It’s hard to name a year filled with more twists, turns and downright bizarre surprises than 2020.
We’re not even into the new year and it already feels like the anticipation is nearly overwhelming for the countless events, completion of major construction projects and community affairs that are planned for 2021.
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that time is a construct and means absolutely nothing.
The rapid spread of COVID-19 throughout the world and the corresponding lockdowns, restrictions, quarantines, work-from-home adaptations and all-in-all overwhelming onslaught of news made us all question what time even really meant. Heck, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo even started to include a slide in his briefings of what day it was because for many people the concept of a calendar no longer registered.
So when it was time to write this traditional column that reflects back on all of the changes that have come to Plant City, when asked to reminisce on cherished memories and attempt to construct some sort of inspiring and meaningful analysis of what the past 365 days have meant to this community… I ended up staring at a blank document for almost an hour in total loss.
I looked up a timeline of events for the year — heads up, don’t do it unless you’re ready for a rude awakening — and decided to pull some of the largest headlines from around the country to then hopefully be able to put in perspective the genuine miracle it took to pull off some of the events that have happened right here in Plant City.
Brexit happened this year. Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to prison. Australia had devastating fires, then California had devastating fires. WWIII was a terrifying concept that floated around the internet for months following a U.S. drone strike on Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in January. President Trump — who had just recently been impeached — was acquitted.
“Cats,” that utterly terrifying film, came to movie theaters that were packed with people all there shoulder to shoulder watching it together in rising horror and confusion. Shakira and J-Lo performed at the half-time show of the Super Bowl LIV. Remember how many people attended the Super Bowl? Yeah, 62,417 people were in that stadium this year. Murder hornets were a thing for a hot second.
Kobe Bryant died. John Lewis died. Chadwick Boseman died. Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. The list really is too long to even attempt to make a dent in it.
Then there were literal months where no one left their house unless they had to get supplies or food or had a job that hadn’t fully converted to working from home. During those seemingly endless months, COVID-19 flared. It was everywhere and hospitals filled. One solitary stimulus check came in as relief for Americans. Then things started to open back up, though many places kept restrictions in place as the contagion had yet to be quelled.
In Plant City, so much happened despite the fact that for months, basically no one left their house. A Strawberry Queen was crowned. The Florida Strawberry Festival happened and the only relative difference was there were more signs up about washing your hands than normal. Then, literally two to three weeks later, the entire state shut down. COVID-19 was here in an alarmingly high number and local officials tried everything in the book to reduce its rate of contagion.
For several weeks at the start of the pandemic, many local churches hosted “drive-up” services on Sundays in their parking lots.
Students were sent home to finish their school year on their laptops. Seniors were denied all the traditional ceremonies and events and some schools responded by throwing special parades in their honor. City meetings were now live-streamed so people could tune in from their couches. The United Food Bank of Plant City saw a massive spike in demand and several organizations came up with creative ways to host food drives and raise money for the group.
Marches for justice for George Floyd drew hundreds to the streets of Plant City — most donned in masks. Businesses had been closed for weeks, if not months, by the time summer rolled around and many were desperate to get financial aid. Some were able to limp through, but several didn’t survive the pandemic and closed for good. Local Girl Scouts had outdoor Bridging Ceremonies. A local Boy Scout had the first outdoor Eagle Scout Court of Honor event in Tampa Bay area history.
Restaurant owners took it upon themselves to feed families in need free of charge. Organizations opened their doors to those in need and gathered supplies to donate in mass quantities. Students went back to an all virtual classroom before they were allowed to choose to either come to class in person or remain learning online. Teachers received support via virtual fundraisers to get supplies for their classes to keep things sanitized and safe.
Events started to pop back up in downtown with car shows, food truck rallies, Empty Bowls, Lights of Love and the Plant City Christmas Parade drawing crowds to town. What used to be massive holiday celebrations were either cancelled or altered to meet CDC guidelines or completely reimagined into a drive-through or pickup event.
As 2021 inches ever closer, the prospect of an easily accessible vaccine has many hoping this pandemic will soon be put behind us. However, the timeline is still vague at best.
Until then, Plant City will continue to do what it always does best: look out for one another and roll with the punches.
Maybe don’t invest in that 2021 calendar yet though. It may still be a while before we all have to remember what day it is.