Rod Serling and PPE drop off donation center

There’s an array of signs directing you to a makeshift collection depo at the back of the parking lot. At some points during the previous week cars were lined up to hand over whatever Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they could scrounge up.

This donation site at 610 Ackerman Road is for OSU Hospitals, a bulwark of the healthcare industry, many of its opulent towers not far from here.

The strongest have stumbled, and the littlest of things, a mask with a rubber-band for a strap, are desperately needed by our frontline healthcare workers.

Legend has it a 20-something Rod Serling had drafted future episodes of The Twilight Zone at a North Campus diner, perhaps the precursor to the ole Dube, why not Dick’s Den?

Afterall, a young Serling did work for WBNS at one time. A story passed along by North Campus legend and journalist Richard Connor who left us too soon last year as his compassion and kindness for so many is needed right now.

Whatever the truth regarding the Serling connection, it is fitting. Our reality twisted into a living horror show.

How Columbus and the rest of Central Ohio navigates this unwritten script will determine if we continue as one of the Midwest’s last boomtowns.

“The city (government) needs to move quickly,” said nationally recognized Ohio State economist Ned Hill to the Free Press. “What you find out about all recessions, is the bigger the shock, the larger the number of unexpected outcomes and the larger structural change to the economy.”

From top to bottom the community is feverishly seeking answers. On Monday, Battelle and OSU announced they had in tandem fast-tracked a Covid-19 test with a turnaround time in less than five hours.

Yet in no other time experienced, have we’ve had to turn to the underappreciated, the overworked, and the underpaid for life support.

Take for instance how us of the “Smart City” – the local research determined to put tens-of-thousands of truckers out of their careers – demanding trucks run nonstop to keep groceries stocked with the just the right toilet paper.

After this crisis, the Smart City should abandon all research into self-driving freight.

“Trucking is the number one profession in over 30 states including Ohio. They are greatly underappreciated. And now all of a sudden, we need them, and everybody is coming out, ‘We love our truck drivers!’” says Thomas Balzer, president of the Ohio Trucking Association based in Westerville. “Well, you should always love your truck drivers because they are the ones who make everyday life, which we have now had ripped away from us, possible.”

The City Auditor’s office has turned for help to some of Central Ohio’s best economic forecasters. The city soon discovered some obstacles were already firmly in place – such as bureaucratic red tape.

Reaching out to OSU’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs, the city asked for budget projections, likely needing them need as fast as possible. The economic fallout another mind-boggling unknown. 

To perform accurate modeling of future revenue collections, the Glenn College needs access to detailed and recent business data to track employment in various local industries. However, government restrictions to the earnings of local employers slows access to the much-needed data.

“They want to do a revenue forecast, the problem is, we can’t get access to this academic data quickly enough to do these forecasts. Because it’s confidential data, and a multiple month-long process to get access,” says Robert Greenbaum, Associate Dean of Curriculum at the Glenn College, and an expert on economic resiliency following natural disasters and terrorist attacks. “All governments are trying to figure out where the revenues are coming and what areas of revenue are going to take a hit.”

A line of cars donating PPE to a hospital determined to be the nation’s best is hard to wrap your mind around. Acts of compassion are gaining traction, but in the worst of times, don’t be surprised how cold and greedy some will become.

“We see a lot of wage theft claims in general, but the specific wage thefts claims that we are seeing right now are people not receiving their last paycheck,” says Sarah Ingles, president for the Central Ohio Worker Center, which advocates for low wage and undocumented workers.

Low-wage workers in Ohio being treated like second-class citizens was already a huge problem, she says. Now it will be exasperated, says Ingles, as calls pour into her mostly volunteer nonprofit.

“They’re afraid to go to work because they aren’t being provided safe working conditions. They’re scared that at any point they could lose their job and what that means for them and their family. They are unsure if they will be paid. They’re worried about working insanely long hours and if they will be able to withstand that and how long,” she says.

For undocumented persons, the situation is far graver.

“Undocumented workers are not entitled to unemployment compensation,” says Ingles. “They are at specific risk right now because the very few safety nets we have for people are only being offered to individuals who are documented. They often don’t have health insurance, are worried about bringing income to their families, and if they do get sick, what that could mean.”

On Saturday morning (3/29) the Free Press from distance kept a close-eye on the OSU COVID-19 remote testing location, which is across Ackerman Road from the PPE donation site. The good news, not a single car pulled up the half hour we were there. Perhaps the worst is yet to come.

North Campus legend and journalist Richard Connor, who left us too soon last year, was everybody’s friend. At this moment he would have been profoundly concerned for the well-being of so many in his hometown. At the same time, he would have been fully aware and in constant thought of how we can help each other.

During these surreal and (un)forgettable times, it’s a good idea to keep reminding yourself to keep Richard Connor in mind.

Richard Connor