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The 6 o’clock

Kelci Baughman McDowell
Research & Instruction Services Coordinator, Archives & Special Collections

I lifted up my laptop to position the camera for a group picture, which these days equated to doing a screen shot of the Zoom window. It was October 30, 2020, and I was dressed like a hippie from the 1960s, heavy beads weighing down my neck and dark glasses obscuring my vision. Penny was wearing a black cape and a pointy witch’s hat with a virtual background of orange jack-o’-lanterns. Lloyd’s face was light with pancake makeup, black around his eyes, red dripping from his lips, and he smiled big to flash his vampire teeth. Out of all of us, Eric was the most flashy: He had already donned several masks and brandished several props. Now he had on a white wig à la Andy Warhol and a scepter topped with a multicolored electric bolt dancing in a globe. 

“1, 2, 3… Cheese,” I exclaimed as I let go of my fingers on the shift + command + 4 keys on my laptop. We all burst out laughing, giddy from the festivities of our virtual Halloween party on Zoom, overly excited about something so mundane. 

Kelci.zoom

It had been nearly seven months since the pandemic started and only once had we missed the weekly Zoom happy hour we dubbed “the 6 o’clock” that we had started in March, 2020. As the months wore on, we continued to meet every Friday, making accommodations for Christmas, New Years, and other holidays. Even when I got in a blow-out fight with my step-mom in December, I called into happy hour on my phone, sitting in my car in the dark driveway for three hours. It would not be an exaggeration to say us four got each other through the pandemic.

After hearing about vaccine developments on the news for months, our turn finally came to get our first shot; three of us went to the Kaiser clinic at the Koret Gym at USF, and one of us went to a local pharmacy. It finally seemed safe to make plans to meet in person: first, on Good Friday 2021 we went to Aquatic Park for an afternoon stroll and to Cole Valley for an outdoor dinner, wearing masks when not eating and socially distancing as much as possible. Then, a couple weeks later, all four of us fully vaccinated, we met in the Castro on a Friday night for dinner and drinks. As each of us arrived and met Lloyd at a table on the sidewalk outside bar 440, we hugged for the first time in over a year. For Lloyd the sensation of a tight embrace lasted far longer than the hug itself—he kept remarking, “I can still feel it in my body!” Penny and I hugged even though we had shared a Lyft over. Lastly we spotted Eric making his way up Castro Street. When he reached the table I went in for a tight squeeze. He was warm from walking down from his apartment up Market Street.

“You’re the first human I’ve touched since March 2020,” he exclaimed as he pulled away, his face lighting up with joy. “That felt amazing.” We both teared up a little—me, because I was honored to be the first, and Eric out of sheer emotion at the power of human contact. 

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