OUR COUNTRY IS SO F**KED! Excuse my language, but I had to get it out. For the past week or two, I’ve been avoiding Facebook because the news and commentary I see there gets me so stressed and fuels the constant low-grade anxiety I’m feeling most of the time now. However, I do like to maintain some level of information literacy, so I read updates on email from NYT and CNN and listen to NPR news programs from time to time. There is another news source I trust, Heather Cox Richardson, who is a history professor at Boston College and writes daily Letters from an American. I don’t read them every day, for the reasons I just mentioned. I did read her letter today, which prompted my topic sentence here. Our country is being run by a would-be dictator who is being backed by the megalomaniac Senate Majority Leader. Both are obsessed with their own power and self-interest. Today’s letter from Richardson focused on a number of frightening issues, among them the actions of Trump’s newly appointed head of the USPS, who is restructuring the postal service in such a way as to slow the mail and consolidate his own power over it. Trump is opposed to mail-in voting and wants to privatize the postal service. The changes made by his appointed crony endangers the former and moves things closer to the latter. The details are appalling and reinforce my conviction that our dictator in chief and his wealthy associates and supporters will do anything to further their own wealth and power. And the most heart-breaking aspect of it all, and the fuel that is feeding my unconquerable anxiety is that millions of ordinary Americans still support them. I fear that their unfettered power and corruption could result in the unthinkable re-election of Trump. And even if he is not re-elected, he can continue to perpetrate irreversible damage to our country. Oh, and did I mention the pandemic?
This week on Wednesday, armed with our cameras, the Mid-Week Marauders visited Shady Lakes . The Enchanted Lens Camera Club, of which I am a member, sponsors these outings on Wednesdays every week or every other week. During Covid times, the outings had been suspended, but now we’re visiting outdoor locations in or near Albuquerque with proper precautions.
Shady Lakes was such a surprise to me and such a treat! Primarily a trout and bass fishing retreat, it is nestled in Albuquerque’s North Valley and consists of several stocked lakes, a water lily pond, and picnic areas. All of this is back a narrow road in a woods that is more reminiscent of back home in Indiana than of Albuquerque’s high desert. I just love these wonderful discoveries about my new home town.
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We in New Mexico are in Phase 1 of our Reopening. It’s hard to keep up with the details, but it includes wearing masks in public, non-essential retail stores are open with restrictions – social distancing, masks, sanitizing, etc., and outdoor public spaces are open. So in addition to the expedition to Trader Joe’s I mentioned in an earlier post, I have now ventured carefully to the garden center and the doctor’s office. I’m feeling very toddlerish. The most exciting reopening adventure to date, however, has been our trip to the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden yesterday with daughter Rachel and the grandkids. It’s Members Week there prior to their opening to the public at large, and they have set up an extremely well marked walk through the gardens with timed-ticketing to maximize social distancing. It was a beautiful day and was beyond thrilling to be out in this beautiful spot after a long winter and a longer-seeming period of isolation.
A Walk in the BioPark
My nephew Eric is 48 years old, a husband, father, and grandfather. He and his close-knit extended family live in Peru, Indiana. He is the son of my late beloved brother, John. Eric is a fine human, and I sometimes think of him as the man John could have become had he not been irreparably scarred by early child abuse and his experience in Vietnam. As a long-distance truck driver, Eric is considered an essential worker. I spoke at length with him this Spring. This is his pandemic story.
Eric owns a small fleet of five semi-trucks and runs the long haul himself. He worked his way up, beginning as a driver after being laid off fifteen years ago from another job in the then recession-battered Peru, Indiana. I spoke with him about his experience during the era of Covid-19. “It’s a crazy world out here,” he says. When a load becomes available there may be twenty-five to forty companies competing for it. “My drivers are contract employees who have families to support. Before I take a load, I give it to one of them. I don’t want to lose my drivers.” He’s lost 50 to 60% of his income. Because he’s considered self-employed and his drivers are contract workers, none of them is eligible for unemployment. “The PPP [Payroll Protection Plan, part of the CARES act] did nothing for people who have equipment like semis.” But Eric says he’s “confident we’ll make it through.” He’s associated with a long-lived company and sees a better future ahead as that partnership grows.
