Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 10: The Choices are getting hard

Today I drove to a produce market and bought fruit.  Not amazing, except it is the first time in two months that I have driven my car. (My husband has used it on alternate weeks to keep the battery charged.)

At the market, I wore my face mask.  The market allowed only 10 customers at a time.  Within the market, duct-taped arrows on the floor directed me around the fruit and vegetable stands – if I missed something, no turning back.  I avoided putting my choices in bags as much as possible – everything went into one bag at the check-out station, which was shielded by plastic curtains except where  I could insert my credit card for the check-out.

For a decade we have been asked to bring our own reusable bags to shop. Now reusable bags are possible vectors of infection, and the plastic bag makers are staging a comeback.  All I can do is to pile my fruit and vegetables all together in one cart, let the checkout clerk sort, and put my purchases into one paper bag.

Public transportation, re-usable bags, cluster housing – all those ecologically correct ideas are now hazardous – how can we save the planet now?

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

I stood in line (masked, but not distanced).

I rode in a bus (masked, but not distanced).

I flew in a plane (masked, and with a vacant middle seat).

I ate inside at a restaurant (not masked, but distanced).

I served myself food in a cafeteria (with a disposable glove, masked).

I ate meals in a dining hall with people who were supposed to be vaccinated, but no proof was required. (not masked, not distanced, lots of open windows).

I went to an outdoor live music performance (not masked, distanced).

I went to an indoor theatrical performance (singing from the stage, not masked, not distanced, no windows) that lasted two hours.

I attended several lectures, and emceed a variety skit night (not masked, not distanced, lot of open windows, everyone had provided proof of vaccination) each lasting at least an hour.

I had a COVID-19 test when I got home.

Negative – I got away with it.

Risk

My friend called me, her voice tinged with panic.  “Do you think we should do this, with the Delta variant and all?”  We were planning to fly together to a women’s fitness camp on the western slope of the Rockies that we both had attended several times in past years.   

I reassured my friend.  “We are all responsible adults.  The people are all women we’ve known for years now.  We’ll be outside most of the time.”   

“Ok, I just needed to hear that.”  We continued with our plan that she would drive to my house the night before our trip, meeting me and my sister, and the three of us would be driven to the airport early the next morning by my Personal Travel Consultant, AKA husband. 

It happened that my son came down for an overnight visit the evening before the other women arrived, and he stayed working from our upstairs “office” for the day until joining us for happy hour and dinner the eve of our departure. 

“You’re going to be sharing eating space with a bunch of people you don’t know?  And just taking their word that they’ve been vaccinated?”  My son was so upset that he jumped to his feet and had to walk up and down on the street outside for several minutes to settle down.  He and his family had been to a party a couple of weeks earlier where “everyone was supposed to have been vaccinated, but the hostess called us the next day to let us know that a guy who left just ten or fifteen minutes after we arrived had just reported testing positive for COVID-19. So we were all exposed.”  His faith in folks’ “word of honor” is badly shaken. 

But I need to go.  I need to look at something different out the window, preferably something more than 30 feet away.  I need to hear some different voices.  I need to vary my diet from the familiar favorite offerings of my Personal Chef (AKA husband.) I need to stop reading about chaos in Afghanistan, earthquakes in Haiti, flooding in Tennessee, overwhelmed hospitals in Florida, hurricanes in Louisiana, wildfires in the Sierras, and attempts to overthrow the governments in Washington DC and California.  

When he returned to our back patio, I tried to reassure my son in the same way I had reassured my friend.  He listened, and then smiled with resignation. 

“Mom, I have just one thing to say to you,” he said.  “Make wise choices.” 

Something Different: a Physics lesson on race-car driving (Guest post)

“What?” you say? Am I in the right blog? Yes you are – it’s all about the connections!

My grandson, Chance Reilly Johnson conceived, execute, and edited this one-minute video as an entry in a national contest. (Challenge: Concoct a 1-minute video illustrating something counter-intuitive in physics. He chose “steer right to turn left” – you know about this if you saw the movie “Cars”!

The top 100 entries with the most views will be considered for a Major Award. Chance is up against grownups and influencers with loads of web followers. Click away! and you might even find this useful if you ever happen to be speeding around a tight curve.

