Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “COVID-19”

A Piece of my Mind: Outlook 2023 (Los Altos Town Crier 12/28/22)

2023 Outlook

I received an email from my financial advisor starting with “Many of us wonder what lies ahead for 2023 in regard to the markets, the economy, and inflation.” It started me thinking. I confess that when I wonder what lies ahead for 2023, thoughts of the markets, the economy, and inflation are way down the list.  Here are some of the things I do wonder about:

  • Will our school children catch up the education and social time lost during the COVID-19 lockdowns?
  • Will someone pick up the opportunity to develop the foreclosed Dutchints site on El Camino Real?
  • Will the Los Altos School District decide what to build on its purchase of land at San Antonio Shopping Center?
  • Will the Los Altos City Council permanently allow outdoor eating parklets on State Street and Main Street?
  • How will the newly elected trustees of the Los Altos Mtn View High School District make good on their promises to address mental health problems among our teenagers?
  • Will the Walter Singer bust finally find a place?
  • Will the Lehigh Permanente Quarry be reclaimed or restored, or will the buck continue to be passed?
  • Will local animal shelters ever run out of abandoned pit bull terriers and Chihuahuas for adoption?
  • Where will Los Altos find space to build “affordable” housing when residential land in the city is selling at roughly $12-15 million per acre?
  • How many flagpoles will eventually be installed at Veterans Community Plaza to satisfy all the groups who want banner representation?

My financial advisor says that 2023 will be “A Year for Yield.”  He has in mind investments in bonds and international markets.  I have in mind a different kind of yield.

Investments in friendship: Will I keep alive friendships that have been based on monthly meetings but for months have been digital at best? Will I learn to use Zoom for meetings that feel like real conversations rather than just talking heads?  Will I remember how to reach out to people as COVID restrictions loosen?

Investments in community activities: Will my work with the American Association of University Women lead to better outcomes for women and girls? Will my participation in the Los Altos Community Coalition help enable less partisanship and more cooperation among civic leaders?

Investments in family: Can I make time to read stories over Zoom to my grand-daughter?  Can I find events and experiences to share with my marriage partner?  Can I find ways to help family members in trouble when we are separated by miles?

Investments in service: Will my helping tend the gardens at the History Museum pay off with more happy events held there? Can I resume volunteer work with the homeless through the Community services Agency despite COVID restrictions? Should I become more involved with political action groups?

The yield on these investments won’t show up in my bank account or on my 2023 tax return. But if they pay off in serenity, quality of life, sense of significance, that’s plenty for me.

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

I attended at least three meetings a week on ZOOM.

I stood in line (masked, but not distanced)

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

I rode in a train (masked and distanced – not many riders).

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 attended several exercise classes. (not masked, not distanced, lots of open windows)

I hosted a meeting of eighteen people on one of those 100-degree days, so we moved inside.

I had a COVID-19 test.

Negative! – I got away with  all of it.

BUT:

My #2 son and his family  (fully vaxxed and boosted) caught COVID-19 while traveling.  It took a couple of weeks for them to return to normal.

My #1 son and his family (fully vaxxed and boosted) came down with COVID-19 together the weekend after the son started school with live classes.

I’m getting another booster shot this afternoon.

Some weeks later:

I’m scheduled for a minor precautionary medical procedure. Three days in advance, I’ll need another COVID-19 test, the kind where you send the results to a real laboratory and wait for clearance.

We’re not out of the woods yet. Cross fingers.

Freeway Free: How NOT to get outta town

My friend C invited me out of the blue to spend a few days at her timeshare in Tahoe. A gal’s getaway – sounds great! Mindful of recent blizzards in the Sierras, my Personal Travel Agent suggested that I fly to meet C at the Reno airport rather than make a stressful drive by myself. Love to be coddled.

PTA gets me to the airport more than an hour before boarding.  I breeze through check in with the help of a brightly – masked gate agent who affixes my baggage tag for me.  I’m hung up for a few minutes in security as the X-ray objects to the steel shanks in my hiking boots.  Cleared, I stop at the rest room, fill my water bottle, buy an extra Chapstick against cold ($3.80!) and still arrive at the gate an hour before boarding at 12:30

I dig out my Science News, which I expect to be able to finish on the plane.  12:30 comes and goes.  Then the announcement – “The crew for your plane is stuck in Palm Springs. We are looking for a new crew.” New estimated departure: Maybe 2:30.” The announcer doesn’t sound very confident.

I go to the rest room again. I take out the snack I had packed for the plane – a mandarin orange and a granola bar. I find a quiet area and eat very slowly.  Back at the gate there is no change on the board.  I call C, already waiting at the Reno airport. I ask her to go to Hertz and let them know we’ve been delayed, so we won’t lose our car. I wander down to the bookstore.  Ooh, there’s a copy of the latest volume of the “Outlander” series! But maybe I’d better check back before I immerse myself in colonial America.  Oops!  The plane is boarding!  It’s 1:56.  Amazing.

