Wednesday, April 1, 2020
An American Icon is Sick. Very sick.
On Monday, 3/30, I became aware that John Prine, one of my longtime favorite singer-songwriters, was in critical condition and intubated after a sudden worsening of his health. The culprit, novel coronavirus. John has had multiple bouts with cancer over the last few decades so he is highly at risk. His wife had tested positive before him. Her health is improving. So many have reached out on Twitter to wish him well, to share what his songs have meant to them, and to celebrate his songs by playing them.
Odds are that you aren’t 100% sure who John Prine is but you probably have heard tunes that he wrote covered and made famous by other performers. He has always remained active but he got his start in the early 70’s, discovered by Kris Kristofferson. Bonnie Raitt covered “Angel from Montgomery,” a touching story which begins with, “I am an old woman, named after my mother, My old man is another child that’s grown old.”
He had a real sense of humor to his stories captured perfectly with “Dear Abby,” about the famous advice columnist, “Dear Abby Dear Abby you won’t believe this, but my stomach makes noises whenever I kiss.”
He wrote about everyday things with an empathetic eye towards the human in all of us. In “Sam Stone,” he wrote about the war and how it left many veterans empty and addicted. Watch the video. It’s amazing.
“There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don’t stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.”
He wrote about old people in “Hello in There” and their need to be seen, recognized, if just by saying hello. Joan Baez covered that song and said it has long been one of the most requested songs at her performances.
Johnny Cash said, “John Prine is 24 and writes songs like he’s 240.”
My buddy Brad Brown introduced me to Prine in the summer of 1974 as we drove across country together, playing our guitars by campfires along the way. I remember getting Brad to teach me “A Good Time” in our rented home in Seattle. John’s music became a friend and companion of mine and Julie’s ever since.
Right about this time of the year in 1979ish, Julie took me to see Prine as a birthday gift. He performed at Charlotte’s Ovens Auditorium. He played all by himself, just him and his guitar. I don’t think that he ever changed guitars all night. He was a chatty, self-deprecating performer and joked about how he used basically the same three or four chords in all of his songs. Which is basically true and one of the wonders of music – how it revolves around simplicity.
Here are my favorites from the old days. He just put out “The Tree of Forgiveness” in 2018. I’ve got it on vinyl. Just because he made it that way.
- Sweet Revenge
- A Good Time
- Christmas in Prison
- Angel from Montgomery
- Please Don’t Bury Me
- Blue umbrella
- Sam Stone
- Hello in There
- Fish & Whistle
Here’s what people are doing
Just how close is too close
A close friend who works in tech support was told to stop coming to work after 3 people in the same building tested positive. He’s now working from home, but that is just how close things can come to folks we know and love. The good news is that it is a big building and none of those with the virus worked in his firm. There are elevators though. Door knobs. Entrance areas. You know, those “high-touch areas” the public health officials are all talking about.
Come on, man!
People continue to show their arrogance and false feelings of invincibility, no matter their age. It’s not just drunk college kids in Miami. Julie and I took a ride with the top down on Sunday. It was gorgeous outside so we tooled around down to Paper Mill Road, a winding road that dips way down to Sope Creek, then back up again. It’s a natural area with the bones of an old mill that used the water from the creek to power its grist. It is now surrounded by giant homes in this hilly, tree-covered landscape. The creek gets pretty wide and flows over large rocks that people like to climb out on to enjoy the sun parsing through the overhanging tree limbs and listen to the running water.
Sope Creek Park has a trailhead and parking area up on the hill. It’s famous out here in East Cobb. Now, Cobb County smartly closed all parks recently. As the road started to descend down to the creek we came around a bend to cars parked on the berm. As we crossed the bridge and looked down the creek we could see that the whole area was inundated with people, people who ignored the sign that it was closed to the public. Parents with kids, teenagers with each other. I mean, come on man!
On being a certain age
Since retiring, Julie and I have really committed to walking two or more miles a day, even through the winter, even in the rain! We’ve never seen so many people walking these suburban streets. Being homebound with kids has turned East Cobb into one big park.
The other day as we began our walk, we chatted from a safe distance with our next door neighbor. They are great people. He threw out there that he would gladly pick up some items for us the next time he heads to the store. It was a sincere gesture and with twin girls, he’ll be hitting the store more than we would. Then I realized that we’re basically his parents’ age and in that “high risk” age window and that he was offering to do some old folks a solid. I really appreciated his offer and covered up the slight hurt I felt because, well, he’s right. It’s a reminder that we are in that window. Fact. I mean, I am retired. We do qualify for senior discounts and we are on Medicare. So duh. But I just hadn’t thought about it from the perspective of someone lending a hand perhaps because I’m of a certain age. Well, it is nice to have people who care living next door. I remember when we were them, living next door to senior citizens and lending a hand.
