Tag Archives: COVID-19

Mi casa es tu casa

Lake Superior sunset

Eh, not so big.

Note: For varying reasons, my husband, grandson, and I took a cross-country road trip June 25 to June 29, 2020. I’m belatedly publishing my journal entries.

June 29: Every year when we journey to Michigan, there is always that thrilling moment when we first see the Lake. Usually, we get it driving up from the south: topping a hill we see a dark blue horizon, almost indistinguishable from the sky. Smudged, indigo, almost invisible, it’s not an object, it’s an expanse.

My husband and I have been trying to prepare our grandson for the enormity of Lake Superior. Like most people, Shine thinks of lakes as small bodies of fresh water where you can see the other shore. We’ve seen a lot of those on our cross-country trip, especially in Minnesota — land of 1,000 of them, after all. (But who’s counting.) We’ve explained that Superior looks more like an ocean, like the Atlantic and the Pacific, which he knows well: no land on the other side, as far as you can see.

Because we are coming in from the West this trip, we first see the Lake in the port towns of Duluth/Superior, as a finger of water between ore docks and marinas. “There it is: Lake Superior!” Bud and I exclaim. “Eh, not so big,” shrugs Shine, ever the skeptic.

It is not until we get that northward view from the hill on M64, and then arrive upon the Superior shore itself in Silver City, Michigan, that he really sees the Lake — and is finally suitably impressed. Still, “eh, not so big” becomes a running joke of the summer.

Ashland Food Coop

Evidence of the pandemic has been unavoidable on this trip, constantly made palpable by presences (masks, radio commercials for online education, “closed” signs on stores) and absences (seats at restaurants, international travelers, traffic). Less evident have been the other seismic crises and changes affecting our country, namely police violence against black bodies and the resulting protest movement. In Los Angeles, the uprising had largely eclipsed the pandemic for weeks before we left town. Black Lives Matter signs, or their close kin, were everywhere, on stores, cars, homes, lips, and airwaves. I don’t think I’ve seen one BLM message since I left California — so I was elated to find a rainbow flag with the message “Everyone welcome” at the food coop in Ashland, Wisconsin. Finally, a sign of progress.

I haven’t even seen Biden signs across these nine states. Trump signs, yes. The only good news I can offer in regards to this admittedly unscientific evidence of America’s current political state is that there are fewer Trump signs than four years ago. Still, the change that seems necessary and inevitable on the coast is at best a whisper in the heartland — and that scares the shit out of me. Much work needs to be done if we are to wrest this country out of the hands of a maniacal hatemonger, and it won’t be achieved through silence.

We arrive at our cabin around 5 p.m. I’m always amazed just how beautiful this tiny house, with its natural edge pine siding echoing the waves of the lake 50 feet from its door, is. Built by Bud, it is filled inside and out with small tokens of love and beauty, from driftwood door handles to an Italian chandelier he salvaged from a Greek client to a leaded glass window we found at Habitat for Humanity in Miami.

The cabin that Bud built.

Above the door on the inside is a sign that I had bought on LA’s Olvera Street for Mom, a sign she had told me she always wanted, and that I inherited — along with the land on which we built this cabin — when she died: “Mi casa es tu casa.”  Imagine if this familiar welcoming Spanish phrase were America’s and Americans’ motto, hung at every portal to and in our nation: My home is your home. That was certainly Mom’s philosophy, as a public high school teacher in a small Midwestern town, and the philosophy Bud and I try to carry with us wherever we go, as we cross a country we still believe is great, albeit imperiled.

Welcome home.

Coda: The day after our arrival in the Upper Peninsula, we got drive-through coronavirus tests at Ontonagon High School. Not wanting to bring the pandemic to a county that at that point had yet to have a single verified case, we quarantined until we got the results two days later: negative. Sadly, Ontonagon County did get its first case a few days after that — but so far, just the one.

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Singing sad sad songs

One silver lining of Covid-19: cheap gas in Minnesota

Note: For varying reasons, my husband, grandson, and I took a cross-country road trip June 25 to June 29, 2020. I’m belatedly publishing my journal entries.

June 28: Our last night on the road, we stopped in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. On our way to the hotel, we picked up a pizza from a lakeside restaurant. For a moment, I had a fantasy of normal life. The two-man band at the outside bar was playing Wilco’s “Jesus, Etc.,” a song I love. I wanted so much to go in, have a drink, sway to the music, chat with the locals — as if there were no pandemic keeping us all apart, just music, pizza, beer, and good times.

Then the band finished the song that I will always associate with another apocalypse — “tall buildings shake, voices escaping singing sad sad songs.” Standing outside on the sidewalk with the dog, I was the only person who clapped. Because the bar may be open, but it is empty. Just because the orchestra is still playing doesn’t mean the ship isn’t sinking.

We had a long day driving across Montana and North Dakota — always a relentless stretch. “North Dakota killed me,” said a German biker we picked up one year at the Cowboy Bar in Medora. He was trying to ride cross country, but the long empty highways of the Peace Garden State (?!) did him and his bike in, and we wound up giving him a ride to Billings. We stopped in Medora as usual this year, but instead of breakfast at the Cowboy Bar, we made lunch at a park outside of town — which was just as nice in its own way. The town was too full of tourists, too empty of masks. Like Utah, Montana, and Wyoming, North Dakota has seen a rise in coronavirus cases.

