Although we have sub-freezing weather every year, the state I live in is not well prepared for winter precipitation. E.g. I think we have about a tablespoon of salt to put down for the whole state’s icy roads. Every once in a while, when a big winter weather event is in the forecast, everybody will scurry out to buy bread and milk and be ready to stay home for a few days, or maybe even a week or two. I’m a bit of a hermit and don’t mind staying home — in fact I prefer it — but I don’t like feeling as if I might be stuck at home with no way to get the things I might need. About a week’s worth of isolation from the grocery store is enough for me.
A week ago, I went out and bought about a week’s worth of food. Truthfully, I bought a little more than that — an extra jar of spaghetti sauce, some extra noodles, a ham that’d last several meals and veggies for turning it into a soup. The store was out of toilet paper, flour, and rice. I had no intent to panic buy, but having the little extra safety net of a reasonable supply of the staples seemed rational. I told my wife that if things got bad enough that we’d have trouble surviving week to week, we were screwed in the longer term anyway (being basically helpless consumers in general), so there wasn’t much point in buying for the longer term and contributing to the panic.
It had never occurred to me that events would occur in my life that would make me worry a little about basic survival. And I’m not worried, really. Or not so much. I don’t think I am, at least. Not yet. But what if this is after all the beginning of an unraveling of civilization into a future that looks rather like something out of The Road? Is it hysteria to wonder? Maybe. I hope so. Surely it is.
Even so, I do feel like the current moment is a remarkable moment in history, precisely because what is happening is actually happening, because somehow we’ve landed in a position in which what is happening can possibly happen. It’s almost unfathomable to me.
But here we are. Maybe it’ll pass. I occasionally see headlines about things like scientists using supercomputers to find things that will mitigate COVID-19, and in those moments, I think, “Aha, here is the deux ex machina. This is how the movie ends. We’re going to be ok.” Because of course we’re going to be ok. That’s how it works for privileged people like me in privileged nations. But then the story isn’t quite so positive as the headline. Or I read another about how even if we slow the spread of the disease in the short term, we’re a year or more away from a vaccine that would lead us to actual global safety, and a failure to persist in social distancing in the mean time will simply start the cycle again. It’s a sobering thought. Maybe this isn’t just a snow week with a twist. Maybe this is a new reality. Maybe I should go ahead and plant a garden and learn to create fire.
Things are ok for my family right now. Hopefully they’ll stay that way. I wanted to record a few little snapshots of reality for my future self to look back on (internet and electricity willing). With any luck, I’ll look back on this in a couple of weeks after some miracle cure has fixed everything and realize I was being silly to worry at all, to want to record the state of things. But just in case things do get bad, and as a point of reference if they get bad and then better, here are some observations about my world right now.
Gas is around $2 per gallon right now, maybe a few cents north of that.
I have reliable internet, electricity, and gas, and my heat and air work reliably. Our water runs clear, and our hot water heater works well. Our toilets flush our waste away. We have soap and shampoo and are able to shower daily.
Yesterday was the first day of Spring, and in the morning, I hear loads of birds singing. It has rained most days over the last few weeks (it’s raining now, and thundering now and again), and I’m a little tired of it, but I feel like it’s probably preferable to drought right now, depending on what’s to come.
Knoxville didn’t seem to’ve had much urgency about COVID-19 until maybe today. I went (a little reluctantly) for takeout last night from my son’s favorite restaurant for his birthday, and many of the restaurants I passed had lots of cars in their lots and people dining in, though the general advice world-wide for a couple of weeks now has been that we should minimize such congregating to minimize spread of the virus. Today, the Knoxville mayor issued an order at last to shut down dine-in service for restaurants and bars.
I worry a lot about small businesses, little breweries, game stores, my local donut shop. I worry about the people who work in these places, often people who are making below minimum wage and relying on tips. I worry that my charming little local bookstore will shut down. I’m afraid though to go patronize any of these places, as I don’t want to spread any germs I may have or pick up germs from anybody else. I worry that in the coming weeks and months, so many places will shut down and that so many lives of people living close to the bone will become even more desperate. I’m tipping well when I have occasion, and I keep trying to think of cockamamie ideas I might suggest to small business owners I know, to help them through this time, though it’s really a little silly of me, if well-intended.
Grocery stores do still have food, but selection isn’t what it was a month ago. I wonder if we’ll go out one day to find the stores broken into and looted by people with no other realistic choice. I realize this sounds a little dramatic and that I may look back soon and chuckle at my naivete (I really hope I do).
The government is appalling. Partisanship aside, it seems very clear to me that those who are supposed to protect the interests of the citizenry are aggressively failing to do so.
It’s hard to know what to believe about the world. This isn’t brand new, but it seems worse to me over the last year or two.
This week was Spring break, so the kids were going to be home from school anyway, but school is as of now on hold until April 6. Some teachers are trying to gather material students can work on online. Universities have moved to an online format in a hurry. I’m very skeptical that school will resume for this school year, and I’m a little paralyzed about what to do about it. Should I figure out how to homeschool? That feels like a big responsibility. My kids are bright; should I just figure they’ll be ok and can just pick things back up whenever school resumes?
I do not fear for the physical safety of my family. We have shelter, transportation, and food for the reasonable short-term.
My family is healthy on the whole. There’ve been some cold symptoms in the house, but nothing symptomatic of COVID-19, no fevers, no respiratory distress. My daughter has asthma, so I worry about what may come, but for now, we have medicine and she’s fine. We’re all fine. We eat too much junk food, I’ll grant.
Life is 99% normal for me, with no significant changes from our routines over the last few years other than the dismissal of school. We read, play games, talk, listen to music, do laundry, make messes, vacuum, feed the pets, quarrel from time to time, and everything else that’s been usual for us of late.
I’ve worked from home for years and continue to be able to do so. I’m able to keep in contact with people via the internet and my phone, though being not especially social on the whole, I don’t do so as frequently as I probably ought to.
There’s plenty more to say, but this is a snapshot and not a photo album, so I’ll stop there, as this is feeling a little tedious and maybe silly already.