Shopping in the midst of the Virus
My good friend needed some things from Home Depot so he drove over. He found the parking lot full of tents. Home Depot employees were out there managing the access into the store. Whatever their limit was, they would not let more people in until an equal number of customers left the store. You waited in your own parking space forcing social distancing. He was glad to see that kind of oversite. Once inside, however, he said it was the typical shoppers’ free for all. People just went to find whatever they needed and if it happened to be next to where he was in the aisle, well, they shopped as if it were “the old days.” He had to constantly work to maintain social distance in the aisle. I need some stuff from HD myself. I’m ordering online.
Julie and I thought that we would try the online ordering service at Whole Foods to supply our weekly needs. We’re generally a two store shopper. Publix for the bulk and Whole Foods for what we can’t find in Publix, in particular certain fish and cuts of meat, but most importantly, coffee.
Julie spent the bulk of yesterday morning on the Whole Foods website on her computer, building a list, but somewhere in the process she was encouraged to download the app on her phone, and so she did, which then meant she had to start over on the order. This was a very difficult time in our morning. A more even-keeled tempered person you won’t find on earth was stuck inside the app, muttering to herself and to the app and highly, I mean, highly, frustrated. She didn’t hear anything that I said, and seemed just a little angry at me for what she was experiencing. The good news is that she was finally able to submit the order. And, if you are an Amazon member as we are, delivery is free if you order $35 or more. Well, as you know, it doesn’t take much at WF to tee up $35 worth. However, once finished it didn’t appear that delivery was available but they could fill the order for pickup. Then, she got messages from our “shopper” that certain things weren’t available by the brand and would we want to substitute “X.” Very cool. Then, sooner than we expected, the order was filled and ready. We went up to WF and parked in the special spots for pickup. A staffer came to our car, verified the order and loaded the trunk.
We discovered as we unloaded that the order got sort of messed up due to starting online and a little operator error in conflating the two processes. So, Julie just added those items into the rest of the things we needed from Publix. Then, using Instacart, went through the same process. They couldn’t promise delivery before Friday, which was fine. No rush. An hour later, she saw that our shopper was texting her and shortly our order was filled and we got a call that he was at our house! So, wow. And Publix only charged $3.99. Of course, we tipped the shopper via the app. Very smooth. We do have to count on the employees to be “clean” but it surely feels safer than going into the store and being around a whole lot more folks.
Healthcare for your pets
A young woman we have known since she was really young now works in a veterinary hospital in North Carolina that is part of a university teaching facility. It has remained open and she’s deemed essential, so she reports to work. The hospital is still maintaining wellness appointments for the animals. I found that kind of weird since all of my doctors have postponed all well visit checkups, and, if you are in need, they are scheduling tele-health visits. FYI, this is one of the things that I believe is long overdue and it will outlast this virus. It’s something that the AMA has actually fought because it doesn’t want to change the practice of medicine paradigm. Maybe more on that later.
Celebrations in the light of Social Distancing
A former colleague of mine at WSB-TV retired today after 42 successful years. As you can imagine, it wasn’t your normal retirement day at the job. Almost everyone is working from home just as she was on this final day.
She cleared out her desk at the station yesterday almost all alone. Her friends in the department decided that they could not let her go with so little fanfare. They came up with a two-pronged approach that honored her and social distancing at the same time. For those who could, they were asked to drive out to where she lived and they would form a line of cars and drive by her home parade-like honking horns. And for those who couldn’t be there in person, they hosted a Zoom meeting. It was a blast. I know there will be a real celebration down the road when we can all hug and kiss and slap on the back and shake hands, but this at least said, we love you, and what a great career!
Inner Peace and an even lighter note
A friend sent this to Julie. It’s a good way to end today’s update.
Heard some advice on the radio last night. It said to have inner peace, that we should always finish things we start, and we all could use more calm in our lives. I looked through my house to find things that I’d started and hadn’t finished, so I finished off a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of Whiskey, a bodle of Baileys, a butle of wum, tha mainder of Valiumun srciptuns, an a box a chocletz. Yu haf no idr how feckin fablus I feel rite now. Sned this to all who need inner piss. An telum u luvum. And two al bee hapee wilst in de instalation.
As my mother loves to say, quoting an old and long departed friend, “That just shickles the tits out of me.” I think I quoted that correctly. I’ll have to call Mom and get her to verify. That will tickle the shit out of her.
