FORT MITCHELL, Ky.—The Oriental Wok restaurant is your quintessential family owned Chinese restaurant. They’ve been around for 42 years, and business has been good. But business is about to go down the toilet due to the shutdowns on Monday.

Restaurant after restaurant is closing. One out of every five people in the U.S. have either lost their jobs, or had their hours taken away due to the coronavirus pandemic.

If you’ve ever worked in food service, you know how this closure hurts. A server lives on tips. Five bucks here, eight bucks there. Servers are constantly carrying platters, collecting dirty dishes, forcing smiles, yes-sirring, no-ma’aming, and apologizing because the kitchen made the General Tso’s chicken spicy enough to disable a musk ox.

After a typical shift, many servers go home, balance their checkbooks, and discover they will be eating Kraft Mac and Cheese for the next six months because of mounting bills, and their oldest kid needs dental braces.

Just before the Oriental Wok closed its doors, a few final customers walked in. They were regulars.

They ate, they paid, they left.

There was a note written on their receipt, which read: “Your family has always taken such good care of us through the years, we know it’s going to be a tough few months.”

They left a $1,000 tip.

LAKE WACCAMAW, N.C.—Carly Boyd got engaged last week. She’s a young woman, pretty, a nursing student at Southwestern Community College.

Between classes, Carly apparently does her grandfather’s laundry then drops it off at the Premier Living and Rehab Center where he lives. To call her “dedicated” would be like calling Clifford the Big Red Dog a “Chihuahua.”

When Carly dropped laundry off Monday, a staff person noticed a new ring on her finger. “You’re engaged!” said the staff person.

Sadly, the nursing home is restricting all visitors, so there was no way for Carly to show the ring to her…

CLEAR SPRING, Md.—Tom Grosh was doing his civic duty during the coronavirus outbreak by standing on the side of the highway, offering free toilet paper to motorists.

His wife, his neice, and two teenage friends joined him, holding cardboard signs which read, “FREE T.P.!” Tom himself climbed onto his truck tailgate, waving rolls of 2-ply toilet paper at traffic.

Tom explained, “I was sitting in the office doing some work at the end of the day, God said to me, ‘You gotta help your fellow man.’ I knew exactly where to go to get the toilet paper and went and bought it.”

Tom bought 960 rolls, loaded them into his pickup, and gave them to anyone who had fallen victim to the Great Toilet Paper Shortage. People tried to pay Tom for the paper, but he wouldn’t accept money.

“We’re just trying to be a blessing and make somebody’s life a little better,” said Tom.

I will refrain from making any toilet paper jokes here, even though it would be very easy. Frankly, I’m just

too wiped out.

HARTLEY, Iowa—Friday morning. The last day of school, before the world closed down. Elderly Bonnie Linder was on her porch. Bonnie always stands on her porch in the mornings so she can wave to the schoolbus. This is a highlight of her day.

It was a chilly sunrise. Bonnie heard the diesel engine. She started waving. But the yellow bus surprised her when it hissed to a stop before her house. Every window opened. A million rosy faces popped out and shouted, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”

All Bonnie could do was laugh. Emotions will do that to a person.

Happy 93rd birthday, Miss Bonnie.

PORTLAND, Maine—Nathan Nichols told his tenants they could skip paying rent for April. His renters are blue-collar workers, Nathan knows work will be slow in the coming months. So he wanted to help.

Which is sort of miraculous, considering that…

ROLESVILLE, N.C.—Schools have shut down because of the coronavirus. Many students are excited about the time off, others have taken this opportunity to catch up on some much needed texting.

But it’s not all fun and games in Wake County. A lot of local students depend on the daily meals from the school cafeteria.

Tracie Sanchez, principal of Harris Creek Elementary School, said, “For many of us we don’t have to worry about [meals], but we do have students, and those ARE their meals. We need to make sure that they eat.”

