“Everything does need to change,” Marilyn agreed with him, “including ourselves. The person you were one month ago is not equipped to deal with this crisis. Each of you needs to grow into a better version of who you are. The difference between who you are and who you have the potential to become has never been more important than it is in this moment.”

Max was a seasonal ski instructor and a part-time bartender living in Lake Tahoe, California. He spent his days teaching children to ski, and his nights mixing drinks for people who certainly had already had far too much to drink. He made a lot of friends, learned from many a traveler, and had his fair share of love interests, even if they were all alcoholics. Max was 28. He was living the happiest days of his life. He didn’t have one penny to his name, and he didn’t care one bit.

Kim was an investment banker, and she was damn good at it. At 35, she had nearly a million dollars set aside. She had grown up poor, and all she ever wanted was not to be poor. She majored in finance, did cold calling for three years, and then transitioned into investments. She thought she knew a lot about it. That’s why she invested herself—half of every dollar she made, right into the same stocks she advised on. Living in Jacksonville, Florida, Kim was able to live very well off very little, and most of her income went into retirement, investments, and other long-term assets she hoped to build a future with.

Jules was an assistant manager at a small branch hotel in the town of Wyoming, Illinois. Yes, the name of the town is Wyoming, but it’s in Illinois. It took her an average of twenty-two minutes to check a guest in or out of the hotel, because her manager refused to buy a desktop that actually works without freezing and shutting down all the damn time. More often than not, this resulted in the customer screaming at Jules about nothing that Jules could actually control, storming out, and leaving a scathing review on Yelp. Subsequently, her boss would yell at her, Jules would reply that she needs a better computer system, and her boss would answer: We can’t get it expensed. Go buy it yourself!

John was a mechanical engineer at a factory in Akron, Ohio which produced only vacuum cleaners. He made a lot of vacuum cleaners, and like Kim, he was very good at what he did. By 30, he had been promoted to Quality Assurance Manager, and was earning a comfortable $62k/yr, which is more than just decent in a decrepit post-industrial town where the rent for a studio averages just 600/month. He did not like vacuum cleaners, of course. No one likes vacuum cleaners. But he had spent his whole life growing up in the industrial Midwest, and his whole family worked on cars or steel or appliances like this, and frankly he had never considered that another career might exist for him at all.

These four characters had never met before. They would never have become friends in any regular course of events. They had conflicting priorities, lifestyles, and political views on just about every issue that there is. The only thing they had in common, in fact, was that they never would have made it through these next few months without each other.

One event changed all of this, as well as everything else these four people had taken for granted all of their lives, and that was a virus named COVID-19.

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Concept by Michael Freedman, story by Matthew R. Bishop.