COVID-19

Like sex without a condom

Indiana’s mask mandate ended in early April. While a few counties opted to continue it, the one I live in did not.

Even though Margaret and I are both vaccinated, we have continued to wear masks even where it isn’t required, and we have continued to stay out of indoor public places except when strictly necessary. Two of our adult children still live with us, and they are not yet vaccinated. One of them has a health condition that puts them at extra risk. We didn’t want to risk bringing it home to them. We know that our vaccinations make the likelihood low, but the impact sure could be high if it happened.

My chiropractor’s office was the first place in my world to shed their masks. The woman behind the desk directly encouraged me to leave my mask behind on my next visit. Then I started seeing a small number of people ignore various businesses’ mask requirements.

Meijer

Last Saturday, when I went to Meijer to do the week’s shopping, they no longer required masks. I’d say 70 percent of shoppers shopped bare faced.

Meijer was a bellwether for me. If they aren’t requiring masks, other businesses assuredly aren’t either — including the restaurant and retail store where our two adult children work. Shortly, none will.

Margaret said, “If the kids get it, it is going to be from where they work. We can’t protect them anymore.” She was right.

We’ve been strongly encouraging them both to get vaccinated, but neither has been interested. One was concerned about side effects. I told them both that my own reading says that they were far more likely to have a bad time with COVID than they were with any of the available vaccines, but it didn’t move them.

I’m the kind of dad who would say, “Look, my house, my rules. Get vaccinated. If you want to follow your own rules, get your own house.” But these are Margaret’s kids, and Margaret doesn’t parent in the same way I do. She continues to encourage them. One of them finally agreed to do it and has one Pfizer shot in him. The other remains disinterested.

BW3

I said to Margaret, “I don’t know what you think about it, but I think it’s okay for us to relax our vigilance.” She agreed. So we’re no longer masking up in places that don’t require it. And Sunday we took the plunge: we walked over to the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant near our home, went inside, and ate cheeseburgers and drank beer. “It feels like sex without a condom,” Margaret said as we sat down.

I did feel slight anxiety as we entered, but it melted when our first round of beers arrived. (I had a Porter that tasted like coffee and chocolate. I love a good Porter!) It felt like it had been only a week since our last visit to a restaurant, not 15 months.

Meanwhile, my company has announced that they are opening the office June 7. They aren’t requiring anyone to return just yet, but working in the office will be available for those who want it. Anyone vaccinated will not have to wear a mask, but we have to place a copy of our vaccination cards on file with HR.

Switching suddenly to working from home last year was surprisingly stressful. I had to learn a lot of new habits and figure out how to cope with Zoom fatigue. (On a typical work day, I’m on Zoom six or seven hours.) I suspect that if I were to return full time to the office, I’d experience similar stress. To spread out that stress, I’ve decided to work one day a week in the office, and add days slowly.

Probably later this year, my company will end this flexibility and ask us to choose among working remotely full time, or working in the office full time, or working a hybrid schedule at home Monday and/or Wednesday but in the office the rest of the week.

I choose the hybrid schedule. There have been big benefits to working from home — shedding my hour round-trip commute, being able to walk and ride my bike more, slipping in a load of laundry here and there, even being able to cut the grass on my lunch hour. I’d like to keep some of that. Truly, these benefits are so strong that I considered never returning to the office.

But I miss the people. As a pegging-the-meter introvert, I don’t need much human contact. But I need some, and my needs have not been met during the pandemic. I didn’t realize until I didn’t have it anymore just how much of that need is met in the office. Also, when I’m back in the office I will have a much easier time building the relationships I need at work to influence things to go the way I want. Most of the company is choosing the hybrid schedule, so I’ll see most people there and be able to have the casual interactions with them that I’ve always used to build bonds.

I know the pandemic isn’t over. Not enough people are vaccinated to create herd immunity. We don’t know how long the vaccines last just yet, and we don’t know whether they protect against the variants yet to come. I’m moving forward on some faith, recognizing that we might have to isolate again. I’m sure I’ll experience that as a blow if it comes. But I can’t defend against every possible future event. I’m choosing to act on the current reality.

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Road Trips

The Green Lantern on the National Road/US 40 in Illinois

I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is one of them. This is based on recent research and a visit in 2007.

As we came near to Effingham we could see a tall neon sign in the distance. As we got closer, we could see that it was grand.

Green Lantern

Sadly, the building behind this sign had burned about a month earlier, on the night of June 5. It had stood since 1938, first as a bar, then as a fine dining establishment, and most recently as a roadhouse of sorts. For many years, it was the only place on US 40 for several states that was open Sunday nights, when it drew crowds from a hundred miles away.

Green Lantern

The owner pledged to rebuild, but it never happened. In 2014, the site was sold to someone who maintains it as an investment. I looked the site up on Google Maps (it’s here). The last time a Google Street View car drove by, which was in 2019, someone was selling yard sheds on this lot.

I hope this great sign was saved!