How are you managing in these pandemic times? “I worry most about my family,” he says. His wife, Shannon, is high-risk with one kidney and other health issues. She works as the Senior Branch Office Administrator for a financial company and is considered essential, but her wages are frozen. She has the option of working from home but has chosen to work from the locked office. Both his daughters work full time in medical offices, but their hours have been cut due to Covid-19 and his sons-in-law are laid off due to the pandemic.
But what’s it like out there on the road? “It’s eerily quiet. I’ve driven through Chicago, LA, San Francisco, and Portland. What used to take an hour and a half now takes 25 minutes. I always used to avoid Chicago between 5 and 8 PM. Now I just drive straight through.” But what about eating and sleeping? “I’m getting sick of fast food.” Now truck stops are no longer serving sit-down “home-cooked” meals. Customers can go inside, but places are marked for social-distancing and you tell the clerk what you want and they get it for you. Deliveries are contactless. When the truck arrives, people are there to unload it. “You’re not allowed to get out of your truck. They unload it and pound on the side when you’re ready to go.” He sleeps in his truck. The overwhelming majority of people, he says, are keeping their distance.
Are you afraid of contacting the virus? “I take the proper precautions. I wear a mask, and I disinfect the cab every day.” The worst thing, Eric says, is missing his family and his fear for their safety when he is at home. “I go everywhere! I was literally there in Washington State when it all began!” His Mom asks why he never visits. It’s hard to not see her or his daughters and their families, his five grandchildren. “But I don’t want to be THAT guy.”
How’s Jonathan doing? His special-needs son is the reason they bought the house they live in now. He has his own living space in the lower level. But Shannon makes sure he does his chores before he can have screen time to play games with his cousin. Eric lights up when he talks about Jonathan. “He’s a germaphobe, so we have tubs of anti-bacterial wipes and sprays! We were ready.” Jonathan is 25 but is developmentally delayed, so he is more similar to a 10- or 12-year-old kid. He’s always surprising Eric and Shannon. “His Mom likes to watch reality TV, like the Real Housewives of wherever. He told us the other day that he doesn’t like her shows. When we asked him why, he said, ‘Because everybody’s always yelling.’” Eric tells me that he loves Jonathan’s teachers. They brought him out of his shell. When he went through a period when he wouldn’t talk, his teacher taught him sign language. When he graduated from high school, the master of ceremonies asked the audience to hold their applause until all students received their diplomas. But when Jonathan’s name was called, all of his classmates erupted in cheers and applause. “I cried like a little girl.” Characteristically, Eric’s concern is for his son’s welfare. “I used to be scared. I still am. What will happen to him when Shannon and I are gone? Megan says she will step up, but I worry about the burden on her.”
Eric and Shannon’s 30th wedding anniversary is in August. They were planning a special trip to celebrate. Shannon’s dream is to go to Ireland. “But,I don’t know now,” Eric muses.
Like most everyone now, I can see the effects of the Covid-19 crisis playing out in different ways for different family members depending on their circumstances. I hear stories of how various people are being affected and I think, yes, I see that in my family. Here are just a few of their representative stories. More will be coming.
Family in Indiana
Susie and Phil are what we call in the midwest “snowbirds.” My sister and her husband leave their home in Evansville, Indiana every year around Thanksgiving time and return at the beginning of April. They live for those months in their large pop-out camper in beautiful Fort Myers Beach, Florida. This year found them at the Florida beaches at the peak of the pandemic shut-down. They sequestered there until the first week of April and headed home through four states before arriving back in Indiana. Any time in April, Susie tells me, I-75 heading north out of Florida is bumper to bumper. This year, she says, they flew right through. And the roads all the way home were almost empty except for big-rigs. At gas stations they masked and gloved up to pump gas. Inside the convenience stores you told the clerk what you wanted and they got it for you. Fortunately, since they were pulling the camper they didn’t have to use the public restrooms and they carried their own food.
