Friday, April 3, 2020

Now We Are 21

When you turned 49 on November 12, 2019, you started to get serious. All those things you kept putting off started to seem urgent. Creating videos, drawing more, writing more, being kind to your creative self. You also resolved to focus on pushing your career ahead into new areas at work. There were some large plans, but they were manageable. I wasn't going to waste time now that 50 was looming.

Here's a note from the future outlining what your world will look like exactly 4 months later.

On the evening of Friday, March 13 you and your lovely wife MJ will go to dinner at Goodfriend. There will be about 4 other diners there, which creates an eerie silence in what is typically a festive space. The server will be wearing blue rubber gloves, like the ones people dye their hair with. You and MJ will be concerned that the menu touched the appetizer plate. You and MJ will debate which one of you will use the potentially infected plate to eat their half of the turkey burger and sweet potato fries. You will both know with 0 uncertainty that this will be your last date for a long time because restaurants aren't safe now.

I know you are saying "that sounds like a pretty dumb dream to have," but it is 100% real.

Over the weekend you will go grocery shopping a few times, and each trip will be a bit stranger. On day 1, you will stay 3 feet from everyone at Target. The Lysol wipes, toilet paper, feminine hygiene, and diaper aisles are all empty.

On day 2, you will do your best to limit what surfaces are touched at Aldi. Everyone will have toilet paper and water in their carts. You will see 1 person wearing a face mask, like the Asian woman who got the window seat on the plane when you flew to Canada in 2008.

On day 3 you, MJ and your daughter, MC,  will go to Albertson's. They will be wearing the same gloves that the waitress wore 3 days ago. Your hands will be wrapped in Lysol wipes. You won't touch any public surface. The woman in front of you is wearing a black mask with a plastic filter on it. You talk with her. She is a health care professional. "I wear this all the time for an immunity issue. We are getting ready though. All of my friends were told that they were to get ready to be General Practitioners again, no matter what their specialty. They are rushing to relearn the basics." She pauses to pay, then leans in as close as she dares to get and whispers "It's going to be at least 4 weeks. Get ready."

You won't leave the house again for the rest of March. Your son-in-law, PD, will work another week, then be put on furlough. MC's job is already closed. MJ starts working from home. You've worked from home for 8 years, which makes you the lucky one in this scenario.

Twenty-one days pass. It's now.

Now I walk the dog every morning, just like before. Now, I go to work in my home office, just like before. My job is mostly managing how other people are handling the new reality in cities across the US. It's emotionally exhausting.

Now, we disinfect grocery deliveries in bleach and soapy water. Packages are left for 24 hours, then handled with gloves to get to the goods inside. Liquor delivery is expensive but necessary. Now, the car sits covered in oak pollen, and started only to keep the battery in good shape. Gas is under $1.50 a gallon, but half the population barely needs any.

Now, our society is divided into classes along new lines. The workforce is made up of healthcare workers, grocery and supply chain people, essential infrastructure, delivery drivers, and people who can work at home. Everyone else is in an unemployed class made up of people who are not healthcare workers, grocery and supply chain people, essential infrastructure, delivery drivers, or able to work at home.

The day you started to shelter in place, there were 2200 known US cases. There are now 250,000. The dead have gone from 52 to 6000 in the US. This is in merely 21 days, with at least 6 more weeks to go.

There is a new common language around this. We all adapt to the jargon and terms quickly.

Social Distancing
Viral Load
Flatten the Curve
Essential Business

There will also be a lot said about "panic buying". I have a strong opinion on that. You cannot tell a whole country that they will be staying inside for 2 weeks or longer, give them zero guidance on what that looks like from a resource perspective, then get mad when everyone acts individually to quickly plan before going into lockdown.

FEMA has long provided published guidelines for what you need in a 72 hour emergency like a snowstorm or hurricane. No such guidelines were created for this pandemic. A simple list of essentials for a family of 4 along with guidance to stores to limit purchase quantities and supplies would not have run out on the scale they have or as quickly.

 Don't create a panic, offer no solution, then get mad about the panic.

The worst places stand to get worse The best places stand to get bad, then worse, then worst. It's everywhere and nowhere, invisible but all encompassing. Covid-19 is a virus than infects culture, language, and people. It is fear and anxiety. It is a critique of the health care system, traditions, institutions, economics, leadership, freedom, and authoritarianism.

It is everything to everybody, and can pass right through one person on its way to kill someone else.

My family has been sheltering in place for 21 days. There is nothing special about our circumstance. Our story so far is essentially a happy one. These are the good old days.

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