Anyway, Stay healthy. Stay informed. Stay out of the parks!
Saturday, March 28, 2020
Life moments we are missing
The safety efforts of shelter in place and restricting travel has affected us all, but in many it is taking away opportunities of a lifetime from being with your family on life moments like the birth of a baby, the death of a loved one, and just some of the natural moments our children experience growing up. Here are a few stories within my circle.
Congratulations!! As of late last night, my baby sister became a first-time grandmother! Her son and daughter-in-law live in a fairly remote spot in East Washington State north of Spokane. But for the coronavirus, my sister would shortly be on her way to join them as they brought their baby girl home. That is not going to happen as planned and no one knows when it will be safe for her visit. It’s one of the heartaches and sacrifices many are experiencing.
A few weeks ago, my cousin’s husband fell and broke his hip requiring a quick scheduling of hip replacement surgery. The Friday before his Monday surgery the Virginia hospital went on lockdown, blocking my cousin from going into the hospital as her husband’s health advocate.
When he had surgery on Monday she was allowed to wait in the surgical waiting area and see him as they rolled him out of recovery and before they took him on the elevator. To say that was stressful is an understatement.
His discharge on Wednesday took place in the parking lot. We are so glad that he is at home, in no pain and has begun in-home PT. This will be a 12 week recovery.
A dear former colleague’s oldest child is now a senior and soon to graduate from high school. I visited my colleague and her husband in the hospital 18 years ago and held their newborn daughter in my arms. Now, what would have been a very happy and naturally bittersweet time for her daughter, turned sad and empty as she and her class missed their prom, spring break and, most likely, graduation. It’s an emptiness by which this graduating class of 2020 will always identify, the Coronavirus Class.
And this from another special cousin who is a nurse practitioner, on the front lines in Arizona.
Arizona is having more cases a day. Yesterday evening about 500, this evening over 600. One person, age 60, and with diabetes, died 6 days after getting sick. Delayed diagnosis even though she and ther doctor acted pretty quickly. As you know, I am an NP working in a clinic. We are doing patient phone calls only for those scheduled to visit. Thursday staff started bleaching both buildings. Only two people in my building today.
If I go anywhere, I wear one of the safe masks and gloves and use hand sanitizer and wash my hands so much they might fall off one of these days.
The family of the woman who just died said, “Tell your loved ones you love them often. We never had a chance to say goodbye.”
A couple of parting notes:
Our trash company alerted us to the fact that they are seeing a steep rise in the amount of trash they are picking up, making their trucks fill up sooner and require more runs to the dump. This is most likely due to the fact people are staying home thereby generating more in-home trash. They asked that we not put out large items that require special pickup until things return to normal as they don’t have the time or staff.
In California, Gig workers for Instacart, the grocery delivery app, are planning to strike protesting the company’s lack of worker protection measures during COVID-19. It has not provided protective measures like hand sanitizer and disinfectants to its workers.
Stay healthy. Stay informed. Find more time for you, after all, you’ve now got the time. And, if you like a good drink, try a Quarantini.
March 27, 2020
Gettin’ By, Living it Day to Day
For some reason, this piece of lyric from an old Jerry Jeff Walker song keeps rolling through my head. I guess it suggests some feeling that we’re all going through. And although the song is lighthearted, in direct opposition to what is going on in our world, it serves some purpose of thought for me. And I would say, I’m not alone. We are all looking for how we get by and through an unprecedented moment in time in our lives, in our country and in the world. You have to look back to WWII and 9/11 for events the effect of which engaged the globe. For many people, the fight is on the front lines of healthcare. From EMTs, to physicians and nurses, hospital staffers to police officers, fire fighters, national guard members, city, county and state public servants, their jobs put them in harm’s way as they fight this disease. They are working tirelessly to care for patients, making and overseeing public health policy and enforcement. For them, this isn’t a matter of how to stay entertained because I’m quarantined. For them it’s a matter of life and death. It’s the question of how I care for and treat this person who may or may not be infected by the disease, while not getting sick myself.
For those of us who are not required or not trained to be on the front lines of this pandemic, we all need to remember there are those who are. The odds have it that you have multiple people in your family and circle of friends who are. That’s what I’m learning as I’ve spoken with you and heard from you since I started writing this tiny little blog.
Rekindling “Life of Riley” was a goal of mine as soon as I retired in 2019. Apparently I was too busy in retirement and the day’s passed so fast that I couldn’t sit down and write anything. The fallout of Coronavirus gave me the kick in the butt and the time to get at it. I thought that just sharing experiences that add personal context to this crisis through the lens of others might be worthwhile.
