Tales from 2020: Friday, March 13th

John E. Price
3 min readMay 10, 2021

Since I’m a folklorist I should probably know where the whole “Friday the 13th” thing comes from — if it’s about the 12 disciples, or the Templars, or witches, I dunno. But by now it’s ubiquitous and ingrained into pop culture, even becoming a kind of celebratory event.

Before we knew 2020 was destined to be a schism in time’s sanity, some even looked forward to the poetic alignment of the calendar: two Friday the 13ths, both Halloween and July 4th fall on a Saturday, Cinco de Mayo falls on Taco Tuesday, New Years and Christmas on Fridays, etc. It was all a weird coincidence that made for funny memes.

Then 2020 began and fear swirled that the cosmic alignment might not be coincidental, after all.

The emerging crisis that the media used to call the Wuhan Flu had overtaken all other stories. Entire weeks’ worth of news were happening each day. Tom Hanks had it and was quarantined in Australia. Italy was dying. Dozens of professional athletes across the globe tested positive.

On Wednesday the 11th, the WHO declared “Covid-19” a global pandemic. The NBA cancelled its season. That night, Trump gave a primetime speech that mostly consisted of his trademark rambling nonsense and a travel ban on Europeans.

The next morning the stock market crashed. Later that day, the NCAA cancelled March Madness. Bernie Sanders won the California primary. Major League Baseball cancelled spring training. Even The Masters was postponed.

Still, there was a sense of surreal security to everyday life. Very few Americans were directly affected and it felt more like watching a crappy CBS primetime show than the actual news. As some old guy named Dr. Fauci warned us that ‘Rona was 10 times more deadly than the flu, he also said if you wash your hands you’ll be fine. The deaths to-date were mostly limited to elderly patients, and the conventional wisdom that this was just a new flu was widely believed. Those causing a scene were just chicken littles panicking over nothing. At worst, it would all be over once summer hit.

We didn’t know the infection number would increase by 600% in the next few days — and skyrocket even more dramatically in the coming weeks. Instead, we made jokes. We laughed at the vulgar barbarism of eating bats. And who can trust those Chinese statistics anyway? Ok, sure, to be safe, we switched from handshakes to fistbumps.

John E. Price

Academic and Trekkie. I talk about the politics of culture, review nerd stuff, and golf a lot. Co-host: @podmeandering, #TopFive, @folkwise13