But as we entered the Midwest, we began to see a shift. The ideology of freedom was replaced by the practicality of health. Minnesotans were wearing masks, or at least not looking at you strange if you were wearing one. Unless, of course, they were singing sad sad songs.

 

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Yellowstone at half mast

Antelope social distance

Sign at entrance to Grand Teton National Park

Note: My husband, grandson, and I took a cross-country road trip June 25 to June 29, 2020. I’m belatedly publishing my journal entries.

June 26: There are signs of the coronavirus everywhere. Store mascots and yard animals wear masks. A notice at the entrance to Grand Teton National Park shows antelopes social distancing. In Las Vegas a masked showgirl on a billboard announces, “Until it is safe to take off our clothes, we will remain dressed.” Covid-19 is taking the strip out of the Strip!

So even though it seems like a distressing number of people in what was once the wild West are not taking the pandemic seriously, this is not the same country I’ve driven across for decades. Still, I wish people in Wyoming were wearing masks more than they were in Utah. The state with a rodeo-rider mascot seems to be taking the threat of aquatic parasites more seriously than that of human viruses; we get stopped three times in one day to have our kayaks checked for foreign hitchhikers. Not all of the government officials wear masks.

Human ingenuity at a Wyoming road stop

In Yellowstone National Park, the effect of the pandemic is stark. With the hotels closed and dining halls open only for takeout, America’s pride and joy is at half-mast at best. After all, with no young people from Asia to work in the park, who would staff the facilities if the park system wanted to open up — which it wisely doesn’t. It’s strange not to hear the babylon of international travelers along the waterfall walkways. But with half the traffic and congestion, maybe this is the way the wilderness area should always be. Animals are always bold in Yellowstone, but it feels like we see more than ever this visit: mountain goats, elk, buffalo, pronghorns, many of them quite young.

Young elk at Mammoth Hot Springs

I’ve been coming to Yellowstone since I was a child, traveling with my family, pulling a camper trailer across America. I have a deep soft spot for this place and its myriad of natural wonders: lakes, rivers, waterfalls, geysers, plains, mountains, bright-blue geothermal pools, and of course, so many animals. We at least drive through here every year on our way to or from Michigan. This year, at the time of our visit, cabins with bathrooms and campgrounds are the only overnight facilities open. We rent a cabin near Lake Lodge. We are traveling as self-sufficiently as possible so we cook our own dinner and breakfast on the little briefcase barbecue my son got his dad for Christmas. Our stovetop espresso maker, a few sausages, and bagels fit perfectly on its top. We do break down for a couple rounds of to-go drinks from the Lake Lodge bar. There are limits to our social-distancing restrictions.

Yellowstone is actually the first place on our trip where we see people really taking the virus seriously. Hardly anyone patronizes the gift shop; people wear masks inside and outside (somewhat), and generally hikers step off the paths to let each other pass.

I realize we all have our own risk-taking calculus governing our response to the virus. Age, health, preconditions, economic class, race, ethnicity, and geographic location are all contributing factors. I am more adventurous than my friend with thyroid problems, more anxious than my 17-year-old son. Some readers might think I’m crazy to have ventured to Yellowstone at all; some park visitors might have wandered why I stood so far from them as they attempted conversation. Of course it has become clear how political ideologies are also fueling responses that should be based on reason and science, necessity and caution. I can’t say we had to make this trip but the need seemed to outweigh the risk, and we are being extremely careful; masks on every time we enter any building or are around people, gobs of hand sanitizer every time we climb back in the truck. I try not to judge how other people handle their own calculus, but as the surge in cases that has paralleled our journey makes the damage clear, I just don’t understand how governments can be so concerned about contaminated watercraft when they don’t even mandate masks.

Still as we drive through the magnificent scenery, I’m reminded how our national park system is one of our country’s greatest achievements — that we are a nation that does value the earth it is built on, even if we have lost our way.

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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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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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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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The imbalance of nature

The animals are taking over the beach, and they are hungry. With humans now banned from the spaces their tax dollars fund, critters are free to roam. Giant flocks of grebes and terns have made the inner and outer waters of Cabrillo their home, holding cacophonous mating gatherings — yes, orgies — day after day. Skunks roam the beach and hills brazenly, toddling across the sands. A fox trotted down the middle of Stephen M. White Drive midday. Skinny, it looked not liberated, but desperate. The animals here are dependent on human waste for their food, and they are starving. The sky may be enjoying its respite from pollution, but the critters that have learned to coexist with us are now on their own.

Rid of mechanical noise, the sound is magical. I find myself shunning human music in order to listen to the birds. Our neighbor, an adult male somewhere on the autism scale who is an avid birder, has taken it upon himself to try to feed all the gulls, crows, ravens, and squirrels in the neighborhood. We constantly hear birds landing and walking across our roof, the gulls’ pink webbed feet sometimes visible through our skylight.

We inherited this virus by violating our relationship with wild beasts, and we are not the only critters paying the cost. The balance of nature is off.

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