Free Freeway into San Francisco

A friend invited me to visit for a few days at her time share in San Francisco, so of course I accepted with alacrity the opportunity to look at different walls and a different neighborhood. The time share was located at the Worldmark by Wyndham, right in the middle of Dashiell Hammett country, around the corner from where [Spoiler Alert!] Brigid O’Shaunessy killed Miles Archer in “The Maltese Falcon” (the movie scenes showing Humphrey Bogart striding past the hotel play in an unending loop in the lobby).

Getting into San Francisco was unexpectedly easy. I can’t get used to the lack of traffic on a summer afternoon going into the City (and maybe I’d better not get used to it – how long can it last?) I breezed up the scenic 280, cut over at the airport connector, scarcely touched the brakes on the Bayshore, cut over on 280 again past the ball parks, took one left at 3rd, a second left at Bush, and I was beckoned into the Sutter-Stockton garage directly across from the hotel. Wow!

Note to out-of-towners: Even the municipal parking garages in San Francisco will seem outrageously expensive to you coming from anywhere else but maybe New York and Washington DC. Best to come into the city by train or BART or shuttle and rely on the excellent (even during COVID-19 conditions) public transit system. If you have to come by car, plan your activities so that you can leave the car in the garage one day, using public transit to get around, and go all the places the buses don’t go on the same day without re-entering the garage until you are done. Every in and out costs $4, while a full day maxes at $44.

View of Sutter/Stockton Garage top floors – empty even in tourist season!

Freeway Free in San Francisco: Hangin’ out in the ‘Hood

San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods. Each has its distinctive personality, though they do evolve slowly. The Tenderloin has retained its seedy Character ever since the days of Dashiell Hammett, even though it is tightly sandwiched in between upscale Union Square and the culture-heavy Civic Center. Sea Cliff and Pacific Heights are posh, the Richmond and Sunset districts are full of fog and families, while South of Market (SOMA) is still heavily ethnic and blue-collar.

W and I were invited for dinner in the Dubose Triangle. This is a quiet neighborhood of Victorians which have been cut up into apartments and condos, tucked between the flamboyant Castro District and trendy Cole Valley. We met our host at Dubose Park, just next to the runner where the N-Judah dives underground below Twin Peaks before surfacing in the Sunset District near the beach. The lower section of Dubose Park is dedicated to dogs , with all varieties of mutt and breed frolicking on green and well-kept lawn. The upper section requires leashing so that toddlers can learn to crawl on the grass and families can picnic.

We met our host next to the fenced=in play structure, where he and his neighbors were chatting about good places to camp with children, plans for their next getaway, and the difficulties of finding contractors to do minor remodeling and repairs.

When our hostess arrived after her work-from-home meeting, we pulled the pre-schooler away from her posse and ambled back down to the house. On the way my host was greeted over and over by passers by. “I’ve lived in this neighborhood for fifteen years,” he shrugged. “i know a lot of people.”

Who says urban life is cold?

A Piece of My Mind: Groundhog Day? Groundhog Decade?

It’s become a cliché to compare living in the year of COVID-19 lockdown to the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray’s character is doomed to relive the same day over and over until he gets it right.  I’ve certainly had that feeling, as Laundry Day seems to come around faster and faster, and the only difference from week to week is what color sheets I put on the bed.  

But hey!  We’re getting through it, right?  I’ve been waiting for the New Normal for a while now, with the anticipation of looking forward, rather than looking back at How Things Used to Be.  But this week I had an unsettling discovery which challenges that anticipation.  

Like many people, I keep a stack of unread magazines in the bathroom which I am going to get around to reading sooner or later. During lockdown, I made a lot of progress.  This week, near the bottom of the unread magazine pile I found an issue of Time from summer, five years ago.   

There was a two-page photo spread showing a scorched playground swing among the smoky ruins of a school, one of at least 2400 homes and businesses in a community destroyed by a wildfire. 

A lead article talked about how to achieve equity and inclusion for black students at colleges and universities, using the line “Black Students Matter”.  

Another article featured edible cutlery as a way to keep plastic waste out of landfills. 

