Worcester Wears

Worcester’s famous Turtle Boy follows CDC recommendations by wearing a mask while in public.

In the time of Corona...

A FEW DISCLAIMERS: All photographs for this piece were taken from a distance of 6 feet or greater during a walk I took around downtown Worcester today to get fresh air and exercise. All individuals who appear in these images gave me permission to photograph them. While I was in public I wore an N95 mask covered with a bandana. I did not touch anything or anyone, and I observed proper social distancing protocol at all times.

OTHER NOTES: The title for this project is a loving nod to one of my favorite local businesses, Worcester Wares. Both physical locations are currently closed but you can still support them by visiting their online store here: Worcester Wares .

Please support local businesses and organizations in Worcester (either those featured here or others) by nominating them for the Small Business Stimulus Power Play sponsored by our very own Worcester Railers. The Railers will support small businesses by purchasing $1,000 in gift certificates from the top 36 local businesses chosen by Worcester residents now through April 29, 2020. You can nominate your favorite local businesses here: Worcester Railer’s Small Business Power Play


(Images Below)

My life, like the lives of most people, has undergone a massive transformation over the last few months. One of the most significant changes for me has been trading my life as a photographer and a B2B salesperson for full-time employment as a 5th grade teacher, daycare provider, stay-at-home mom and housewife. My husband is an essential employee and, gratefully, is able to work 9-5 from upstairs, so I am doing my part to support the household and our two children, even though that means taking a step back from “work.” It has been simultaneously wonderful and extremely difficult, but that story is for another post.

My point in providing this background is to explain that today, my husband took a day off of work so that I could take a day off of work, too. In other words, he took the kids so I could escape. As any stay-at-home parent knows, caring for children is a 24/7 job which requires tolerating tiny dictators during a good part of the day and going to bed exhausted, all while trying to figure out if you actually accomplished anything. And always. Doing. Laundry. Getting a break once in a while is essential to maintaining one’s mental health and the stability of the household.

Because even the faintest whiff of my presence causes my children to walk right past Dad to ask me for whatever they need, I knew I had to get out of the house if I was really going to get any peace. Restricted by the need to stay close to home, I chose to spend the day in downtown Worcester, enjoying the sun and fresh air with a camera in my hand and an N95 on my face. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to shoot, but I hoped that something would spark my interest once I got downtown.

As soon as I turned onto Main Street, still in my car, I saw a woman walking down the sidewalk with brilliant crimson dyed hair and a colorfully decorated face mask. Even though she “got away” before I had a chance to park the car and ask if I could photograph her, she had inspired me to spend the rest of the day looking at what Worcester, both the city and her people, are “wearing” in the time of Covid-19.

As I mentioned in my disclaimer, I asked permission to take photos of the people that I photographed. Some people said no. Some people didn’t even say no, the just waived their hands or fingers in refusal. I’m used to this. Cameras and the images they create hold a strange sense of power for many people. I too find that being photographed by a stranger can be understandably unnerving. Luckily, most people were receptive to a waive and my “Hey! Can I take your photo?” shouted through two layers of PPE.

Even though my subjects and I shared very simple, mostly brief and always physically distant encounters, I found the experience generally heartwarming.  Despite the separation involved, I really felt connected to the people I met, even though most of them were strangers. Sometimes people shared their names, sometimes we shared a laugh, and some people even provided me with their contact information so I could share their photos with them afterward. I felt, human.

Asking people in masks to pose for photos may seem like a strange way to learn about the current state of the world, but it worked. This project let me see Worcester, however briefly, through the eyes of many different people. Their eyes in this case being an essential part of each photograph, because all of them wore masks. The different snippets of their lives were as different as their masks. In fact, even their reasons for wearing masks were different. Some people wore their masks for self-protection. Some people donned their masks to protect others. Still others wore their masks as a sign of solidarity, knowing that the material they were made from would be generally ineffective against transmission of the virus, if they encountered it.

While each person I photographed had their day shaped in some way by the pandemic, some conversations had a greater impact on me than others. One of them was the young man who couldn’t find a place to charge his phone because so many businesses and city buildings are closed. I have seen him many times on the streets of Worcester over the last few years and we have even talked on a few occasions. He said I could take his photograph and but told me afterward how strange he thought it was to take photos of people wearing masks. He followed that up by asking me if taking his photograph made me “feel better.” It was a strange and terse exchange. Another conversation that struck me was with a man that I met near city hall who started laughing as soon as I started taking photos.  When I asked him why, he said, “I don’t even know why I’m smiling.” Apparently he found himself smiling at the camera, even though most of his face was covered by a mask. Whether or not someone was smiling in their photo hadn’t even occurred to me before he said it. It was so simple and yet so profound to me in that moment.

One of the most significant conversations I had during this experience was with a Worcester resident who had gone out to get some essential items from the store. He currently lives in a sober home, where the expectation is that he will attend several AA and/or NA meetings during the week. He told me that he hasn’t been able to attend meetings for almost a month because they have all gone online and he has no access to the internet. He said while he is not going to drink without meetings, there are many people, especially those in early recovery, who will relapse without support. And he’s right.

This man’s story really hit on the impact that this pandemic and subsequent shutdown has on underserved populations, particularly those people suffering or recovering from addictions. When in-person AA and NA meetings shut down, these groups moved to virtual meetings on platforms like Zoom which are easily accessible to some but completely out of reach for others. The inequity of the situation became even more apparent to me as I passed by a the Walking Together community center on Main South where weekly AA meetings are usually held. There was no list of alternative meetings, or Zoom links. Taped to the gate was a white sheet of paper, crumpled from the rain the night before, saying only “Meeting cancelled tonight. Keep the faith.” , Unfortunately, despite Walking Together’s best efforts, this message will not be enough to keep everyone sober.