So, how are you getting by? How are you keeping your connections with close personal friends and family? Protecting your and your family’s health? Exercising? Entertaining your mind to relax from the angst of the isolation and worry over the virus?
Keeping in touch with friends and family relieves some of the feeling of isolation and thank goodness for the internet. Virtual certainly doesn’t replace a hug or a handshake but imagine this scenario taking place in the 1980s when the interweb didn’t exist. What feels like living under a cloud today would have felt like almost total darkness.
We used Zoom to hold a family gathering. It worked great except that the free version clips you off at 40 minutes. And we experienced that twice! That’s how much we had to share. It’s a solid presentation in which you can see everyone’s video image on the screen together. And the cut off is little more than an annoyance.
For many, the opportunity to work from home seemed like a dream come true, but it takes some getting used to, especially when EVERYONE in the family is at home. It’s like summertime except there is almost no where the kids can go to play, and certainly, they cannot play with others outside of their brothers and sisters. So, that’s a pile on of stressors that increases the claustrophobia, tightens the nerves and adds to the angst.
TV, the newspaper and my feeds are loading up on “top ten things you can do in quarantine” to help you get by. I’m sure that you’re getting bombarded as well.
Many are pulling out their old board games, or, if you’re like our kids, ordering some new ones…and there are a passel of games available out there. One that came out a few years ago is even called “Pandemic.” It’s one of the few games in which the players work together rather than compete with one another. Players team up to strategize their moves in order to stem and conquer a worldwide pandemic. I looked it up just now and discovered Steam, a website on which you can actually play board games online, including Pandemic. Obviously I haven’t tried the website yet but maybe you gamers out there will give it a go and let us know.
Julie and I turned to one of the oldest games on record, Backgammon. It dates back over 5,000 years to Mesopotamia! We found our board, blew off the dust, reread how to play…yes, it has been that long that just setting up the checkers correctly took some help…and played a game. I’m hopeful that we’ll keep playing. Back in our early dating days in Charlotte, Backgammon became the thing. Bars hosted Backgammon tournaments and always had the game on hand to accompany the beer drinking. I had a Backgammon party at my apartment with about ten boards set up inside and outside. It was packed and everybody played. There’s more to that story but it’s about a boy and girl sharing their first kiss after the last party guest left. But that’s for another time.
Now that the gyms are closed, if you’re looking for an exercise app let me suggest one I’ve used for over five years. It’s called BodyWeight. It has great warmups, plans, exercises and stretching cool downs. The app does cost $5 but hey, you are worth it. There are tons more out there and I see exercise and yoga trainers offering free sessions because of the virus.
And, I’ll finish today’s captain’s log with this thought on toilet paper. Yes, toilet paper. My local Publix said that when a shipment arrived that morning they didn’t even bother to stock it on the shelf. It vanished from the pallet in minutes. Now, without getting too personal, I would wager that you don’t really think about how many squares you routinely use during those personal moments, but I will bet you that you use more TP than necessary. That said, if you can cut the number of squares by half you will automatically double the amount of TP needed in your current inventory. This also cuts the amount of paper waste added to the sewers. Just saying. So, do something good for the environment and cut your stress in half. You’ll find it’s quite a relief.
Have a great day.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
What I’m hearing from family and friends
I’m not mentioning names to protect the innocent and I hope that you don’t mind that I share your story while maintaining your anonymity. I think it will help all to know the various experiences others are going through “on the ground” and in some cases, at “ground zero.”
“Shelter in Place” is forcing uniform cancellation of everything from the Summer Olympics to our dream vacations planned during this uncertain time.
Doctors are cancelling regularly scheduled appointments and turning their attention to treating only sick patients stricken by coronavirus and everything else. And the doctors that I know are justifiably concerned about their safety and that of their family. Their hospitals are facing critical shortages of the now famous PPEs as well as test kits and ventilators. Most are teleworking, seeing their patients online. Some who work in hospitals have been told that they may be called in to work in the hospital. If they are called, they will not be allowed to return home for the foreseeable future. They will live in dorm rooms near the hospital.
One contact of mine with military friends from his service days said that the military is working from home. Another told me that his son serves our country on a military base which has multiple confirmed cases of coronavirus. So far, his son has been unimpressed with the policies put in place to protect the rest of soldiers from infection and is resigned to becoming infected.
