Reopening . . . One Step At A Time (Cont.)

Ohio continued on its deliberate path back to a fully functioning economy over the weekend.  Restaurants and bars were permitted to begin serving patrons at their outdoor areas on Friday, and this week indoor service can begin — with appropriate social distancing.  

Fortunately for the restaurants and bars that wanted to get back to business, the weather cooperated for the most part, with some warm weather and only a few thunderstorms rolling through.  I walked to downtown Columbus over the weekend and passed several venues where people were enjoying the chance to get out.  Yesterday Kish and I walked past another popular spot, Lindey’s patio, where you could hear the happy babble of chatting people, just like old times.  

There were news reports of some Short North bars that had seemingly overcrowded outdoor areas, but I didn’t see anything like that.  What I saw, instead, were businesses that wanted to get going again, and customers who wanted that, too.  People seemed to be respecting the social distancing rules for the most part — both at the restaurants and otherwise.  But there is no doubt that things are loosening up.  Soon we’ll start to get some statistics that will allow us to assess the impact.

Demise Of The Inner Long-Haired Kid

My last haircut was on February 24. The calendar tells me that means I’ve had a three-month, state-enforced hiatus from barbering. Even with three months of unimpeded hair growth, though, my hair now is still much, much shorter than it was in high school or college — which tells you something about how short I have been getting it cut these days, and how long it used to be during the ‘70s.

It makes me wonder about my teenage self, and how in the world that person could possibly have put up with long hair. I’ve discovered I really don’t like the feeling of hair brushing against my ears, or on the back of my neck. In fact, right now my whole head feels like I’m wearing a kind of clammy coonskin cap. It’s not a pleasant feeling — but I don’t remember having those kinds of reactions during my my shaggy early years. In fact, I’m pretty sure the opposite is true.

And now I think longer hair is a pain for other reasons. I’ve had to break out my comb again to part it and try to arrange it on my head. You can’t just towel it dry — and I’m not going to start using a blow dryer, either. This reality makes me think that I spent a lot more time in front of the mirror in those days, fiddling around with things I just don’t have the patience or inclination to do these days.  Back then I obviously had a lot more time on my hands than I do now. 

I get my hair cut on Tuesday, and I’m looking forward to it, masks and all. In fact, this whole experience makes me wonder how much my current self and my 20-year-old self would really have in common — beyond liking the same music and reruns of Star Trek.

Passing The Smell Test

You may have referred to the “smell test” before.  I know I have.  If something seems fishy or sketchy, I’m likely to remark that it just doesn’t pass the “smell test.”  I presume that the phrase, in its original usage, referred to assessing whether food was fresh or not.  If you detected a smell from the meat at the open-air market in your village, for example, it failed the freshness “smell test” and was best left unpurchased.

Little did I know, when I casually used that phrase in the past, that one day I would live through a global pandemic where a “smell test” would be relevant — and the test would be applied to me, besides.

How do you know if you’ve contracted coronavirus?  The CDC website lists a bunch of potential symptoms, like a cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, and “muscle pain.”  Some of these are pretty ambiguous.  How do you know if that random cough is sufficiently “dry” to be a potential sign of COVID-19, or whether it is just the kind of cough that strikes every spring because your sinuses are reacting to your seasonal allergies?  Is that coronavirus “muscle pain,” or just the creaking bones and joints of somebody in their 60s?  And don’t even bring up weird new symptoms like “COVID toes,” because I don’t want to examine my feet under any circumstances, anyway. 

But there’s one symptom on the CDC website — “new loss of taste or smell” — that seems like a pretty easy test to self-administer.  So every morning as I take my walk I unfailingly take deep whiffs of the air and try to detect the odors on the breeze.  I enjoy the scents of the flowers, but I also feel a sense of reassurance.  If I can appreciate that lovely lilac fragrance, I figure I’m probably okay. 

Public Exercisers

We’re witnessing a new phenomenon on our walks around Schiller Park these days:  the invasion of the public exerciser.

sumo-squatI’m not talking about joggers, or walkers, or even those comically determined power walkers.  I’m talking about people who have suddenly begun to use the park as their own special fitness facility.  They brace themselves on the park benches to do stiff-backed push-ups and extravagant leg lifts.  They lie down on the asphalt of the basketball court and make cycling motions with their legs, then stand up and perform a kind of fitful twisting dance down the length of the court.  They do a lot of squatting, display butt cracks, and duck walk around.  They wave their arms like helicopter rotors, raise their knees up to chest level, and hop, hop, hop.  They lean against the picnic tables and stretch.  Then they put their hands on the basketball hoop poles and stretch some more.  We’d better hope that they’re not contagious, because they’ve touched pretty much every object and surface in the park aside from the Schiller statue — and they’d probably use that, too, if there wasn’t a fence around it.

