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In limbo

As people who have spent most of our adult and professional lives planning and preparing for contingencies and who applied this process to our post-professional lives as travelers and bloggers, COVID in a word sucks. It sucks for a whole bunch of reasons: death and sickness, social isolation, the massive job loss and recession and the total unknown. Will there be a second, third and/or fourth wave? (The answer to the second does appear to be yes). Will and how soon will there be a vaccine, and an effective one at that? If we get it, will it be a mild case or the severe, hospitalized form?

Thus far, we are personally fortunate. If we did get it, which was possible since we were in the first hotspot in Colorado as it broke out here, it was mild. We don’t know anyone, personally, who has had a bad case of the disease.

The hardest part of this whole thing for us personally is the utter uncertainty. We feel in total limbo. Can we go back to Europe or not? Is it safe? Will we be able to do anything there (restaurants, sites and museums) if we go? Will we need to self quarantine for two weeks if we cross a European border? What if wave two or three happens while we are there? Would our Portuguese health insurance cover us? Could we get back to the US? Would we want to? There’s just too much to worry about (yes, we are worriers, which made us good at our jobs) so we don’t. We don’t think about any of it.

But now, as cases seem to rise in parts of the US we are contemplating options. Could we travel in less populated regions of America? Could we go to Portugal and return before flu season? Or do we just stay put? The travel bloggers we follow all seem to be opting for the last option, at least for now. Vamos ver.

In the meantime, since we can’t travel, we will just sit in the mountains and enjoy the hummingbirds.

World Gone Wild

So what do travel bloggers write about when you can’t really travel places or go see things around the world?

Well, you could write about the cruelty of a pandemic that kills indiscriminately but mostly takes out the elderly and compromised.

Or you could write about how bandanna and mask wearing in the public interest for health’s sake has become some kind of nutty political commentary about freedom.

Or, I suppose one could write about the economic devastation which has been heaped upon so many as evidenced by unemployment claims and miles long food bank traffic queues.

And I guess now one could write about peacefully executed protests and rioting and looting engineered by opportunists and extremists on both sides against a heinous and cowardly crime committed by one supposedly sworn to protect and serve.

Dear 2020 and dear God. Enough already. It’s time for more sense of community, more solidarity, and more kindness, compassion and caring and less inflammatory divisiveness from our leaders and talking heads.

The post COVID kids

My work life was divided, simplistically, into pre-9/11 and post-9/11. Pre-9/11, airport “security” was not super secure. Shoes remained on, belts too. Heck, you could carry on all the shampoo you wanted, no clear plastic baggies needed here. You didn’t even need to show an ID when traveling within the US. You could accompany anyone right up to the gate. There was no secondary screening, no bomb sniffing dogs. Obviously, that all changed on that terrible day. And we got used to it.

My nieces and nephews have never lived (alright, technically my nephew lived for four months) pre-9/11. Their reality of the airport is only post. Which brings me to my main thought…

Will post COVID introduce permanent changes to the way we do things? Will we see masks in the US and Europe as prevalently as you do in some Asian cities? Will people start to vaccinate their kids again to stop the spread of previously nearly eradicated diseases? Will restaurants and bars need to redeploy seating charts and municipalities reconsider occupancy limits? Will major music festivals and concerts and sporting events change? Is the handshake a thing of bygone days?

Today, it’s hard to know. What lays in store for society, for travel, for our future? Will children born in 2020 ever know the same loose society we knew just in 2019? I guess this all depends on the effectiveness of therapeutics and vaccines. Time will tell. I guess we’ll just need to wait and see.

Watching the Clock

By Melissa.
My watch broke right before all the craziness started to happen and when I could get to the mall to have it repaired going to the mall no longer seemed like such a good idea.  Those who know me well know I’m pretty obsessed with time.  I’m irritated when a meeting starts one minute late or runs two minutes long.  I pride myself on time management, it has been key to success in my professional life.

I will admit that I looked forward to being less time obsessed, but even when we spent two months setting up shop in Portugal I always had an eye on the clock.  There were still many things to do in a day, they were just different things than I did in a workday and I needed to stay organized and thoughtful of time management in order to get it all done. 