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COVID-19

Being out in the world as much as we safely can before cold weather prevents it

Sunday might have been the last warm (upper 70s) day of the year. So Margaret and I went out in the evening for dinner and drinks, to places where we could sit outside. Forgive my regrettable selfie skills, but here we are wrapping up our night with a delicious lowland scotch at a Scottish restaurant on the downtown avenue where all the hip kids go.

I’m sure we’ll have a few nights in October where we can do the same, as long as we dress for chilly weather.

We need to make a point of being out in the world, and of seeing people we care about, as much as we safely can before cold weather prevents it. In Indiana, except for wintertime activities like sledding or snowball fights, we stay inside from sometime in November through sometime in March. That’s four to five months of isolation.

With that in mind, I bought a propane fire pit for our deck. It was advertised as putting out 50,000 BTUs. That sure sounded impressive! I hoped it would make our deck hospitable until it gets truly cold here. We’ve used it a couple of evenings now, inviting extended family to talk and laugh with us.

Unfortunately, the fire pit is warm within only a few feet, and only across your face and torso. After the sun set the other night, temperatures fell into the upper 50s — and we all went in for jackets and blankets. If we keep bundling up and we have a mild autumn, the fire pit could let us use the deck through about the end of October. I guess that’s better than nothing.

Margaret and I have made it clear to the kids who still live with us: no spending time inside with friends, and no going into places where people don’t wear masks (e.g., restaurants). We’ve talked about how we might be able to see our friends and family during the cold months, but so far none of us has come up with any bright ideas.

This is going to be a long winter. We’ll need to show each other extra grace and kindness.

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COVID-19

Cheeseburgers and beer, al fresco

That I haven’t written one of my coronavirus missives in more than two weeks says two things: first, that I’ve been consumed with other things; and second, my family has largely adapted.

That doesn’t mean things are necessarily easy. Margaret and I needed to run a bunch of errands on Sunday. At the end of them we realized we were hungry and, more urgently, needed to pee.

We were a half hour from home. The nearby Starbucks wasn’t allowing the public to use their restrooms, as a protection against COVID-19. The surrounding gas stations looked sketchy and dirty.

I knew of a restaurant Downtown that had plenty of outdoor seating, and since we would be customers they’d let us use their restroom. It was ten minutes away, so that’s where we went. We had terrific cheeseburgers and glasses of beer and it felt so good and normal.

Lit Fresh Local Restaurant

But using the restroom provoked some anxiety. It was big enough for just one person, a tight fit. Was someone just in here? Were they sick? Was whatever they breathed out still hanging in the air? Would my mask protect me at all? I wasn’t going to be able to hold my breath through the entire visit. I didn’t even try. I just hoped for the best.

Our table was a good ten feet away from the nearest tables, which we liked. We had our masks, but it just wasn’t practical to swallow fast and put them on every time our server walked up to check on us. She was masked, so she was reasonably protecting us. But we weren’t protecting her, and she had no way of knowing whether we were carrying the virus. Heck, neither did we. Everyone in our house but me has to report to their workplace. Who knows whether the people they work with are carrying the virus? Were we putting our server at risk? Was everybody around us putting their servers at risk?

Our lives can’t stop entirely because of the virus. We need to bring in our paychecks so that we can afford to live. When we support businesses that were hit hard when everything shut down in March, we help others pay their bills, too.

But all of us have a responsibility to protect each other. At the moment, the best way anybody knows to do that is to wear a mask when you’re around people you don’t live with. Sometimes, that’s just impractical. Most of the time it’s not.

I encounter entirely too many people who aren’t wearing masks when I do the things I have to do outside my home. I haven’t counted, but I’d say it’s one third to one half of everyone I see. I’m losing my patience with it.

I get it, this is America, rugged individualism, Don’t Tread On Me, and all that. But this is also a nation that bands together in times of trouble. I’ve seen it. Why are we not doing it this time?

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US 50 in Brownstown

Brock’s Restaurant
Canon PowerShot S80
2010

As I put together this series I was struck by how many neon signs I photographed lit during the day. I’ve always figured places turned their signs on at dusk.

Brock’s is in Brownstown, a small southeastern Indiana town on US 50. I love to visit little towns like this in my travels and find gems like this sign in them.

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Photography

single frame: Brock’s Restaurant

The neon sign for Brock’s, a restaurant in Brownstown, IN.

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Terre Haute

Abe Malooley’s Saratoga
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2009

The Saratoga was already a local institution when I lived in Terre Haute in the 1980s and 1990s. It is still going strong today. I like to stop for a meal whenever I’m in town. I’m usually greeted by Shelly, a longtime waitress and someone I knew when I lived in Terre Haute.

I sort of miss Terre Haute. I liked living there. Unfortunately, there was only one company in town that needed people who did what I do, and when that company folded I had little choice but to move on.

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Photography

single frame: Abe Malooley’s Saratoga

The lit neon sign of the Saratoga restaurant in Terre Haute.

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