After discovering pictures of eerily empty Chinese cities on lockdown this winter, the rest of the world echoed with similar snapshots of seemingly abandoned capitals around mid-March as the pandemic progressed and governments resorted to draconian measures to protect their citizens.
“Oh my God, the streets are empty!” shouted no one ever in suburbia, Ottawa.
I mean, streets are always empty around here. People don’t walk to places—they drive.
The local illustration of self-isolation and public health measures taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 can be seen in parking lots—they are empty and this is very rare.
I have never seen people not shopping. No matter the day or time, even in the age of online shopping, apps and delivery services, there are always cars parked around restaurants—many fast-food chains and “casual dining” places open 24/7—, supermarkets, clothing stores and various big-box stores. Even tiny, local, out-of-the-way strip malls always seem busy enough, even small businesses that feels like a front for money laundering have their regulars.
Statutory holidays? Starbucks, fast-food joints and convenience stores are open. Sunday? Business as usual, just closing a bit earlier. Blizzard? Time to shop, it’s a legit indoor activity. Humidex of 40⁰C? Let’s go to the mall, there’s air con at least!
And then, this very unprecedented situation called for a very unprecedented move—all non-essential businesses were shut down almost overnight mid-March. “Casual” shopping activities were momentarily forgotten during the Great 2019 Toilet Paper Hunt. Now, they are probably being moved online as non-essential items are starting to feel essential again after a few weeks.
Parking lots around non-essential businesses have become a gathering spot for seagulls and pigeons who don’t seem to understand why they suddenly have so much free space and zero hazard. Supermarket parking lots have turned into waiting spots where family members who don’t need to step inside the store just relax in the car, waiting for the designated shopper to come back with groceries. These parking lots are also the scene of strange non-interactions—long queues with two metres or more between people or awkward grocery pickup dances. And you can see the loneliest dining experience in drive-through restaurant parking lots—drivers and passengers just eat the food they’ve just picked up in their parked vehicle.
And why on earth am I taking pictures of empty parking lots?
Because I feel it’s important to document this unusual situation.
I’m taking pictures to give these moments a place in history—maybe I’m under the delusion that by doing so, they will soon go down in history and we will move on… or at least, go somewhere from here.