An op-ed article discussed how to help your children interact with and understand artificial intelligence. 

A second op-ed article worried about how the aging of the Baby Boomers would impact our society, especially if they are siloed in retirement communities and lose engagement with their communities. 

The lead articles discussed the need to reform our tax system in order to narrow the wealth gap and the lack of political will to address our crumbling transportation systems.  The entertainment section featured an article on the retreat of movie and television drama into endless fantasies where magic and superpowers prevail over reality.  

In short, if you changed a few political names, updated the titles of the books, movies, and TV shows, and overlooked the lack of mention of pandemics, there was almost nothing in the magazine that couldn’t have been written this week.  I have the horrible suspicion that once I am out of lockdown, the New Normal could just be 2016 over and over again, until we get it right.  

There are still a few magazines in my pile, even older than the copy of Time from 2016. I’m going to wait a bit before I look at them, though.  If we are stuck in a Groundhog Decade, I don’t think I want to know. 

Freeway Free in Texas: Take Me Home From the Ball Game

          It’s 6:30 am and we are off to Kyle (touted by Wikipedia as the fastest-growing town in Texas, which also makes it a strong candidate for the ugliest – lots of big box stores and pop-up housing.) My nephew’s team, the Texas Gunners, will be playing the Triple Play in the Battle of the Basement. (Winners get to sleep in. Losers play at 8:30, and the team meets for warm-ups an hour earlier) The Gunners have beaten Triple Play in two previous games but we must not be overconfident.

          We arrive at the ball park.  My nephew and brother stride off toward the dugout with the duffel bag full of gear.  My sister-in-law and I note the rain spangling against the windshield and decide to huddle in the SUV for a few minutes longer.

          Twenty minutes pass.  The rain is still spatting against the windows, but we unfurl ourselves from the SUV, add a couple of layers of warmth from the back seat stash, and make our way to the bleachers, happily sheltered under a tin roof. The other parents are cuddled in sleeping bags, or afghans, or double layers of fleece. One family has brought a tent, which is pitched under the tin room for added protection.

          First inning.  The wind picks up. And up. The sky grows darker. And darker.  My nephew distinguishes himself as pitcher during the first inning, and the second.  Rain continues. Wind increases.  25 mph, says the weather app on my smartphone.  It is now the third inning, and my nephew’s  pitches are getting wilder.

          “Will the game be called on account of rain?” I ask my brother through chattering teeth.

          “Nah.  Only if there’s lightning. If there’s lightning they have to stop and wait for a half hour since the last thunder clap.”

          As if on cue, there is a bright flash of lightning. A long roll of thunder.  The umpires blow their whistles.  The teams retreat to their respective dugouts. The parents shiver beneath their blankets.  The kids seem immune to cold, not even donning their team sweatshirts as they wait out the interval.

          A half hour passes.  No more thunder. The teams resume the field.

          Bad news:  My nephew’s team loses again. They are eliminated from the tournament

          Good news: They don’t have to play again.  We can go home and get warm.

Dawn On the Freeway

Photo by Jason Freis

The gaudy neon carnival of a predawn freeway. Gas Stations pass like brutalist modern sculptures standing out in the blackness . I’m in Texas but could be anywhere, as the comfortably familiar logos flash by. Lowes, Motel 6. Panera bread. IKEA. Harley Davidson. Suddenly we are in a city. Skyscrapers dimly lit, offices weekend-empty. Then a tangle of concrete arches, and we are back in Logoland. Toyota, Acura, Jeep, it must be an AutoMall. Jack-in-the-box, the golden M. Apartment blocks huddled\ darkly together, Public Storage conveniently adjacent (why do people accumulate so much stuff that they have to rent auxiliary storage? They can’t all have inherited their parents’ dining room furniture!).

The sun is struggling to rise through thick clouds. The striped roof of a KFC emerges from the gloom, lit by Verizon, Chick-fil-a, T.G.I. Friday. No people visible anywhere except for other drivers staring fixedly forward as we pass them in the fast lane. More three and four story apartment blocks, more widely spaced. And then we are out of the suburbs and the space opens out to a horizon brought close by the clouds, and an expanse of scrub brush and winter-dried grasses. And just as suddenly into another suburb, Shell, Starbucks Burger King 7-eleven. More public Storage. Auto maintenance and repair. Huddled 2-story apartments. A parking lot full of cherry pickers and backhoes. Dawn is here. The neon lights are shutting off. Open space again briefly, then another suburb. We exit the freeway and stop at a red light. We have arrived at Somewhere. Walmart. Walgreens. Goodwill. Just like home.