So that’s exactly what her people have been doing. School district workers helped in a community food drive yesterday. They collected 10 truckloads full of food in just a few ticks of a clock. That’s enough food for nearly 150 local families.

If you would like to donate, great. Or, if you want to bring the volunteers some hot donuts, that would be fine too. Glazed. Lots of them.

ANAHEIM, Calif.—Disney shut down its theme parks, and I know you were probably wondering

the same thing I’m wondering: “What the heck happens to all those delicious corn dogs you buy inside the Disneyland park?”

Well, this is kind of cool. All Disney’s excess food is getting donated to Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, an organization that feeds roughly 250,000 people each month. That’s 3 million mouths per year. That’s almost as many people who stand in line for the “It’s a Small World” ride.

Disney also announced that during the shutdown, they will continue to pay cast members such as Goofy, Mickey, Cinderella, the Little Mermaid, and Mick Jagger.

HOUSTON, Texas—John is 8 years old, and has taken to singing over the phone. He is dialing the numbers on his mother’s cellphone contact list in hopes of cheering them up.

After all, John explained, everyone is stuck indoors, and that’s boring. He should know, John has…

I know there are many important world events happening right now, with new alarming headlines being written every few minutes, but I think you deserve a five-minute rest from televised anxiety. Which is why I want to talk seriously about Ohio for a second.

Not only is Ohio the birthplace of seven U.S. presidents, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Thomas Edison, but it is also home to the world’s largest pair of drumsticks. The sticks are carved from poplar logs and have a combined weight of 1800 pounds.

Said one Ohio man, “Dang, they’re big.”

I’ve always wanted to visit the Buckeye State, but every time I tell my Ohio friends this, they usually answer with: “Ha ha! Wait, you’re serious?”

I do understand why some Ohioans feel sort of blah about their state. But then, everyone feels like this about their home sometimes.

Take me, for instance. I am a Floridian who lives three miles from the Gulf of Mexico. People are always wanting to crash at my place during, say, spring

break. And I’m usually thinking to myself, “Why?”

These friends often unveil their travel plans during nonchalant conversations by saying, “So, how’s that old guest room looking, buddy?”

And even though I don’t particularly enjoy having company in our house, I was raised to be hospitable. So I answer, “Our guest room is always open to you, as long as you aren’t allergic to black mold or rats the size of Fiats.”

The truth is, Florida people are just like Ohio people. Sometimes we can’t see how great our state is. This is exactly why during my teenage years we boys used to LEAVE Florida for spring vacation in search of any U.S. state where we knew someone with a sleeper-sofa.

The farther away the better, just as long as we weren’t in Florida. That’s how it goes when you grow up on the…

I would like to suspend my usual lighthearted tone for a moment and talk seriously about a public issue that’s on everyone’s minds right now. I am of course talking about this year’s Cadbury Bunny Tryouts.

There are only a few days remaining in the Cadbury Bunny contest, which features cute pets from all over the country competing to win $5000 in prize money, and to become the next spokes-pet for Cadbury Creme Eggs.

This is not just any old contest. This is an opportunity for We the People to accomplish something good in this tired world by helping a hamster or a small pig win $5,000. You can do this by using your smartphone to cast a vote while you wait in the supermarket checkout line surrounded by millions of Americans who are buying shiploads of toilet paper.

For anyone who has been living beneath a rock, the Cadbury Bunny is an international mascot that’s been around since 1982, when the UK-based confectionery company began airing

TV commercials starring a Flemish Giant rabbit that clucked like a chicken. This bunny had the unique ability to lift its magical tail and drop chocolaty spherical objects which brought joy to America.

As it happens, I once had a pet bunny named Bill who did the same thing. Bill often slept in my room and was always dropping chocolaty objects on my rug, but these did not bring joy to my mother.

Today, Cadbury Creme Eggs in the US are produced by the Hershey Company, and I know I speak for every human being alive when I say that they are the best invention of the twentieth century, with a close second being penicillin.