David, my 46 year old nephew in Indiana was laid off from his job at in early March due to pandemic cutbacks – a victim of last in, first out. Fortunately, he was able to file fairly quickly for unemployment and is also receiving the $600 a week CARES act supplement. As long as that lasts, he tells me, he’s making more than when he was working. Not very reassuring for the long term, but the government support is helping him make it through. He had to think twice, though, before deciding to replace his 25 year old bed.
David’s sister, Amanda, is working full-time from home while playing teacher for first grade Eleanor and taking care of Graham, who turned one in January and is now walking – wherever he wants. Her husband, Jedd, still goes to work because he works for an “essential” company that makes parts for the U.S. Navy. (That’s all we know about that. If he told us, he’d have to kill us.) Amanda is the stereotype of the going-mad working mother juggling it all while sequestered at home.
Meanwhile in New Mexico
Here in Albuquerque, daughter Rachel and her husband, Bret, are teaching from home. Because Rachel is the educational technologist for her large elementary school, she was slammed when the schools closed in mid-March. Teachers were scrambling to implement online teaching and needed support and training. Students without the equipment to access online learning needed to be supplied with Chromebooks, and a system for cataloging and distributing those had to be set up and implemented. Bret provides counseling and classes for college preparation at his charter high-school, so all of that went online or on video-conferencing.
Meanwhile, at home are two high-school daughters, a son sent home from college and taking his classes online, and a now learning at home kindergartener who celebrated his sixth birthday while sequestered. When Henry is home from college, he usually has a job at a restaurant that keeps him busy and provides funding for his college expenses. That job, of course, is now nonexistent. A pre-med student, he was slated to start his dream job in a lab at the University in May. Fortunately, he will be able to begin that in June.
Lucy, 15 and a high school freshman, is struggling with difficult math concepts in her online class. She at least has a friend to hang out with in her “bubble.” This has also been an excellent art-making time for her. Frances, her very academic twin sister goes to a different high school and is less than challenged now that her courses are online. Sometimes she is the only student participating in her online lectures and discussions. She didn’t have a friend she was comfortable enough with to make her one outside contact, so the isolation has been difficult for her, especially since her volleyball season was brought to a halt by the pandemic.
Precocious six-year old Colin takes long hikes in the mountains with his parents and their dog, Thor. He tries to entertain himself while both parents work from home, and mostly succeeds in not bombing their video conferences. His online learning is sometimes fun, especially when Coach pays a virtual visit to his class. It’s May now so all of them except Bret and Lucy, whose school is on a year-round calendar, are now on summer break. It will be interesting to see how that develops as the reopening gradually plays out.
And I am here in Albuquerque. For two months or so my only family visits were from Rachel, who delivered the groceries that she and Bret purchased for me when they went shopping. She often stayed for a socially-distant happy hour. In the past few weeks, we’ve expanded our family visits to include all of them at an appropriate distance. And in the past week or so some family members have walked to the park with me. All of us are trying to figure out the best way for our family contact to change as the pandemic stays while some of the distancing rules are relaxed and the world opens up a little. My big adventure was shopping at Trader Joe’s during their seniors only hour yesterday. This was my first visit to an indoor public place since mid-March. We’re entering Pandemic: Phase II.
New Mexico’s governor announced new reopening guidelines on Wednesday, May 13. As of Saturday, May 16, retail shops and some other gathering places, such as churches, may reopen with limited capacity and safety restrictions such as masks. I’d been wanting to document some of the closed shopping and tourist areas, so decided on Thursday that I would photograph some of them. It will be interesting to compare the landscapes a week from now as people tentatively venture out and a month from now when perhaps they will be more or less tentative. Pandemic history unfolding. [Click on images to view full sized.]
