A year ago today, Marcia and I were fleeing the Iowa cold and staying in a rental tiny house in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida. The weather was nice, the tiny house was quaint and charming, and it all looked like this, had you been peeking in on us (click the image of our cottage for the photo album of the trip):
In pretty much any year other than 2020, my blog posts for March 14 would have noted this as a nice vacation, and maybe would have detailed some of our hikes, or explorations, or adventures. But March 14, 2020 was not a normal day on a normal trip in a normal year, so what I actually wrote about one year ago today was a bit different from my usual trip reports, and you can read (or re-read) it here if you’re interested: Florida Man (And Woman).
That was the first day that I wrote at any length on this blog about the COVID pandemic and the ways that it was impacting our lives. During a walk a couple of days ago, Marcia noted that she had recently read a New York Times article in which readers were asked when they realized that COVID was for real, and was going to change their lives, perhaps for a long, long time. If I had to answer that question, I’d certainly refer back to that Tampa Bay trip, and if there was one specific moment for me when my brain went “Whoaaaaaaa . . . . dude . . . . braj . . . . WTF, yo???” about the exploding pandemic, it would have been when the NCAA cancelled the “March Madness” Men’s Basketball Tournament, which happened while we were in Florida. Sports and money are kings in American culture, and the loss of one of the greatest annual events in our national sports economy truly hammered home that this was, no shit, for reals, massive, and scary, and bad. (Yeah, I know, that’s probably a shallow answer, but it’s honest).
Marcia’s answer to the question of “When did you know this was going to be bad?” was a bit different than mine, and took place a few days later. By the time we had to fly back from Tampa to Des Moines, things had clearly taken a turn for the worse, and maybe for the worst. When we boarded and were seating on our flight home, a woman sat down directly in front of us, wearing a mask (which most people were not doing), but just absolutely hacking and heaving and snorting and wheezing and oozing and spewing to beat the band, the whole way home. If she had the virus, then there was no doubt in our minds that we now did, too. So we got home, unpacked, and I masked up and headed off to the grocery store to get a couple of weeks worth of provisions, completely at odds with our normal “go to the store every day, get what you need right now” approach to shopping. I got home, we unpacked my (many bags), and we went into a two-week period of hard quarantine, which was difficult and sad, since Katelin and John lived in the next building over, and we knew we could not, should not, would not see them, until we had some sense that we and they were not actively contagious.
Of all the places in which Marcia and I have shared our home in our 35-ish years together, I would honestly say that our apartment in Des Moines, Iowa, in March 2020 was, without question, the worst possible place we could have lived when things were going to hell in a hand-basket with regard to a global pandemic. The city’s response and the state’s response were beyond terrible (and, for the most part, have remained so for the past year), and we were surrounded with mostly younger folks who on some plane seemed to embrace the “Boomer Remover” view of COVID, and refused to wear masks, and refused to give people space, and refused to stop congregating in our apartment complex’s common spaces. We older folk just had to skulk about and try to avoid and ignore them and their selfish and entitled behavior patterns.
Given that background, simple tasks like taking the trash down to the dumpster each night began to feel like exercises in risk management. It was always hard to make it from our safe haven to the trash bins or the mail boxes or the rental office, and then quickly back home, without encountering some blithering idiot(s) prancing down our hallways, unmasked, oblivious to any responsibility for protecting themselves, or us, in such a communal living situation. No surprise that we had multiple outbreaks in our apartment building, and in Katelin and John’s next-door apartment building in the weeks and months ahead, as Iowa’s leaders did their very damnedest to top the national charts in terms of per capita infections and deaths. I guess the State government should be thankful on some plane that the Dakotas were even more obscene in their disregard for the lives and health of their citizens, so Iowa never managed to get higher than third place on any of the “We Are The Most Irresponsible State in the Nation” metrics and rubrics. But even that bronze award status felt awful when we were living in the middle of it, and that sense of governance irresponsibility played a direct role in our decisions to leave Iowa, and our emotional responses (Very Happy!) when we drove out of it for the last time. Ugh.
And, then, here we are, one year on. More than half-a-million of our fellow citizens are dead, and 30 million country-folks have been confirmed to have been sickened by the virus, with outcomes ranging from the moderate and mild to the catastrophic and life-altering. Tens of millions of other have certainly been sickened, in many cases with likely long-term ramifications, even if they never managed to make it to a doctor’s office or pharmacy to get an actual test result.
Some large portion of those infections and deaths must objectively be attributed to inept and science-denying policy and practice by the prior Presidential administration and State governments which aligned themselves with said idiocy, that lunatic cabal somehow managing to make basic protective steps (e.g. mask-wearing) into Culture War battlegrounds where libs could be pwned, which is what really matters in the end game, right? (A: No. And if you thought “Yes” when presented with that question, then you might need to find another website to read. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out).
It’s been nice(r) over the past couple of months to have a Federal administration that acknowledges fact-based analysis, and values human life and dignity above grift and profiteering and idiot media sensationalism. Marcia and I are hopeful that we will be able to get our vaccines in the next month or so, and that with that step completed, we can finally, gently, slowly, hopefully begin to look toward the “After Times,” when we can shop, and travel, and live without constant fear of infection when we’re in public places. We certainly count ourselves as fortunate in how the past year has impacted us and our families, primarily because we’ve not lost anybody close, even though we’ve had several family members sickened by the virus. That’s getting off easy, and we know it. We grieve for those who were not so lucky. And we truly thank those who have put themselves in harm’s way over the past year to keep so many of us alive, if not exactly safe or healthy.
I’m not quite sure when Post Anno Virum will begin, but I look forward to it, both selfishly and selflessly. It’s been a long year. And a strange and sad one. I don’t think that the “new normal” will ever quite look and feel like the “old normal” did, but I’m ready to experience it, however it manifests, sooner rather than later.