“Where Is Everybody” – Classic ‘Twilight Zone’ Premiere Episode – Takes On New Significance as This Reporter Muses Life in the Time of the Coronavirus

Lately I’ve been getting the most sinking of sensations that has absolutely nothing to do with the bottle of Vino my Better Half and I indulged in the other evening or the extra grease laden Mama Jahamba pizza we scarfed down whilst watching Ghost Adventures Season Five, Episode Three (Poetically titled Old Town San Diego for any of you connoisseurs of uber-cheese). No, this feeling of absolute and total freefall stems from the new and frightening spread of the Coronavirus which has plunged world markets into chaos even as my sweet and ever-lovin’ next door neighbor who normally looks like she wouldn’t hurt a fly Express Raced me to the last remaining pack of toilet paper at our local grocery store, dropkicking me into the Infants and Juniors isle with mucho aplomb. It was not one of my finer moments. Or hers, I assume.

 Across the county – nay, across the globe – uncertainty and confusion seems to rule the day. Worse than that, my beloved current day pop culture looks to be going the way of All-Flash as movie theaters begin to shutter their doors and production of film and television projects grinds to a jarring halt (Production of Stranger Things Season 4 halted?!? Noooooooooooooo!). Even one of the reigning kings and queens of Hollywood – Tom-friggin’-Hanks and Rita Wilson – have proven not immune to the virus. What hope do us mere mortals stand?

 I’m a confirmed Rod Serling and Twilight Zone nut and with the recent headlines seemingly plucked from an episode of that seminal series, I’ve found myself returning more and more frequently to the Zone, discovering relatable parallels between some of Serling’s best work and with what is currently happening in 2020. One episode in particular – the premiere broadcast of The Twilight Zone from October 2, 1959 – has resounded specifically because of the ever-growing shutdown of my home country, America in the wake of everyone’s favorite virus named after a well-known alcoholic beverage.

 Where Is Everybody is pretty much a one-man show, featuring the underrated actor Earl Holliman as a man who wakes up to find himself wandering down a lonely road with no idea of who he is or how he got there. Holliman is confronted with a veritable ghost town: an empty lunch time diner with a freshly brewed pot of coffee but with no waitress to serve it, a telephone booth with an empty line to nowhere, a deserted town square so quiet that you could hear a pin drop. As written by Serling and directed by Robert Stevens, Where Is Everybody is an effective ghost story made all the creepier for its lack of ghosts; even Casper wants no part of this bleak and desolate world.

 “The place is here, the time is now,” Serling’s assured voice over narration reveals to us as the opening frames of Where Is Everybody unspools on our television sets, “and the journey into the shadows that we’re about to watch could be our journey.” Damn right.

 Holliman’s character eventually deciphers the riddle of the new and dark word he’s stumbled into as well as his own identity: He is U.S. Air Force Sgt. Mike Ferris and he’s part of an isolation booth experiment by the Military (how unlike them says I, tongue firmly planted in cheek). The preceding twenty plus minutes that Mike has endured has all been a product of his fevered mind as it attempted to cope with extreme isolation from his fellow man and his familiar day to day surroundings. Watching Where Is Everybody a few nights ago, the proceedings all seemed a little too close for comfort.

 I had occasion yesterday to drive through the small town my wife and I hang our respective hats in and for the most surreal of moments I felt like Earl Holliman as he crept around a deserted movie theater or as he listened to the chime of a town clock that was for the benefit of his set of ears and no one else’s. This was a Sunday morning and the normally packed church parking lots were eerily empty. There were few, if any, cars on the roads, either, and I could not locate even one power walker marching through the streets of my small town (normally we’re overrun by such expedient walkers in lieu of any discernible mall for them to enact what I like to call The Walk of Vengeance). It was still. It was quiet. And suddenly, this sixty year old first episode of The Twilight Zone seemed way more relevant to me than it ever had before.

 Unlike Holliman’s intrepid character, we’re still attempting to work out our riddle of a new and dark world we’ve stumbled into. And as much as I would like this particular episode to end with all of us waking up to the realization that it was all but a dream, even I have to come up for air and enter so-called reality long enough to admit that we’re working towards a different ending than that of Serling’s inaugural Zone work. But, like most of Serling’s work, there are blue skies in the distance that will eventually drive away dark clouds. So let’s raise that bottle of Vino loudly and proudly as we dive into survival food that looks suspiciously like a fully loaded pizza as we shout out a toast for a happy ending to our current malady. I think Earl Holliman and Rod Serling would endorse such a sentiment gladly.

About Ryan Vandergriff

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