I’m comfy in an exit row with a aisle seat.  Then my seat mate arrives, a very large United crew member dead-heading to Reno for a flight tomorrow.  There goes my elbow room.  He tells me a replacement crew agreed to fill in for the stranded group – above and beyond, out of the goodness of their hearts.  Thanks be to good-hearted crewmen.  I text C “I’m on the plane!” She responds “Hallelujah”

2:35: We are boarded, locked and loaded, but not pushed back from the gate yet. 

2:36: We are detached from the gate, but not actually moving as safety announcements are made.

2:40: We have moved 20 feet backwards.  It’s a 40 minute flight, if we ever get airborne!

I feel like I’ve been indoors in a mask with hot breath funneled up to my eyeballs forever.  It has been three hours. 

I only downloaded two books onto my iPad before leaving, and one of them I’ve nearly finished. Will one book and one copy of the Economist last me through four days and the flight back home?   I check – seems some time back I downloaded The Brothers Karamazov as something I’ve always meant to read. This may be the week.

2;46:  WE’RE MOVING DOWN THE RUNWAY!  No, we’re slowing down, moving to a different runaway.  Turning a second time.  A third time.  Are we there yet?  A fourth time.  The engines are making serious revving noises.  Here we go!

2:48: Lift off!   San Francisco looks like a city built of white sugar cubes in the bright winter light.  Lots of boats and barges lined up in the water – supply chain overflow?  Oakland looks just a bit grimier than its gleaming sister city across the Bay. The plane dips and turns right over Alameda; I can almost pick out our old house on Doris Court. Then we right ourselves and head east. 

Thoughts: Travel is chancy these days with airplane crews and bus drivers and other service personnel ravaged by viral variants and supply-chain glitches and labor shortages. My trip by plane and rental car to Stateline NV from the Bay Area took 6 hours; on a good day one could drive the route in 4.  My excuse for flying was “less stressful” but that’s not necessarily so when one’s flight is delayed, the airline rep says, “We’re trying our best but no update yet”, and one is supposed to be meeting someone at the other end.

So, if you are traveling, bring plenty to read, lots of patience, and bon voyage!

Thanks to The Atlantic for this graphic

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.” 

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!

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. 

Life in a Covid-19 Hotspot: On the Road Again!

You’re going to Texas? Disbelieving intonations in the voices of the friends in my writing group. Underlying unsaid: that place with the Neanderthal governor who is letting people take off their masks and hold wild parties. After all these months of care, are you nuts? My children disapprove but are too loving to say so. After not having seen them for almost a year, I’m visiting my brother and my oldest friend. At least they have both been vaccinated, but not my brother’s much younger wife, nor his 12 year old son. At least with my friend I will be camping outside most of the time. At least with my brother we will spend much of our time outside at my nephew’s Little League games.

At any rate, here I am on an airplane. Traffic to the airport was minimal, carryon bags avoided check-in lines, security was only minimally delayed due to 6 foot separation requirements (scrupulously observed through security, I observed, but not in the long queues at Starbuck’s and Chick-fil-a once I was in the terminal.) The one inconvenience: many of the water stations were boarded up: it was a long walk from security (Opposite gate 22) to the nearest water station (opposite gate 18) and back to departure gate 23.

Once on the plane, I received help from a masked guy in front of me to heft my carryon into the overhead, tucked my backpack under the seat in front of my window seat, after stuffing my water bottle into the incapacious pocket in front of me (no airline magazines, I note.) Adjusted my double face masks, made sure my hearing aids had not become dislodged, eye-smiled at the young woman who took the aisle seat (no center seats filled). She had beautiful eyes with unbelievably long lashes. They might even be real. If you are going to be masked, it helps to have knockout eyes.

Not as much banter as usual from the Southwest attendants. They flashed a card showing my options for beverage. Declined. Later passed by with a tray of pretzels. Declined.

Up over San Jose, sprawling in its patchwork of green space, industrial parks, cookie cutter suburbs and apartment complexes, limited-height skyscrapers constraining as always its ambitions to be recognized as one of the country’s Top 10 cities. San Jose is always pedestrian Martha to San Francisco’s passionate Mary – which makes Oakland what? Maybe Lazarus, come back from the dead. Then over the snowy Sierras, past a big lake which must be Mono Lake, then down into desert country, a lengthy river cutting canyons through aridity until it is abruptly stopped at a dam. Seems there is enough to water snaking through the landscape for people who need it, but we know every drop will be claimed by multiple stakeholders.

The inner window of the plane is plastic. The outer window has a little circle of ice crystals surrounding a tiny peg which somehow must attach the outer tempered class. Same thing on the window just behind me. I wonder how that works. Tiny ice crystals flake off from the circle and stay scattered within4 “.

Outside a layer of cloud, lumpy where a thunderhead is trying to break through. Seat belt sign is on. I break out my neck pillow, my second magazine. Back in thetravel groove, as if I’d never left it.