Cadbury has a history of clever advertising campaigns. Their classic “Bunny Tryouts” TV commercial has aired a bazillion times since its debut, and still airs today. This ad features a pig, a lion, and a cat, all wearing…

I am sitting in a church pew. This chapel is empty. It’s lunchtime, and I’m supposed to be meeting an old friend here since I am passing through town for a book tour. Gene is the father of a guy I grew up with, and he has always been good to me.

The church secretary told me to wait in the sanctuary. The lights are off. Sunlight comes through the stained glass windows.

The whole world has shut down because of the coronavirus. Schools are closed. Restaurants have closed. Major League Baseball is cancelled. This morning, I saw a mile-long line of people outside a Birmingham grocery store. I don’t know what they were buying, but they looked afraid.

Gene works at this tiny church. He is the maintenance man here. It’s a part-time gig since he is almost seventy-eight.

This church gets smaller every year. Some of the younger parishioners are trying to grow the congregation by promoting the church. But the elderly folks in the congregation aren’t interested in this. “I’m not running ads,” the elderly preacher

said at a recent meeting. “You don’t have to advertise a fire.”

I hear the door open. Gene’s sleeves are rolled up, he has dirt smudges on his forehead. He’s holding a wrench. His white hair is a mess.

“Sorry,” he says. “I gotta cancel lunch, we’re fixing the water heater.”

I follow him to the back room where three old men are crammed against a water heater. These are deacons. They are ticked off and fussing:

“Hold the flashlight steady! I’m blind over here!”

“I’m trying, but your feet keep getting in the way.”

“GIMME THE WRENCH!”

There is a special way old men gripe when they’re fixing things and becoming frustrated. It’s pure wrath. It spews out of them like poison. It happens to us all. You can take a soft spoken man who walks on water; who never…

HUNTSVILLE—My wife and I are at a local bar. It’s midnight. The music is loud. All I want is a burger because I haven’t eaten since lunchtime. I did a show in town tonight and I ran a little long because I am a big mouth who can’t shut up.

We are very tired. Low on sleep. And the whole world feels frightening because you can’t go anywhere without hearing something new about the coronavirus.

But this is exactly why the immortal James Brown, “Godfather of Soul,” once wrote a poignant song to uplift the tired and huddled masses by stating so eloquently: “HEEEEY!!!” Then he danced the camel walk like a man with his underpants on fire.

I wouldn’t mind hearing some James Brown right about now. He is sort of an old friend to me. When I was a young man I used to listen to “I Feel Good” when I’d get off work. This song always helped me feel… Well... Better. I used to listen to it over and over and play

drum solos on my steering wheel.

This bar is the only place open at this hour. It’s crowded with young folks who travel in large packs. These are modern young people, dressed nicely, who are out on the town for a wild night that consists primarily of (a) going to bars, and (b) looking at their phones.

There are twenty-three televisions lining the walls, all playing continuous music videos. The music is loud enough to alter the migration patterns of Canada geese. I am trying to focus on the menu, but the TVs are distracting.

I’ll admit upfront, I don’t care for music videos. I suppose I’ve always wondered, “What’s the point?” I mean, when I watch “Love Boat,” it’s because there’s an actual plot, and I like Issac. When I watch “Little House on the Prairie,” it’s because Michael Landon had killer hair.

But…

I’m in a hotel room. We are on the fourteenth day of a book tour and I’m starting to forget which city I am in. Is this Birmingham? Or am I in Huntsville?

I’m past the point of trying to figure it out. Last night I awoke in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and I walked straight into a cinder block wall because I forgot I was in a hotel.

Right now I am watching “The Andy Griffith Show” on TV. This episode is one of my favorites. Barney joins the choir, but his singing voice is godawful. Thelma Lou, Barney’s girl, visits Andy when she learns that Barney is in the choir:

THELMA LOU: Barney's gonna be in the choir?! My Barney?!
ANDY: That's right.
THELMA: But Barney can't sing.
ANDY: I know.
THELMA: He's the man I want to marry, the man I want to be the father of my children...
ANDY: But he can't sing.
THELMA: Not a lick!