There are many things that have challenged all of us during this crazy pandemic but, for me, one of the biggest shifts I’ve needed to make is how I perceive time.  We still keep busy, but there is a limit to our productivity.  We read, work on hobbies and projects, do some work.  We tried to discuss changes to our trip planning but stopped.  There were just too many unknowns.  I’m trying to tell myself to take advantage of the opportunity to do less.  For the most part, I’m successful.  I have my moments when I am saddened by the gigantic wrench in a carefully planned dream but they are actually very seldom. 

When I think about how this pandemic has impacted our lives, I’m mostly thankful.  I’m thankful first and foremost that, at least as I write this, my family and friends have been spared.  I am so thankful for and proud of my friends and colleagues battling this virus, risking their lives every day, trying their best to manipulate supply chains to get needed resources, quarterbacking staff to keep everyone safe and save lives.   I’m also thankful for the opportunity to reconnect with friends.  We all have a little more time on our hands and are using it to say hi, check -in and send love. 

Despite my obsession with time management, finding the time to keep connected has always been a weakness.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to do better.  So, for now, we’re hunkered and, like everyone else, praying to all the gods that those who we care about stay safe.  We have no idea when our great adventure will begin but, for now, I’m learning to live life not on the clock.  Who knows, maybe after this is all over, I’ll continue to forgo the watch and desire to check it constantly.  Nah.

Surreal Spring

Spring is usually a time we really enjoy. Evenings get longer, snow yields to flowers and budding trees. Birds chirp a little more joyously. People resume life more outdoors: exercising, cleaning up winter’s leavings, walking and gathering outside.

For obvious reasons, this spring is surreal.

Sure, the days are stretching longer, the sun is getting warmer and – at least as of now – we are still allowed outside (not a sentence I’d ever thought I’d murmur, let alone write). But, gather we do not. Its hard to think of something to really celebrate right now. We try from our shelter-at-home seclusion, but its odd.

We don’t do much. We do have routine which includes jockeying for grocery delivery time slots, a delivery of which is somewhat abruptly followed by a subsequent grocery order to try to backfill and supplement with all of the things we ordered in the last delivery which did not come. Sometimes we get half of our order, sometimes less and occasionally we get nearly everything. It also includes a survey of what household supplies we have (I.e. dishsoap, handsoap, detergent and the much celebrated currency of our day – TP) and what we may need in a few weeks so we can hit up amazon for a delivery before we run low or out. The above takes a couple of hours for a couple of days per week.

We exercise daily and are fortunate enough to still have and are able to get fresh food. We read. We practice Portuguese and take our twice-weekly lessons via Skype. We do a little bit of work to keep some income flowing.

We’ve seen most of the 2020 Oscar nominated and winning movies we want to see. Sorry Academy, but we just don’t get Parasite. I liked it, but was alone in this household but even for me: best picture? Was this some prescient nod to “it could always be worse” we’re supposed to harken back to while quarantined? We watch just about every live performance from various musicians’ and comedians’ living rooms and we cap it all off with a little Schitt’s Creek which makes us forget the horrible news we see of rising case and death counts and falling equity values over the course of the rest of each day, if only for 20 minutes at a time.

I continue to write posts because I personally want to be able to look back and compare this surreal spring to next, which with any luck will be more like the last. So, cheers to Spring may you do your part to help lay waste to this nasty virus.

COVID-19: Not a “new normal”

There’s one expression we despise more than most. That’s right, you guessed it: it’s “the new normal.” We despised the expression even before people started referring to the current situation as a “new normal”.

As a realistic optimist, I refuse to accept this as a “new normal”. This will pass. There has been and will continue to be death, economic hardship and pain but it will pass. Most will rebound. It will take time and it won’t be over by Easter, but we shall overcome. The world shall overcome.

