No Mercy

USS Mercy leaves Port of LA

We watched her sail in and we watched her sail out. The USS Mercy Hospital Ship left Los Angeles today after almost seven weeks. I’m glad she was here, and I’m even happier to see that she is no longer needed.

When the Navy ship arrived March 24, California was in early pandemic panic. Five days earlier Governor Newsom had predicted 25 million Covid-19 cases in the state by May if aggressive measures were not taken. Instead, we are just shy of 75,000 confirmed cases today. Granted, aggressive measures were and are being taken, and that has undoubtedly saved many lives. Still, the hyperbole of Newsom’s prediction has helped fan the fires of virus disbelievers.

Better safe than sorry, sure. Almost everyone welcomed the Mercy as a symbol of hope and unity, of state and federal governments working together — well, except for the nutball train engineer who tried to ram it. This is an unfortunate byproduct of overheated rhetoric: conspiracy theorists will run the train of misinformation right off the track.

In the end the 1,500-bed life saver treated 77 patients. She was more of a tourist attraction than a facility. But we were honored to welcome her to San Pedro, and no offense sailors, but we hope we don’t have to see you again.

USS Mercy arrives

The USS Mercy passes through Angel’s Gate into LA.

 

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In my element

Tomorrow I get to return to the place where I am literally in my element: the ocean. Los Angeles County beaches reopen for activities in the morning; I am grateful to the state, county and city for letting us see the light of day. I sincerely hope we don’t blow it; I’ll be social distancing and wearing my mask — when I’m not in/on the water, that is. I’ve been imagining tomorrow’s schedule for weeks:

7 am. Get up and take the dog for a nice long walk down at Cabrillo. Used to doing this at least twice every day, Alexander Hamilton has been perplexed why we have been walking every direction but the most obvious one — toward sea, sand, and sky — for the last two months. I suspect he will feel close to as much joy as I will when we stride past the beautiful mission-style beachhouse and say hello to the inner harbor.

8 am. Pull the kayaks down to the shore and paddle off. Waves and weather permitting, my husband and I plan to pack a lunch and spend a long day out on the water. We will be hundreds, if not thousands, of feet from other human beings, but hopefully not from the dolphins, seals, and maybe even whales. We may jump in and swim/snorkel. Bud will fish.

Sometime in the afternoon: Pull back ashore. Swim.

3ish: Reluctantly drag our butts back on land so the dog can get his exercise — at the beach again.

6 pm: Dinner.

8 pm: Evening walk on the beach. Who knows, maybe there will be bioluminescence?

Next day: Same thing all over again, but on the paddleboard.

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Let us exercise our right to exercise

The Argonaut, a weekly newspaper serving the west side of Los Angeles, asked to republish my Blue Wave blog post calling for open spaces to be, well, open. I updated and expanded it for them. Since press time, Los Angeles announced it would reopen most trails today (Saturday), and beaches might reopen mid-week — with most of the precautions and restrictions I suggest. Here in San Pedro though, many parks were still closed this morning, perhaps because some of them are run by the Port of Los Angeles; thanks Port for polluting our air and restricting our movement. Neither Mayor Garcetti nor our City Council representative Joe Buscaino have responded to my requests for explanation as to why so many of our neighborhood parks — which were always supposed to be open for exercise — have been closed.

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Have your cake and eat greens too with Colossus Bread delivery

Agretti

Agretti

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about supporting small businesses and farms by shopping locally and via Farm Fresh to You delivery. Since then, I’ve found an incredible service by which I can do both — and get some of the best cookies ever. When Colossus Bakery opened last year in San Pedro, it was an instant hit, drawing early-morning lines for their breads and cappucinos. The business, run by a local couple, is now winning our hearts again with their delivery service. Not only can you order their country loafs and OG cookies (OG stands for Oh God! IMO); they also deliver boxes of fresh produce from CSA. The box is packed with veggies: last week, it was five kinds of lettuce, kale, chard, carrots, beets, squash, basil, and probably more things that I’m forgetting. My favorite was agretti, a veggie I hadn’t encountered before but which is delicious with eggs and pasta. I had so much food I shared it with four friends.  Yes, you can have your cake and eat greens too!

This week Colossus will be open for pickup again for Mother’s Day. They have a special menu that includes their coffee drinks, and their barista is as talented as their baker. Our order is in because frankly, what else are we going to do for a pandemic holiday? Tip though: Order for a later pickup time to avoid the crowds; baker/owner Kristin told me everyone scheduled for 8 a.m.

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Blue Wave

Blue wave

Photo by Sue Maralit

I have been on a wild goose chase. Literally. I worked for the Youth Conservation Corps in Wisconsin in the summer of 1984, and our job one day was to walk through the wetlands chasing Canadian geese. We started at one corner of a swamp, about a dozen feet apart – socially distancing decades before that was a thing. At the opposite corner was a net. It was molting season so the birds could not fly. As we trudged through the mud in rubber boots – sometimes up to our chests in muck – we moved closer together, pushing the flightless creatures further down the funnel until finally, they were trapped in the net. The hunt was for their own good: The captured geese were tagged for research and released. We hosed and showered ourselves off afterwards. We were teenagers. Being filthy was fun.

