19 Days Later

Every day, I gird myself to watch the news.  I stopped needing to look at the Johns Hopkins dashboard when the United States topped the list.  We’re number one: there isn’t much more to say.  There now more dead in New York City than China will admit to in the whole country.

But while the news media is still in the mode of ‘get ready to die next week,’ the reality is a bit different.  Most of us are alive and well, and not coughing.

More than anything, it’s weird:

  • The supply chains have recovered from the initial jolt, and the stores are pretty-well stocked again, except maybe for disinfectants and hand sanitizer.  But there’s a line to get in the local Trader Joe’s that stretches (with everyone observing six-foot social distancing) down the block and sometimes around the corner.  It’s usually a 40-60-minute wait.  Some of the other local stores also have queues waiting outside.
  • Buses creep me out.  The driver pulls up and you get on in the middle of the bus, through what’s usually the exit door.  The MTA has given up on collecting fares, so the ride is free, and the front of the bus is roped off.  Signage in the bus reminds us that ‘buses are for essential travel only.’  I’d skip the buses entirely, but the creepiness doesn’t bother my wife, and I go out with her to do shopping a couple of times a week.
  • The subway trains now run every 20 minutes (the usual schedule for the middle of the night) 24 hours a day.  Ridership is still very light: one can almost, but not quite, maintain the six-foot spread on the train.  I find myself walking out of the home or office, checking when the next train will show up, and then walking one or two stations to catch it so that I’m not standing on the platform, waiting.
  • And yes, I do have to ride the train.  My business has been deemed ‘essential,’ and I still have to perform on-site testing.  I don’t really have to go to the office, but it’s convenient to the field sites, and I’m usually more productive there than at home.  (I’m also sure that I’m annoying my wife when I have video conferences and go running off at the mouth, but so far, she seems to understand.)  Life at the office has gotten especially weird:
    • There’s no heat or hot water in the building.
    • In normal times, there are a galaxy of choices for lunch.  No more:
      • Most of my usual choices have closed for the duration.
      • The Chopt salad place near my office closed, but there’s another one nearby.  However, you can’t go there and order a salad: you have to use their app or Web site.  I did it once and saw why: the store itself is roped off: you go to the vestibule, state your name, and the staffer hands over the bag.  There isn’t even a credit card machine: you have to have paid in advance.  Alas, it isn’t the same as when the guy is tossing the salad in front of you and you can tweak up your salad (‘a little more dressing’) on the spot.
      • One of the essential charms of McDonald’s is the fountain sodas, big and icy.  But when I went to the McDonald’s near my office, I was told, ‘no soda.’  I have cans of soda in my office, but it isn’t the same.  Perhaps one of the other McDonald’s near my office still has a working soda fountain.
      • The Chick-Fil-A near my office, two weeks ago, had markers taped on the floor to remind everyone of the need to keep six feet apart.  A week ago, the markers were removed, but there were hardly any customers: Governor Cuomo had halted work at ‘non-essential’ construction sites, and that was much of their market.  The next day, they were closed.
    • After I bring my lunch back to the office and eat it, I have to take the wrappings out and pitch them in a litter basket in the street: the lady who usually comes to the office to empty the baskets and occasionally vacuum is gone for the duration, too.
    • Even an afternoon snack has become a production.  Most of the Dunkins near my office are closed.  Needing a snack, I went to nearby drugstore for a candy bar.  But the racks of sweets near the cashiers have been removed: I guess single candy bars are not hygienic.
  • At the beginning of March, New York State banned single-use plastic bags to carry goods purchased at most retail stores.  But they’ve made a comeback.  I’m told that San Francisco, which banned plastic bags in favor of reusable bags over a decade ago, has reversed themselves: reusable bags are now forbidden.

In recent days, we’re being told that we’ve turned a corner, and the number of new cases is abating.  On the other hand, there are others telling us that the emergency will last all summer.  On St. Patrick’s Day, when all the restaurants and bars were closed, I estimated the emergency would last 6-8 weeks.  We’re now about halfway through that, and it seems about right, today.

Next week is anyone’s guess.

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