Freeway Free in Texas: Quirky

We drove three hours through the Texas Hill country to my brother’s house in Georgetown.  Along the way there were plenty of testaments to the ongoing quirkiness of the Texas character.

We passed a ranch house style building with a sign saying “Deer Dressing.”  Not a fashion center for bucks and does, but a place where you could drop off your after-the-hunt booty and have it carved into steaks, chops, hides, and heads for display in your family room. The fence was decorated with skulls of deer, wild goats, and longhorn cattle.  Atop a tower at the entrance was a human skeleton (artificial, I hope), underneath a camouflage net, dressed in camo, riding a bicycle, and flourishing a rifle.  Not sure what the message to potential customers was meant to be.

Later we passed a pasture in which a life size (I suppose) replica of Bigfoot tromped through the grass in lieu of a scarecrow.

At lunchtime we followed a Yelp recommendation to Alfredo’s in Lampasas, not the hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant we expected, but a large indoor-outdoor event venue nestled in a ben of Sulphur Creek.  The patio features thatched huts a la Baja sheltering each table, and a menagerie of life-size fiberglass or bronze  parrots, tigers, lions, and longhorn steers. In addition, a trio of larger-than-life-size mariachi bandsmen concocted from rusted metal machine parts.  The food was pretty good, too.

            To settle our lunch, we stopped off at the Hanna Springs Culture Garden, adjacent to the new but deserted Swim Center.  Here Texas quirky was fully on display.  My favorites were the basketball court painted as an homage to Mondrian, and the rusty pickup  with a giant sheet-metal catfish flopped on top.

            As we approached Austin, we began to see signs with the slogan  “Keep Austin Weird.” Looks like the surrounding environs give Austin something to draw on.

Freeway-Free in Texas: Taking Shelter

 It started to rain rather seriously about 7PM. The wind picked up, too, so we had our supper of sardines and hummus around the table inside shelter, lowered the protective plastic screening to keep out the rain, and settled back into our sardine supper and our books. The rain picked up. The wind picked up. There were flashes of lightning. Rolls of thunder. The intervals between flashes and rolls became shorter and shorter. The rain drummed on the roof.

Suddenly both our cell phones blared an alarm. “TORNADO WARNING – Radar shows storm clouds rotating, Storm centered above Meridian State Park“. Hey, that’s where we are! Then we heard a horn blaring, looked outside, and saw the Rangers’ white truck. The ranger was leaning out the window, shouting “Tornado warning! Go to the shelter!” We grabbed our phones and whatever else occurred to us, and fought our way through wind and rain to the Ladies Room at the end of the refectory building, constructed by the CCC of sturdy limestone blocks. (We had noted the “Storm Shelter” sign on the Women’s rest room earlier, and laughed. Now we were grateful. There was only one other woman there – the park was sparsely populated mid-week during a pandemic. Her nephew was in the adjacent Men’s room, she said. We each pulled out our phones and watched the weather map. I offered around mints which happened to be in my bag, to counteract the sardine supper.  The rain pelted so hard against the small windows that it sounded like hail. The restroom lights flickered. The thunder drummed away at the roof.

After almost an hour the tumult quieted. A ranger knocked on the door. “You can go back to your camp now, ladies. But I might have to roust you out again at 1:00 when the next storm comes through.” W and I went back to our screened cabin and packed our backpacks carefully this time with headlamps, wallets, computers, extra underwear, water bottles, etc. And we were indeed awakened about 1AM with more lightning flashes and thunder rumbles, but the ranger did not come by.

For the rest of the night, we both slept well. In the morning, it was as though the storms had never been. The lake was so placid you could see the reflections of the branches of trees on the opposite shore. The sky was cloudless, an Easter egg blue.We had expected hail damage,but no, it had only been hard-driven rain.  Texas weather.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: