in Beverly Hills, Avra.
It is a really large venue that is frequented by the likes of Lebron James, Al Pacino, Leo DiCaprio and anyone else you can think of who makes up Hollywood’s royalty. The place was filled to capacity, folks were sitting practically on top of each other (no social distancing there!) and at that point, no one even knew what that term meant!
Our friend is a brilliant, world-renowned surgeon and is someone we both trust with our bodies, as well as we enjoy picking his brain for his takes on any subject that is topical and worth discussing.
Of course, during dinner, we asked him for his thoughts on the then-emerging coronavirus. He seemed surprised when I expressed concern on how one can get this, if it was fatal, or how long he thought it might last.
His response was, “Do you know how many people die from the flu each year? The numbers are staggering, the media just doesn't emphasize that".
He also said, “Listen, the three of us sitting at this table would be fine if we God forbid got it, we are healthy and in good shape.” (He is a major workout warrior and in excellent health.)
Skip and I felt so much better after we spoke with him, but I still had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that this wasn’t as cut and dried as he made it out to be.
VANDY VS. UCLA - FRIDA, MARCH 6TH
Early in the week of March 2nd, Skip (being the Vanderbilt alumni and crazed baseball fan that he is) asked if I would have an interest in going to see his alma mater play against UCLA at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Friday evening. It is literally 10 minutes from our place and he said we didn’t have to watch the entire game since he had to get home to watch Lebron play at 7:45 p.m., so I agreed to do it.
Remember, he and I have never gone to any type of game before in our entire relationship, so this would be a first. I really had zero interest in seeing them play, but I did think it would be an interesting journey and experience.
I was sort of getting into it until Friday morning when I heard on the local news that 3 students at UCLA were being tested for the virus.
I immediately texted Skip during “Undisputed” and said maybe we should pass on this. I did not want to risk my health for some stupid baseball game. He said it was going to be outside and we would sit away from crowds and just stay for a while. He then went into the hard sports “stuff” I really could not care about. He said Kumar Rocker was going to be the number one pick of the draft, like that was going to make a difference in my virus paranoia and in me sitting at the game being totally nutty over breathing in the person next to me’s air. He also said the students were just being tested, they were not confirmed positive and that at these games students usually don’t go, it's really the adults that care about seeing college baseball.
There was no winning this argument, so off we drove. Since the temps in LA drop after 4 pm, I wore my heavy blue down jacket which had a hood (my lifesaver.) At that point I was not equipped with masks and gloves everywhere I went, as I am now. Now they are officially part of my daily wardrobe.
We sat in our seats, and stands were packed; it was a sold-out game. My hood soon became my makeshift mask, and I sat the entire time with the hood up and my turtleneck pulled up over my nose.
I must hand it to Skip, before the game a man came over to us, extended his hand across me to shake Skip’s hand and Skip immediately said, “Sorry, no handshaking,” to which the guy said, “Oh, I get ya.” He turned out to be the coach’s assistant. Even 2 1/2 weeks ago people were still willing to shake hands.
The game ended up being a bust. Kuma couldn’t pitch a lick, which allowed us to split.
I was never so happy to leave somewhere so that I could breathe freely again, but just as we were hustling down the steps to the car, a bunch of guys recognized Skip and approached him to shake hands.
He tried to elbow bump, but then it got worse... they wanted selfies with him! I stood totally mortified, trying to wave away Skip and have him take a pass. He finally realized this was too dangerous and said another time, way too risky.
By the time we got home, I was emotionally spent. After all, it’s not high on my list spending the entire game trying not to breathe, staying on high alert if someone sat next to us, in front of us or behind us, monitoring if they coughed or sneezed. Needless to say, it took whatever fun I thought I could have at this game right away.
As I walked in the door I immediately shed my clothes and jumped in the shower to help wash off the possible germs that had engulfed us at the game. Skip on the other hand walked directly over to the TV and turned on the Lebron game, still not totally convinced this virus was anything to worry about.
SKIP FINALLY SEES THE LIGHT - WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11TH
I will never forget the moment that Skip finally faced reality, that this is now a serious virus and NO ONE is immune to it, not even his bullet-proof athletes!
I had just walked into Skip’s office Wednesday evening. He was waiting for the Utah Jazz tip-off against the Oklahoma Thunder when across the screen came "BREAKING NEWS: Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had just revealed that he tested positive for the coronavirus." This came just a few days after he joked around with the media at a press conference mocking the virus and touching reporters' phones and mics that were on the table.
WHAT?? Skip sat in his chair completely numb. He kept echoing, “I can’t believe this.” Yep, if an athlete, a guy who is young, strong and healthy, can contract this horrible virus that supposedly only affects older people with underlying conditions, then this can happen to you and me.
As the news continued to spread worldwide, the two teams which were about to play, were in the locker rooms waiting to hear if the game would go on. Soon the dreaded announcement came: It was canceled.
But wait, there’s still another game that tips-off in about two hours; Sacramento Kings vs. New Orleans Pelicans, Skip remained hopeful, surely that game will be played. I had a feeling it was over. Skip of course was still not living in the real world.
A few minutes later, the second wave of breaking news hit, the Kings and Pelicans game was called off, as well as the entire rest of the NBA season has to come to an end.
Not only was the world reeling in this horrendous and surreal news, Skip was in shock. I thought for a minute I would need to call the paramedics since he was almost comatose.
Once the news sunk in, for the first time in our 15 years together, I witnessed a man who was lost. How can he survive without sports?
Skip is a creature of habit. If, God forbid, I move his vitamins from one countertop in the kitchen to another countertop, he loses it. That’s just the tip of his habits. When we talk about sports being obsolete for who knows how many months, that is devastating.
The NBA being postponed stood for much more than the void of nightly games, Skip finally had to admit he understood the magnitude of this pandemic.
If this virus could touch the world of sports in such a massive way, there is no denying this was as real as real gets. Sports has always been the ultimate escape. When people need a little lightness, help to forget their daily troubles, sports have always been there to come to the rescue. Now, the escape has disappeared and all that the world was left with was cold, hard news.
BEVERLY HILLS CLOSED - MONDAY, MARCH 16 Living in Los Angeles, (to be specific, Century City, located right outside Beverly Hills,) I walk everywhere. While 99% of LA people drive, even to go across the street (that is a true statement, not an exaggeration at all,) I still prefer to walk. Being the die-hard New Yorker that I am, walking is just part of my existence. So last week, Monday to be exact, early afternoon, I was in my kitchen preparing lunch when my cell phone rang and it was my manicurist.
My appointment was for the next day, but she told me she had just heard from the clothing store owner down the street that Beverly Hills might be shutting down by nightfall, and she kept repeating louder and louder over the phone, "Ernie, you need to come now, now, come on over now.” She said after today she had no idea when they would reopen.
It was surreal. I was in a panic. Should I leave immediately and hightail it to Beverly Hills, or take my chances and think this was a bad joke? After all, how can Beverly Hills be closing?! I ran into the living room where Skip had just sat down on the couch and I explained the intense situation. It was way beyond my manicure; I do love my nails AND my weekly manicures, and truth be told, I have trudged through many NYC blizzards, 5-degree temps, hailstorms, torrential rainstorms, and 60 mile an hour winds just not to miss my standing Thursday, 1 p.m. mani/pedi, but it was the fact that Beverly Hills, “my town” was possibly shutting down because of a pandemic that hit me right between the eyes.
Skip said, “You might as well just stop everything and go, just in case." Was this possible? I had a slight panic attack as I grabbed my handbag and ran out the door. This situation was a big deal. It even called for me to actually drive my car, which is MAJOR. To reiterate, I walk everywhere, even the folks who live in my condo complex see me walking back from the grocery schlepping bags and they feel so bad for me. As they drive by, they stop and ask if I need a ride! They think I don’t own a car or drive, and being good neighbors, they offer assistance. I get a chuckle out of it, thank them and simply answer, "I’m from NYC." That pretty much sums it up.
So today I had to give up walking, no time to even breathe.
Here’s the lay of the land: on any given weekday Beverly Hills is a jam-packed, bustling place. Granted, not as busy as Times Square, but, it does have a feeling of excitement and intensity... the famed Rodeo Drive, Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica Blvd; they all intertwine and go through Beverly Hills. As I sped out of my driveway and onto the street, I noticed that the number of cars was at least 75% less than normal, and the parking garage near the salon was empty. My go-to spot is on the 4th floor, because levels 1-3 are always full, except for today. There were tons of spaces on the first floor… that’s when I realized once again this was becoming extremely real.
The nail salon is usually packed, standing room only unless you have an appointment. It’s a regular hotspot for big-time celebrities like Sharon Stone, Kim Kardashian, Jane Fonda, the Beverly Hills Housewives, Calvin Klein himself, etc. It is convenient, not too far from Bel Air, West Hollywood, Brentwood, Westwood, and the other surrounding towns where most of them live. I personally like it not for the stars, but because the woman who does my nails is amazing (although I must admit, it is fun to sit next to an A-lister!)
When I walked into the shop, it was empty except for one other regular customer who sat on the other side. Jackie, my manicurist extraordinaire, immediately gave me a mask to wear, and she quickly finished up so I could get back to my house pronto. I stepped out of the salon and reality hit once again, there was not a soul on either side of the street (mind you, it was 2:45 p.m. on a Monday afternoon!) It looked like a scene out of an old western where they “roll up the sidewalks”… Beverly Hills had become a ghost town in a matter of hours. One could bowl down Rodeo Drive. From Chanel to Gucci to Valentino, all had handwritten signs posted on their doors that read the same: "Closed due to COVID-19." By the time I reached home, every local and national news outlets had non-stop reports highlighting town closures, school closures, and grocery stores being overrun by desperate customers.
The thing that flipped me out was that only the day before, life was calm. I had gone to the bank, two food stores, and business was as usual. Everything you could need was overflowing on the shelves, and the post office only had a few people ahead of me. With a flip of a switch, it all changed.
This was my wakeup call. Beverly Hills closing down was all I needed to put things into perspective and see the full picture and preview of what was yet to come, and it was the most shook up I’ve been. WELCOME TO OUR NEW WORLD - E
Empty Beverly Hills, courtesy of ShutterStock
Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe filming Undisputed from Skip and Ernestine's house