As we sit in our first week of state-imposed quarantine (our third of self-imposed quarantine, based on our recent time in the Vail Valley) and we watch the death toll and illness count rise and the stock market fall we take stock in what we do have. We are well stocked, but not obnoxiously so. We have, for the time being anyway and hopefully for the foreseeable future, our health. We have each other. We have family and friends. We’ve taken this opportunity of slower paces (for many, though not for our colleagues in healthcare) to reconnect with friends and family we’ve not spoken with for some time and those we have, albeit virtually via Facetime, WhatsApp, phone, text etc. We set aside at least an hour per day to exercise. We have used the heck out of amazon.com and grocery delivery. We try not to obsess over the news while we wait for the spread to crest and the healthcare system and pharmaceutical companies to catch up. We’ve been sharing a YouTube performance we find and like with family and Facebook friends (not sure if they like it or not, but its something) each day. We read and practice our Portuguese for our eventual return to Europe.

We wish we could do more. Our parents and/or grandparents served time in world wars. They rationed, scrimped, sacrificed and went overseas to fight. We are being asked to stay home and stop hoarding. It seems reasonable and not too difficult. We are heartened by the fact that while there are those who whine about their personal inconveniences or acted selfishly on the beaches of the Florida coast, the vast and overwhelming majority of people are staying put, staying safe and keeping the needs and health of those who are at higher risk than themselves and the healthcare workers who will pull us out of this crisis with heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears above their own personal needs by doing so.

These are scary times but things will return to a normal. Treatments will be found. Vaccines will be made available. The healthcare system will catch up and the economy will recover. Maybe the normal we’ll find at the end of this terrible ordeal will not be identical to the one a short few months ago, but it will be a semblance of normality. A new normal this current time is not.

Be safe, be well, stay home.

Unprecedented times

We are in unprecedented territory.

Stores closed, concerts canceled, Broadway and Disney World closed, museums closed, schools closed, people shifting to working at home. Basketball and hockey season suspended, March Madness canceled, major league baseball season postponed, the Master’s Golf Tournament and Boston Marathon delayed until fall.

Sure there’s some irrational panic like the run on toilet paper and hand sanitizer (soap and water works just as well for the latter, unless you’ve got a bidet I’ve got no solution for the former). I feel for the hourly employees at restaurants, bars, stores etc. but hopefully the unusual (in this current era) bipartisan partnership in Washington on unemployment insurance and sick leave, etc. will help with this.

What’s most unprecedented, though, are the things we are seeing individuals, corporations, local governments doing to do the right thing. Its heartwarming. These people are patriots and you know what, I guess its not that unprecedented. People step up. It might take a crisis to see it, but they do. From Mark Cuban pledging to cover the pay for all of his hourly employees for the Dallas Mavericks (inspiring others to do the same, including New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson followed by other NBA players) to the Rebeca Mehra in Bend Oregon who bought groceries for an elderly couple too scared to go into the Safeway, we are stepping up.

Sure, there are still examples of people who aren’t taking responsibility to keep others safe like the idiot who got on a Jet Blue plane this week after getting tested and before his test result was in or the bonehead in St. Louis who took his daughter to a father-daughter dance last weekend after being told to remain in self-quarantine. Or the scammers trying to profit from the hysteria or fake cures. Lock ’em all up with Harvey Weinstein.

Despite these rare stories making headlines and in these difficult times on the psyche and the 401K, people across the globe are stepping up, doing the right thing and being good corporate and global citizens. Let’s keep this ball rolling, at least until we can all feel safe about drinking corona beer again :-).

Live Your Life (and sanitize)

In a week where the US government’s continued botching of and mis-messaging of the coronavirus outbreaks, we’ve been comforted by a few things.

1. We’ve each had visits with our doctor, who was quite reassuring.

2. We watched interviews on CBS News with several patients who have had the virus to varying degrees of severity.

3. Life is continuing to go on, and we are most likely at low risk of contracting a serious case of this virus, if we do contract it at all.

Are we taking precautions? Yes. We canceled a trip to California to see family as it was “non-essential”. Are our hands dry enough to substitute for a nice piece of fine sandpaper? Also yes. Did we stock up on supplies, “just in case”. A third yes. But, we did go to a concert. We have been out to eat many times and we continue to get together with friends and go out in public, at least until one of us gets sick.