These people just came out of the woodwork as the weather finally warmed up.  I recognize that fitness clubs have been closed down for two months, and perhaps that’s where they used to do their preening.  But what I find interesting is that they do all of these highly visible — and probably consciously visible — exercises in public, when they could be doing every one of them in the privacy of their homes or in the privacy of their backyards.  They’re not trying to be discreet.  It’s pretty clear that they’re desperate for attention — and probably desperate, period.

Who’d have thought our pretty neighborhood park would also serve as an outdoor gymnasium for attention-seeking fitness fans?  It’s harmless, I suppose, but kind of annoying nevertheless.

Ban The Buffet

Several fast food restaurants — including Burger King and Popeyes — have announced that they are shutting down self-serve soda fountain areas as their restaurants are reopening to in-restaurant customer service.  Those areas are seen as potential sources of coronavirus transmission (as well as being wet, sticky, and messy, incidentally).  If customers want to get a refill on a drink, they will need to go to the counter and ask for one rather than refilling their cups themselves.

replace-food-shields-sneeze-guardsI think this is a good step for a lot of reasons, and I hope the reasoning soon expands to encompass other “self-serve” monstrosities — like “salad bars” and buffets.  Risk of infection and disease transmission aside, I’ve never much cared for places where all of the food tends to end up at room temperature and you’re looking at eating something from a chafing dish that somebody else has already picked over.  I have a reflexive aversion to food that needs to be provided with “sneeze-guard” protection.  I also don’t like practices that allow businesses to fob off a share of the work that should be performed by paid employees to their patrons instead.

And let’s face it — buffets and self-serve food don’t exactly bring out the best in people, do they.  If you’ve ever been to a buffet — be it on a cruise ship, at a Las Vegas casino, or a hotel’s breakfast offering — you know that buffets tend to encourage appalling gluttony.  It’s embarrassing to watch, really.  No one ordering breakfast from a menu is going to ask the waitress to bring them three separate dishes, but it’s pretty common to see people surreptitiously going back for multiple helpings of waffles at the hotel “breakfast bar.”

Maybe we’ll be able to get back to the idea that people should actually be seated at restaurants, and served by wait staff.  And who knows?  Maybe getting rid of self-serve options will help our economy recover from the government-ordered shutdowns and encourage the hiring of more employees.  I’d gladly contribute a nickel or dime of added cost for my cheeseburger to accomplish this greater good and make America the land of the buffet-free.

Coronavirus Kids

One of our young friends shared some exciting news with us this week:  she and her husband are expecting their first child in December.  Their happy news makes you wonder whether we should be anticipating a “shutdown surge” of baby births in December, January, and February.

hospitals-remove-nurseries-baby-friendlyIt’s folk wisdom that you look for a baby boom nine months after unusual circumstances, like enforced shutdowns. bring people together, but there apparently isn’t much evidence supporting that notion.  To be sure, there was the famous, extended post-World War II Baby Boom — Kish and I are living evidence of that — spurred by people who had served for years in the armed forces returning home, finding an America that had recovered from the Great Depression, and starting large families.  But most of the other instances where people have looked for evidence substantiating the folk wisdom — be they government shutdowns, or the great New York City blackout of 1965 — have found no great spike in baby births nine months later.

Experts are skeptical that we’re going to see a bunch of coronavirus kids, either.  They reason, quite logically, that an enforced shutdown isn’t going to cause couples living together to change their contraception practices, and in fact the birth rate might decline because the closure of bars, events, and other social gatherings means there won’t be the opportunity for casual encounters that might otherwise lead to births.  In reality, though, no one knows, because we’ve never had an enforced two-and-a-half-month stay-at-home period before.  It will be something to be mindful of nine months from now.  If we do see a surge of births, it will be a nice, upbeat coda to a very difficult time.

And speaking of the experts and difficult times, they’re confident we’ll see a surge in another kind of family-related activity as a result of the shutdown and stay-at-home decrees — divorces.

Reopening . . . One Step At A Time (Cont.)

Today another German Village business opened its doors to walk-in business after the prolonged coronavirus shutdown.  This time, it’s the Hausfrau Haven, a great wine (and beer) shop that has been a German Village mainstay for decades.  The HH had been open for carryout business — which we gladly took advantage of — but now you can walk in to make your wine selections.  As we spring back from the shutdown period, increased access to adult beverages can only be a good thing.

My guess is that the Hausfrau Haven sign is (no pun intended) a sign of things to come in Columbus and Ohio as other businesses open up.  That is, masks will be required, and the requirement will be enforced by the business itself, out of concern for its employees and its other patrons.  I think most people will happily comply with that.

Next up for Ohio and German Village — a restaurant or bar open for foot traffic and in-restaurant dining.  When G. Michael’s and Lindey’s and Ambrose and Eve and the High-Beck open up to dining and drinking patrons, that will seem like a very big deal.