The city itself, like the people I met, is simultaneously full of messages of hope and strewn with signs of troubled times. Hearts on the windows are juxtaposed with latex gloves left on the sidewalk. Construction in Kelly Square continues, but I saw only a few people stopping by the local restaurants for take-out during what would have otherwise been a busy lunch hour. It seemed like for every business still open for essential shopping or take-out there were another two that had closed completely.

Worcester is a changed place and there is no telling how much more change this pandemic will affect. But the reactions of people I met, and my own feelings during and after this experience tell me that we cannot give up on each other. The people, the businesses and even the face of the city itself need us to stay connected somehow in order to survive. Some days I have found it far too easy to disappear into the walls of my house, allowing my stress, anxiety and worry to cloud my ability to function. It is in those times that I need to remember that there are so many others just like me, who are also lost in their own stress, worry and anxiety, albeit for different reasons. People who miss the world they knew, overwhelmed people, people who feel alone or isolated or lost. But even in our distance and isolation, I want to remember that there is always something good that we can give each other, even if there are days when that something is just a smile, hidden behind a mask.

This is me, wearing a bandana bearing the Brazilian flag to cover the N95 mask that I'm wearing underneath. I was trying to look a little less "scary."
A Sox fan heads across the Worcester Common Oval.
A employee of the City Clerk's office takes documents to City Hall.
A Worcester resident runs a few important errands.
A boarded up storefront on Main Street.
A Worcester resident takes a walk on Main Street.
The sign outside Mechanics Hall reads "Counting the days to our reopening celebration, and you're invited!"
An HVAC professional gets some fresh air while performing maintenance work for Maker to Main on Main Street.
Worcester residents wait outside of TD Bank on Main Street.
An essential employee makes a phone call during a break from her job.
The marquee outside the Palladium on Main Street reads "APRIL DISTANCE BRINGS MAY EXISTENCE. #Staythef*ckhome"
A Worcester resident and his service dog take a walk down Main Street.
A woman pauses for me to take her portrait before crossing Pleasant Street.
A closed sign on the door of Doughnuts and Draughts on Main Street reads "Due to the Executive Order we will be CLOSED starting Thursday March 17th until the ban is lifted. We will miss you all. STAY HEALTHY!!"
A Worcester resident enjoys the sunshine outside of City Hall.
A Worcester resident enjoys the sunshine outside of City Hall.
A man pauses for me to take his portrait before crossing Main Street.
Man on Main Street
A Worcester resident takes a stroll down Main Street.
Messages of gratitude and support are displayed in the windows of Creative Hub Worcester on Main Street.
A Worcester photographer runs some necessary errands on Main Street.
This Worcester resident heads back to the sober house where he lives after running a few necessary errands. He has not been able to attend any of the online AA or NA meetings that Worcester offers because he does not have access to the internet.
A sign outside of Walking Together on Main Street informs members of AA that the weekly meeting there has been cancelled.
A Worcester resident chats briefly with a friend on Main South. His companion was also wearing a mask and the men stood over 6 feet from one another.
A Worcester resident chats briefly with a friend on Main South. His companion was also wearing a mask and the men stood over 6 feet from one another.
A man pauses on Chandler Street for me to take his portrait.
A Worcester resident enjoys a walk in the fresh air on Main Street.
A shuttered clothing store on Main Street in Worcester.
A Worcester "Ambassador" disinfects the benches in downtown Worcester.
A closed convenience store on Main Street in downtown Worcester.
A Worcester resident heads home after running some essential errands.
A man pauses for me to take his portrait across the street from City Hall.
A man pauses for me to take his portrait across the street from City Hall.
This gentleman laughed while he told me that he didn't understand why he was smiling for the photograph even though he was wearing a mask.
An Amazon delivery driver strikes a killer pose while delivering packages on Water Street.
A woman heads home with a pizza from Fresh Way Pizza on Water Street.
SKANSKA employee Robert Malone heads back to the job site inside the Harding Green Building in Kelly Square with lunch from a local restaurant.
Jermaine "Cookie" Smith dons a mask at his newly opened Caribbean Press food truck. Caribbean Press is located in the parking lot behind the White Eagle on Green Street and is currently open for lunch on sunny days in Worcester.
Employees of AIDS Project Worcester pause for a moment while distributing meals and providing other important services to Worcester residents in need.
Ben Roberts, Short Term Health Navigator for AIDS Project Worcester sports PPE while distributing food and information about services to some of Worcester's underserved residents.
An employee of AIDS Project Worcester sports PPE while distributing food to Worcester's underserved residents. She also carries a biohazard box approved for the proper disposal of any needles that she may come across during her day.
A man pauses on Green Street so that I can photograph him.
A latex glove lies in the middle of the sidewalk on Water Street in Worcester.
A young man stops on Harding Street just long enough for me to take his photo.
A young man stops on Harding Street just long enough for me to take his photo.
The Queen's Cups on Water Street is adorned with a banner reading "In this Together." While the bakery and café are currently closed to walk-in traffic they are still taking orders for pick-up.
A Worcester resident is dressed for the windy weather on Water Street.
When I asked if I could take his photo this man exclaimed "Sure you can!"
A Worcester resident looks for a way to charge his phone on Water Street.
The temporarily closed Worcester Wares location in Kelly Square displays a banner that reads "TOGETHER WE WILL SEE IT THROUGH."

Comments · 2

  1. Bridget,
    I appreciate the time you took to provide this needed focus on daily life during the Covidian Era.
    Much like the time following 911 you just knew life would never be the same.
    Thank you for sending the photos and I hope to see you again. Take care of those children as they grow so quickly.
    Continue to be in the moment and cherish the now.

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