Now, I know how the geese feel. The country, state, county, and city have been driving us into tighter and tighter quarters. First they told us to stay indoors except for exercise. Then they closed every open space where we could exercise: the parks, the beaches, the marinas, etc. Instead of giving us ample places to social distance, they have driven us into crowded neighborhoods and streets. Unlike other cities, Los Angeles has not shut down roads to give pedestrians added walking areas. Where I live, San Pedro, I am surrounded by public spaces where we used to be able to walk for miles with minimal passers by. Now, to give myself and my dog the exercise and sunshine we all need if we are going to stay healthy and keep our immune systems up, I have to walk on hard sidewalks, ducking into the road to keep six feet from other walkers, on promenades filled with all the other people driven into this urban net, that the city keeps tightening.

The Los Angeles Times recently called on state and local governments to reconsider their stance on closing public spaces. Some counties, such as Ventura and Orange, were open this weekend in time for the first hot days of the year. Sadly, not the county and city of Los Angeles. Having made the mistake to shut the beaches to begin with, they have now created a dangerous bottleneck situation.

This is Southern California. We live here for the sun, the air, the oceans, the mountains, the desert. We need the outdoors like Las Vegas needs casinos and New Jersey needs golf courses. We are a people who swim, surf, run, ride bikes, paddleboard, kayak, skateboard, sail, and fish. Activity defines us. For many of us, to not be able to partake in these sports is an assault on our mental and physical health; this is not just emotion speaking, this is science. And believe me, there is enough room in and near the Pacific Ocean for us to keep six feet apart — if governments would just open all the beaches, instead of forcing us into a few. It’s not only science, it’s math.

As Dr. Shana Jordan, a family doctor on respiratory duty, neighbor, and avid surfer, recently wrote in a letter to Mayor Garcetti: “The ocean is not a contagion zone. No two surfers or swimmers or paddlers would ever be within six feet of each other. This is nonsense. The government is swiftly losing credibility among outdoors people, particularly surfers and runners. I understand that enforcement is made so much easier with blanket park/trail/beach closures. But without nuance it is barbaric and idiotic.”

Sure, some people are going to be stupid/reckless/forgetful and not socially distance. So control the crowds. Do what Hawaii is doing: Don’t let people hang out on the beach; let them access the beach and the ocean for exercise. Limit the numbers who can enter the sea by keeping parking lots closed or restricting access. If Home Depot can figure out how to socially distance shoppers, can’t Parks and Recreation do the same for recreators? Patrol the beach for people violating the rules. Don’t let a few bad apples spoil the bushel.

The last weekend Cabrillo Beach was open, it was a gorgeous day, and after weeks of restricted movement and rain, lots of people did turn up. It was early in the shelter-in-place restrictions, the parking lot was open, and families with small children stuck at home were desperate to do something with their kids. Rangers cruised the sands in four-wheelers politely reminding people to social distance. They were nice; they complimented my dog. Not everyone listened to them, I’m sure, but most people did. The situation could have been improved with more planning, clearer rules. Instead, by the end of the week, all access to all beaches and parks was closed. Period. That’s not government, that’s dictatorship.

Fact time: coronavirus is deadly, it’s highly contagious, it’s scary. And we in the US were not prepared for a pandemic. From the national to the local level, American governments have had to rely on social control because they have not been able to provide the social services that are the number-one factor in controlling the deadly outbreak. Five months since Covid was first identified, Americans still do not have free and widespread testing for the virus and antibodies, personal protective equipment, contact tracing, etc. Support for hospitals, the unemployed, parents with children stuck at home, small businesses, schools, etc., has been slow in coming and too little too late.

Our leaders have instead relied on us to keep each other safe – and we have been pretty damn good, overall. The infection rate in California is 104 per 100,000, less than one tenth the per capita rate in densely populated New York. It’s higher in LA, but that is largely because of infections in nursing homes, tragically. Our curve is flattening, and it was never close to the dire numbers Governor Newsom predicted early on. So why, instead of loosening the reins, do they keep wanting to tighten them? Could it be they did this not for our protection but for their own hunger for power? Or that they are misdirecting us from their continued failure to provide adequate testing? I swear Mr. Perfect Hair Newsom gets a gleam in his eye when he warns us infection rates will go up if we don’t be good little children and stay glued to our screens.

LA County Public Health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer recently said, “We know it’s best right now for us Angelenos to stay home, or stay outside [in] your own yard or your own neighborhood.” First of all, that’s the definition of a paternalistic, or maternalistic, government attitude. Secondly, not all Angelenos have yards. One of the reasons Covid-19 is affecting impoverished and minority communities with more deadly power is because people there tend to be crowded into smaller spaces with less access to public land. Third, I would like to stay in my neighborhood, but my neighborhood is closed, so I keep having to go elsewhere, where it’s more crowded, to exercise. Open my neighborhood, and I’ll happily stay put.