Pure gold. This scene is a knee slapper, no matter who you are. But if you’re a shameless Andy Griffith fanatic like me, this is the scene you want re-enacted at your funeral service. And you just hope the funeral congregation all says, “Not a lick!” in perfect unison.

I’ve seen this episode a hundred thousand times. Maybe more. I can quote the dialogue by heart, right along with the TV. Which drives my wife bat-dookie crazy.

She always says, “Why do you watch that show if you know every word?”

I usually wave her off and continue helping Andy remember his lines.

A few years ago, I had an exclusive one-on-one interview with Betty Lynn, the actress who played Thelma Lou. She’s in her mid-nineties now. I rented a car and drove eleven hours north to Mount Airy, North Carolina. I booked the cheapest hotel I could…

PAXTON—I am driving through the north end of Walton County on the way to Birmingham. The sun is setting. The rural parts are covered in tall grass, old trees, and mobile homes.

I live in this county, just south of here. When I was a young man, I once got a part-time job helping an elderly man who was from Paxton. He needed help around his house. He paid twenty bucks for three hours of labor every weekend.

It was decent money until he asked me to clean his garage. His garage was a giant abyss of ancient junk. I told him that I would need some help before I would agree to clean it. So he told me to pray for some.

Paxton is the highest town in Florida. It sits 318 feet above sea level, right on the Alabama line. The highest point in Florida is a couple minutes away. The place is a perfect example of Northwestern Floridian culture. You have Baptists coming out your ears,

and Methodists, and Tongue-Talkers. You see cardboard signs on highway shoulders advertising “free puppies.” A middle-aged man on his porch counting cars.

There are 797 residents in Paxton, unless Sister So-And-So has her baby tonight, then it will be 798.

And do you know what I like about Paxton best? The little country school. They just don’t make them like Paxton School anymore. The school has been here since 1939. In its entire 81-year history a little over 2,000 students have graduated from it. Total. That’s how small we’re talking.

It’s a thirteen-year school. Kids start in kindergarten and attend until they’re seniors. And they are unbeatable, too. The agricultural program churns out prize-winning hogs. The boys and girls basketball program doesn’t just win games, they win seasons, and have players who make it to the WNBA. And don’t even get Paxton started on its baseball.

God, these guys are great.…

DEAR SEAN:

I was appalled to read in one of your articles that you recommended hugging people in spite of the coronavirus scare...

Your words are usually positive, but those words endangered lives, and I’m disappointed in you. Do you really think you’re smarter than all the doctors out there? People could get sick and die because of something flippant you wrote even if you were just trying to be cute. You need to think about what you pen from now on.

Regards,
NERVOUS-NELLIE-OLESON

DEAR NELLIE:

Before I say anything, I think it’s important to slow down and breathe. The last thing we need is for you to hyperventilate. That would not be cute.

While you’re breathing, I’ll tell you about my visit to the nursing home the other day.

When I arrived at the assisted living facility, I half expected residents to be gathered around a television, like a lot of frightened people are doing. It seems like wherever you go the news channels are blaring in airports, restaurants, taverns, gas-pumps, funeral homes, Jesuit

monasteries, etc.

But these old people were not watching TV. They were playing cards. There was light music playing in the background, I think it was Jimmy Dorsey. The song was gentle. People in the living room were chilled out, and I was a little jealous.

Granted, most of these folks are on powerful medication. Some are taking so many blood thinners that one nick from an electric razor would kill them in only seconds. But that’s not my point. What I’m getting at is that these people are not freaking out about the coronavirus. Meanwhile, everyone in the outside world is.

I asked a nurse why things were so mellow here. She said, “Well, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve unplugged all our televisions. They can watch TV in their rooms if they want, but not in the main rooms.”

This was a unanimous…