While we are of the opinion that more should be done to prevent community spread in the US, we also are doing what we can individually, which is all the CDC is really telling people to do, disappointingly. So, take it from these world travelers, we can really get behind some of these little recommended individual responsibilities:

1. Wash your hands. Not just now. Always. You will help out your fellow man or woman to wash them frequently, with soap and warm water and for 20 seconds. Let’s keep this ball rolling even after this outbreak of the new coronavirus is in the rear view and there are treatments and vaccines for it.

2. Is handshaking really necessary? Probably not. A fist or elbow bump or a quick fluidswappingless hug could probably suffice. Undoubtedly, the handshake will be back and when it does return, repeat #1.

3. If you’re sick, stay home. You’re not that important. You don’t need to be on that flight. You don’t need to be in that meeting. While I feel for those who work jobs which aren’t salaried putting others – particularly those at high risk – at risk is just plain selfish. Call in. You’re not a hero if you give the flu or noro virus or corona virus or the next thing to half of the office, half of the class, half of your fellow passengers on the plane or half of the fill-in-the-blank group. And if you’re that important, which quite possibly some of you really are, phone in instead.

4. Bathroom etiquette. As a 30 year business traveler, I’m about to get on a soapbox which is only mildly related to the current issue. That is, you don’t need to be on, answer or dial the phone while you’re in the john. No-one in that airport, auditorium or restaurant bathroom wants to hear you talking while they’re doing their business and the person on the other end of the line absolutely doesn’t want to hear the flushing which outs you as the disgusting pig you are. Save it for the second you leave the can. Everyone will be thankful.

5. Wash your hands. When you leave the aforementioned bathroom, wash your hands. A quick rinse under cold water without soap doesn’t count. Use soap and warm or hot water and really scrub ’em. The door handle and person who turns it after you will thank you.

As we prepare to keep our spring and summer travel plans in tact, barring any really scary developments or travel restrictions, all of the above should help us all keep things from getting there. You owe it to your fellow citizens who are seriously at risk: the elderly, those with compromised immunities or chronic conditions. You also owe it to your healthy neighbors to prevent the spread. No-one wants this thing, no matter how mild the symptoms. Do your part.

Off soapbox, for now.

Irrational Fear?

As a career-long project manager, my motto always was control what you can and mitigate the risk of what you can’t. After planning our long and winding road trip for the past seven or so years and after booking much of our planned summer travel already, risk and uncertainty and yes, fear, seems to be prevailing.

Sure, more than 80% of cases are mild. Sure, the fatality rate is only 2% (4 times that of the flu). Our government is not putting any restrictions on travel and are telling us all to go on and live our lives like normal but to prepare for “extreme disruption” to our daily lives.

Ok, we don’t want to be alarmist, but “extreme disruption to daily life”? Isn’t there something we should systematically be doing besides washing our hands, stocking up on hand sanitizer and wet wipes. Concern (for us anyway) is prevailing because of the seemingly complete unpreparedness of and mixed messages from the authorities (the WHO, HHS, CDC, FDA, TSA, Homeland Security, the President himself) is not even whatsoever reassuring (a media hoax? seriously?). I mean, leave people on a cruise ship for weeks? Everyone who has been on a cruise knows that they are Petri dishes for disease under normal situations. People coming back from so called “hot zones” like South Korea and Venice, Italy aren’t even being screened or quarantined and just returning back into society? Create a bottleneck where the CDC has to approve every test, why not deploy the functioning test kits to labs (who test for every other virus) weeks ago? These are common sense things. And let’s be honest, our people generally aren’t very good at putting the welfare of others before themselves. Having spent our careers in healthcare, we’ve spoken with actual doctors about our plans and they are discouraging travel in the near future and the spread seems nearly certain based on the complete lack of competence or coordination and proactiveness in containing this virus.

With any luck this tide will start to turn soon and hopefully this concern is all misplaced. I’d love it to be just a “hoax”. In the meantime, we hunker down (albeit in the Colorado mountains, so it could be worse) and wash our hands. What else can we do?

Politicians and world governments, please get your act together and work together. Your countries, people and world are relying upon you.