On the work front I hear from those young enough to still be working that WFH, Work From Home, is getting more than a test drive. And I believe that businesses are learning more about their capabilities in that regard than they had explored before, hanging on to the physical control of having people in the building. They’re meeting using different group video chat software like Zoom and instant messaging software like Slack to keep the work flow flowing.
Former colleagues of mine at Channel 2 are all mostly working from home. The station IT folks set up laptops geared to access to the inhouse systems from the Newsroom to Sales to Traffic. One individual said that 95% of the newsroom was working outside of the building. That’s amazing. Here to for, only the reporters and photographers regularly worked outside of the building. All of the producers, writers and managers were on the floor, sitting side by side within sight and ear-shot so they could pass along information to each other as rapidly as possible. WFH will be a gamechanger lasting well beyond the current public health crisis.
On the other hand, I know business owners who now have almost zero business going on and they are very worried. Yes, they and their employees can work from home, but what do they do if they have nothing to work on because all of their clients have frozen their account. Particularly hard hit in my circle are folks in marketing and public relations. Although it is a critical time in the need for companies to communicate with their clients and their employees, they are withdrawing to save money and hopefully save their business and save the jobs of their employees.
And, then, there’s my mother. At 96 she’s certainly in that age window of vulnerability. Her retirement center has closed down any and everything that brings people together, starting with meals in the large dining hall.
The management is delivering two meals a day to its over five hundred people living there. It’s a combination of independent living in duplex style homes and apartments to assisted living setups and a care facility. Closed are the onsite clinic (they will go to the resident’s home), the exercise and swim centers, the gift and beauty shop, the library, and even the puzzle and card tables. No outside visitors are allowed in. And there hasn’t been a case of coronavirus in the village.
Mom is a very social person and I know she’s more lonely due to this, but they went through this exercise during the Norovirus in 2010. They have sea legs.
An old friend of mine was running a checkout counter at a store when a customer sneezed all over him. He quit his job on the spot, hung up his apron, washed his hands and face and went home.
I share these stories with you knowing that it’s not the inside scoop of the news day. It does bring it home for me and hopefully, you. I’m sure that you have your own experiences. Share them with me and you’re sharing with others.
My best wishes to all. Now, go wash your hands!
March 24, 2020
Grocery Shopping during the Virus
On Monday Julie and I saw that Publix was opening one hour earlier on Tuesdays and Thursdays just to serve seniors.
Being “seniors,” we decided to take advantage of this opportunity. Maybe there will be more available since the store would have restocked overnight and we were being given first dibs. When we shopped last week we found very little fresh fruit and vegetables available. No chicken and very little beef. Certainly, there was no toilet paper either.
So, we got up at six this morning, an anomaly since we retired, enjoyed a quick yogurt and fruit breakfast, and drove the few miles to Publix at Piedmont Commons. As we were heading over I mentioned to Julie that I wondered what the turnout would be. I could imagine it actually being greater than the midday crowd because it was so specific to seniors. Turning into the parking lot at 7:15 told the story; The lot was full-on Saturday mid-morning packed!
Thankfully, the Publix team was out in force and ready to assist. Many manager-types were running the checkout and bagging groceries. An employee welcomed us in the entryway and pointed us to shopping carts he’d already wiped down with disinfectant so they were ready to go. The model of efficiency.
Julie and I split up. She headed to the right of the store for meats and I made a beeline to the paper products aisle. I found that the shelves were totally barren. No TP, napkins or paper towels. I asked an employee and he said they received a new shipment yesterday and they flew off the shelf as fast as they could stock them.
I found Julie in the meat section but there was absolutely no fresh chicken on the shelves.
After that disappointment, we were very thrilled to see that most everything else was in stock including in the fruit and vegetable section.
I must add that maintaining social distancing was impossible due to the size of the crowd, narrow aisles and checkout lines.
Many folks wore masks and gloves but most didn’t. It was a friendly and normal shopping mentality, not mob like in any way. Just crowded. People were civil and patient. And very, very senior.
As we checked out I asked the manager bagging our groceries if they were surprised that the “pre-open” strategy for seniors actually had the wrong effect: bringing in more people than normal in a smaller window. He said that they were. I’ll be curious to see if they revise the practice.
I also asked him if Publix had given direction on whether or not to ask customers not bring their own bags because they could be contaminated and then contaminate the bagging area and the person bagging. He said that management had discussed that and decided to let the customer decide.
Bottom line – I’ll probably scout the store later in the day and compare the size of the crowd and the availability of food before attending another senior moment.
I do want to thank the Publix employees, all of whom are working extra hard to serve while protecting us and themselves. We were happy to see most items available.