Florida and Georgia have opened their beaches. Michigan is letting people fish again. When will Californians be freed?

People are starting to go nuts. Instead of bringing us together, the virus is driving us further apart – literally, of course, but we are not only socially distancing, we are philosophically, psychologically and emotionally distancing. The go-outsiders roam manically, ever further, looking for room to move, venturing into dangerous territories to get the nature they need. The stay at homers lurk on social media shaming their neighbors for, I don’t know, kissing their children. There’s a woman in our neighborhood who walks around calling people into the police, even though she herself is not sheltering in place. Yesterday, ironically, we had to call the police on her because she purposely coughed on my husband and harassed our food delivery person, after we told her to stop her snooping. Early in the restrictions, one of the many locals we used to see every day at the beach stood desolately in front of the yellow tape, surfboard under his arm. A former cop, he shook his head: “They’re going too far. You go too far, there will be social unrest.”

We’re seeing that around the world now. I worry that despite every horrible thing Trump has done wrong, Democrats – and I am one — are driving people straight into his arms by making ours the party of fear, the party of no fun, the party of no freedom. Instead of the party of empathy, of support, of leadership.

I jumped into the ocean the other day for the first time in months. In seconds, it was as if the heavy coat of tar and dust that has weighed me down was rinsed off, and all that day – and still now – I felt joy again. I knew I was hurting, but I didn’t know how bad.

Push free-ranging animals into tighter and tighter quarters for a month, then turn on the heat lamp, and see what happens. And remember, we are not molting so we can fly, straight into the sun if we have to.

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Post-Lockdown To Do List

When I get outta here, here are the first things I’m going to do:

1. Swim.

2. Kayak.

3. Walk to the end of the fishing pier at Cabrillo Beach .

4. Paddleboard.

5. Eat out at a different restaurant every night for a week and tip 40 percent.

6. See a movie or five.

7. Shop at House 1002.

8. Have a beer at The Sardine.

9. Go to Michigan.

 

 

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The Milkman of Human Kindness

When I was a kid, the milkman of human kindness came to our house every week. We had a metal box outside our front door and once a week, in the morning, it would be magically filled with milk — even, sometimes, with chocolate milk. I know, this sounds too good to be true, but it was the 1970s, and I did grow up in Wisconsin.

And now, thanks to the pandemic, I am once again having milk delivered to my home every Saturday morning. And not just milk, but fresh produce, eggs, yogurt, bread — organic, locally produced. Just as in my childhood, Farm Fresh to You magically leaves boxes of goodies at my door during the night. In fact, I’m looking for a vintage metal milk box so I can truly relive my past.

At first, shopping during coronavirus completely stressed me out. Like many of us, I have become used to being able to stop by the market and pick up whatever I want, whenever I want. I do not buy groceries like my mother did: Visiting the big supermarket once a week and picking everything up in one fell swoop. I’m not good at planning like that. And I don’t like it. I prefer the Parisian/New York way, stopping by multiple specialty shops, buying cheese at the fromagerie, a baguette at the bakery, steak at the meat shop, etc. The food is always fresh, never frozen. And the experience of having the butcher cut the chops for you is exquisite, the kind of personal exchange you don’t get at, say, Ralph’s.

When our “leaders” told us we should stay home as much as possible, I tried to obey. I spent days on the websites of various food emporiums, trying to schedule deliveries or pickups. I never managed the former, but I did successfully complete one Von’s pickup. Of course, by the time we finally got our order — a week after I had made it — there was a whole new list of things we needed. So I dutifully spent two days scheduling another pickup, and waited patiently another week to pick up those supplies. Only this time, after waiting two hours for the anticipated notice that my “being assembled” order was ready, when I went to Von’s, the computer had crashed and lost my, and who knows how many other, shopping lists.

I’m done with big-box food capitalism. Now, I get my groceries the way I love: delivered fresh from the farm. And what I can’t get there, I buy only from local mom-and-pop stores. Small businesses need our support, especially since the government has failed them. And yes, Herr Garcetti, I go shopping multiple times a week. One day, I get pasta and pizza dough from Pirozzi‘s. Another, cappucinos and local bread and chips from The Corner Store. Point Fermin Market is good for just about everything, including alcohol, and I love to ask Singh how his grandson is doing. Acacia Bakery makes the best tortillas and other amazing galletas and confections. And the pandemic hasn’t diminished South Shores Meat Shop’s amazing selection of meat butchered on the premises including, of course, the best cevapcici this side of Croatia. If I want meat and Italian goods, I’ll head to A1.

And on Saturdays, the eggs, carrots, apples, and kale appear on my doorstep. They aren’t cheap, but they’re good. This week, I think I’ll order chocolate milk.

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