Life in a Covid-19 Hot Spot – Week 37 – What’s the Point? (LATC 12/9/20)

Setting up for Thanksgiving was difficult this year.  I brought out my late mother-in-law’s harvest-red paisley tablecloth and the bin full of Thanksgiving cornucopias, fake fruit, and fold-out turkeys for decorating the table.  Since we didn’t need to put any leaves in the table, I had to fold the cloth under at both ends to keep it from dragging on the floor, and we only had room for one cornucopia and one turkey.  What’s the point of polishing the silver and setting out my grandmother’s crystal  candleholders if it’s just the two of us?

But the two of us are important.  I realized how thankful I was that I wasn’t eating Thanksgiving dinner alone.  I got out the silver and the candleholders.

The day after  Thanksgiving we usually start decorating for Christmas.   I dragged the artificial tree out of the attic and found the outdoor lights in a box behind them, buried under a year’s worth of odds and ends.  We have this light-stringing business down. The lights are put away in orderly coils labeled “Garage”, “Kitchen Window”, “Front Porch Swags”, “Porch Eaves”, “Living Room Window”.  The cup hooks which hold the strings are painted white to blend with our trim, so they become invisible out of season.  My husband has taken apart my garden shuffle hoe to devise a tool which enables him to lift the strings onto the cup hooks with minimal trips up and down a ladder. This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20201211_164842web.jpg

As we arranged five over-size  lights on the lemon tree in front of our picture window, I mentioned “The only trouble with these big lights is that they block the view of our tree inside from anyone passing by. “

“We don’t do it for the neighbors, we do it for us,” he answered.

Just then our neighbor, who happens to be Jewish, walked by.  “Putting your lights up again!” she called out.  “It always lifts my spirits when I see your lights go up each year!”

“Mine too!” I called back, trying hard not to smirk at my husband.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20181220_170501web-1.jpgThe lights and the tree are for us, but they are also for others.  At least a few times a week during the holiday season I know we will be driving around different neighborhoods looking at holiday light displays. And each  display tells us something. Whether  it is the flickering candles of Dewali,  blue and white lights surrounding a menorah, old-fashioned multi-colored incandescents strung along the eaves, dazzling LED displays zigzagging up and down the tree branches, or even Darth Vader and Yoda wearing Santa hats and battling with red and green light sabers,  someone in this house is reaching out to let us know a little bit about who they are.

In this difficult time of separation, custom and tradition are comforting.  So we will put up our Christmas tree, even though  our four- year- old granddaughter can’t come to help  us decorate it.  I’m hoping someone else’s granddaughter might walk past and see our tree, and that it will make her smile. 

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot- Week 29: Getaway Gone

Our favorite getaway spot, just an hour and a half from the busy Bay Area, has been the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove.  This historic retreat was originally a YWCA leadership camp , with historic redwood buildings designed by Julia Morgan, who also designed many of the buildings at William Randolph Hearst’s La Cuesta Encantada in San Simeon (AKA Hearst Castle).    The Center is nestled amid cypress trees and sand dunes just across from Asilomar State Beach on the quiet side of the Monterey Peninsula, separated from touristy and cutesified Carmel by the gorgeous twisting 17-Mile-Drive along the Monterey coastline. .

For the first part of the Lockdown, the Conference center was commandeered by the State as a place to quarantine people who had been exposed to the virus.   After the first surge, the center was emptied and sanitized, but its conference business had dropped to zero.  It reopened to the public only a few weeks ago.  D and I were desperate to get away from our same daily rooms, and reserved a night.  That week the wildfires blazed up, and the Air Quality in Pacific Grove was rated Hazardous.  We rescheduled.  Two weeks later the fires were contained, the air had cleared and we were on our way.

Usually the Conference Center is humming with conferees, who might include  quilters, nutritionists, corporate retreaters, and many other groups.  But there are usually a few unfilled rooms which are available at reasonable cost to the non-conferring public at the last minute.  If you have breakfast in the Dining Hall you will sit at whatever table is not filled, and be liable to have an interesting conversations with whatever genial strangers share the table.  The Lodge is full of teenagers waiting their turn at the pool table or conferees scanning brochures about local activities, or picking up souvenirs at the Park Store.

But that was Before.

As we drove in, the parking lots were nearly empty.  The lodge itself was posted with the first of many signs notifying visitors of curtailed services. “Lodge open for check-in from 2PM to 8PM.”  It was 3PM, so we entered .  The cavernous lodge was empty except for the young lady at the reception desk and one computer jockey at a well-isolated table.  The room was posted with signs saying “[fill in blank] is not available to guests at this time.” (e.g. swimming pool, lodge fireplace, park store, pool table, piano…).  The brochure stand was empty, but we invited to hold up your phones to a QRcode to download information.  The Dining Room was closed also, as were the bike rentals.

All the same, it was a wonderful getaway.  We could sit on our balcony among the cypress trees and look out to a sparkling ocean.  And when we walked down to the beach, we saw that there are some family pleasures that even COVID-19 cannot close down.

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