Germophobes are vindicated.
Inside my head can be a scary place.
I’m sick of the “peeing section in the pool” metaphor.
Essential and dispensable should not be synonymous.
My belief that everything takes longer than you think it will and is harder remains unchanged.
We’re all finding out what we care most about.
Most common planning phrase, “When this is over….”
Most common communication complaint, “I’m sick of zoom.”
Pretty sure Ritz crackers have medicinal properties.
This week I had a wonderful Sunday afternoon. In an effort to combine photographic and exercise goals, I drove down to Central Avenue to wander and to photograph the art and architecture of Route 66. This historic highway is an important part of Albuquerque’s history and there are many relics of the motels, restaurants, and businesses of its heyday. Some are repurposed, some are derelict. This stretch of the old highway goes through Albuquerque’s downtown and Nob Hill districts and there is also much public art from the present era on the buildings.
It was a beautiful day, mild temperatures and those unsurpassed New Mexico blue skies with just enough clouds to make it potographically perfect. And a photographer’s dream: few people or vehicles. In fact the traffic on the drive down and back and on Central Avenue was eerily sparse. This, of course, is the two-edged sword of the Covid-19 restrictions. The businesses were closed. The ART busses weren’t running. It was a rare opportunity for uncluttered photographs, but sad and ominous.
As an added bonus, I listened to classic country music on the drive – windows down, excellent stereo in the new Prius. I do love the older country music, although some of it is a little culturally dated, like Willie Nelson singing Good Hearted Woman, followed by Johnny Cash and June Carter’s rendition of It Ain’t Me Babe. Now if it the “me” in the latter song were June instead of Johnny, that one would have been fixed.
The photos below represent only the few blocks that I walked. I plan to do this again on another section of the road.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I wrote a post. Time flies in spite of spending most of it home alone! I’ve found that I’m very good at finding ways to while away time. Some of them are more productive than others, but I’m learning that when I feel like I’ve done nothing, I’ve, of course, been doing something. So, reading the news on my phone or catching up with people on email or Facebook isn’t necessarily wasting time. It’s just that the floor is still dusty, or the dishes are still in the dishwasher, or Hitchens’ Arguably is till unread. But who cares? If these things are important, they’ll be taken care of eventually.
I’ve worked several jigsaw puzzles in the past few weeks. I can really get into the zone for hours at a time on these. Again, could be considered a trivial use of time, but they’re good for the brain and help prevent dwelling on the angst of current events.
Another, perhaps more productive, way I’ve found to become fully absorbed is sewing. I really love the creative aspects of sewing, and you actually have something to show for your efforts. I’ve made protective face masks for family and friends and cloth napkins for Rachel and family, since they use them for every meal and three meals a day for six people generates a lot of washing.
- The other morning I woke up and looked around thinking, I’m surrounded by rectangles. Thank goodness for my oval vanity mirror. But really, in human construction the rectangle seems to be by far the most common shape. Not so in nature. Maybe that’s why architecture like the Guggenheim Museum is so appealing.
- I’ve been having lots of strange and complex dreams. For a while I thought it was from the pain medication I was taking for my knee replacement, but I haven’t taken any for several weeks and am still having weird dreams. I think it’s just because I’m awake off and on all night because of pain and stiffness in my leg caused by lying in one position for too long. My surgery was six months ago and my mobility is good, but I’m not out of the discomfort woods yet. They say it can take a year, so I’ll wait another six months before I start worrying about that.
- They say that the stay at home and other distancing measures are “flattening the curve” of the Corona virus spread. This makes it sound like the measures aren’t resulting in fewer cases, just spreading them over a longer time period. I don’t understand why it wouldn’t mean that there would be fewer sick and dying people. I need to do some research. Maybe I’m not understanding the math, or the concept.