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Around mid-afternoon Sunday, I drove down U.S. 52 to the Ohio side of the Greenup Locks and Dam for some camera time. I knew the sun would be against me, but I went anyway, as I had to get out of the house.

Sure enough the sun was high in the sky and in front of the dam, putting a glare on the river and much of the dam in shadow. The river was up a little bit thanks to rain we had last week, and that put part of the fishing area under water.

So as I stood there at the top of the river bank figuring if there was a way to make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear, I found myself surrounded by two older couples. Two of the four people carried cameras and were taking pictures of the dam.

Their cars had Missouri license plates, so I asked them if they really were from Missouri or Mizz-ur-uh. They chuckled, and I told them the last time I was in their state was to visit my son at Fort Leonard Wood. He was a Marine who was stuck at an Army base for a few weeks for some specialized training. He hated being at an Army base, I said.

They laughed.

The two couples said they were camping at Greenbo Lake State Resort Park for a few days as they made their way slowly toward Williamsburg, Virginia. They asked about the dam and I told them some of what I knew about its history, about the power plant on the Ohio side and the bridge over the Ohio River there.

They asked if there was a place on the other side to see boats in the locks. I said sadly, no. The observation platform at Greenup and other dams along the Ohio have been closed to the public since 9/11. They said they had stopped at the McAlpine Locks and Dam at Louisville, and it was the same there.

We talked about other things, but after they had left and I had experimented with some shadow-heavy photography, a train of thought entered my head. Soon we will mark the 19th anniversary of 9/11. Next year will be the 20th anniversary — a biggie.

Our society turned security conscious almost to the point of paranoia after that. If a police officer saw you taking a photo of a bridge, even from a distance, he would ask what you were doing. Fences and metal detectors went up everywhere. We were expected to treat strangers as terrorists in disguise.

Now we have COVID-19, and I wonder what the lasting effects of anti-infection theater will be. Are we being trained to cower when the next flu bug hits? Has the manipulation of infection and death rates cost the public health bureaucracy part of its credibility? Have some governors and health czars taken things too far in the name of public safety?

The two couples from Mizz-ur-uh looked to be in their 70s, but they weren’t masked. In theory they are among people who are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, but they didn’t appear to be afraid of it. Otherwise they wouldn’t have left their homes on a long, slow journey where they chatted with strangers.

It seems that every major event that has happened since 9/11 has resulted in a society that is less open and is more divisive. Today it is maskers vs. antimaskers. With the next big thing, who knows?

The worst part? My grandchildren’s generation is growing up thinking this is normal.

Jim Ross is development and opinion editor of The Herald-Dispatch. His email address is

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