 

Last Of The 30s

It’s obviously stupid and pointless to get mad about the weather, because there’s absolutely nothing that can be done about it.  We’re human, though, and we just can’t help ourselves, can we?

max-min-font-b-vintage-b-font-brass-font-b-thermometer-b-font-multifunctional-humidity-hygrometerI try not to let the weather bother me, and appreciate the crispness of a cold morning.  But when the cold morning is temperatures in the 30s in May, such that people have to put throw rugs and garbage bags and towels over their planters and window boxes to avoid the untimely demise of their flowers due to freezing temperatures, I admit that it does bug me a little.

Today, though, I celebrate.  Today, I will glory in yet another in an interminable series of unseasonably cold, clear spring mornings.  I will bundle up and don my oft-used stocking cap and gloves.  I will walk with head held high, breathe in deep gulps of frigid air, and note, again, how the chill tends to sharpen the smells as I clean up after Betty on our walk.

Because today is the last of the 30s temperature days.  It’s 34 right now, and once the thermometer rises past 40 we won’t see the 30s again for months.  In fact, the weather apps suggest that we’re going to pretty much go straight from November weather to mid-June, with temperatures getting up into the 80s by next week.

We know it’s silly to let the weather get to us, but since it’s part of the human condition, why not embrace that fact?  If you live in the Midwest, join me!  Take this opportunity to celebrate the turn and the final, long-overdue departure of the 30s temperatures.  Let’s give them a really good send-off, bid them a happy adieu, and let them know that we want them to stay away for a long, long time.

Seinfeld — In The Nick Of Time

Last night Kish and I watched the new Jerry Seinfeld special, 23 Hours To Kill, on Netflix.  It was a great way to end a nice Mother’s Day, at a time when just about everyone can use a hearty laugh.

s2In the new special, filmed before the coronavirus consumed New York City, Seinfeld touches upon some familiar Seinfeld topics — such as breakfast foods, how we communicate with each other, and relationships — and some new topics, like how the decade where you are in your 60s is his favorite decade of life so far.  As always, it’s a treat to watch a real comedic pro at work, as he combines facial gestures, careful language choices, coordinated body movements, vocal inflections, and deft timing to wring every ounce of humor out of his observations.  This is a person who obviously has worked very hard at his craft and isn’t resting on his laurels.

And he clearly hasn’t lost his touch, either.  Some of the pieces — like those about the invention of Pop Tarts, and how marriage is different from dating — had me laughing helplessly, while other observational bits about things like why people like to text and why they should change the name of “email” had me smiling, chuckling, and nodding, just as with Seinfeld humor of the past.

The special was filmed at a packed theater before the advent of social distancing, but there is one bit — about why New Yorkers would want to live packed together, rather that in the beautiful surrounding green countryside — that reminded us that we’re in the midst of a pandemic and densely packed Manhattan is once again ground zero.  For the most part, though, it was nice to enjoy something that didn’t focus on COVID-19 and was simply intended to be funny.  The special is well worth a watch — and maybe a rewatch, too.  This Seinfeld special seemed to come in the nick of time, to give a much-needed laugh to a bored, homebound world.

As always, Jerry Seinfeld’s sense of comedic timing is impeccable.

HMD

Some well-wishers left flowers for the statues of the two mothers who inhabit the “Garden of Peace” at St. Mary’s Church in our neighborhood. It’s a nice way to remember Mothers’ Day.

Those of us who have been fortunate to be shaped by great mothers and grandmothers, and to be married to great mothers, can’t really express just how important those women have been in our lives. All we can do is says thanks, enjoy the happy memories, and wish all mothers a happy Mothers’ Day.

My Last Trip To NYC

I flew to New York City on February 19, 2020 on a business trip that would be just like a hundred business trips to Manhattan that I’ve taken before.  My flight arrived at a packed LaGuardia Airport, and I steered my roller bag through concourse traffic, trying to navigate past the slow movers and the gawkers.  I used the bathroom at the terminal, standing shoulder to shoulder with other random travelers needing to answer nature’s call, washed my hands without thinking about whether I was spending 20 seconds on that task, then moved with the flow of travelers down to the baggage claim level and outside the terminal.  

I stood in line at the taxi stand with perhaps 25 other people patiently waiting to get a ride into the City.  I took the cab that was next in line when my turn came, without giving a second thought to who might have sat in the passenger seat before me, or when the cab was last cleaned.  I arrived at my hotel, located about a block from Times Square, and waited in the crowded lobby to check in.  Because it was a nice night and I wanted to get some exercise before dinner, I walked over to Times Square, stood among hundreds of other residents and visitors moving through that NYC landmark, and took this picture of the heroic George M. Cohan statue in the middle of the Square like a true tourist.  I then walked around the area, thinking about how hard it is to take an enjoyable walk in New York City because of the crowded sidewalks.  I even wrote a blog post about it the next day.   

I ate at a random restaurant suggested by the hotel concierge, without thinking about how close the other patrons were, or noticing whether they were sneezing, coughing, or having trouble breathing.  I slept in my hotel room, made coffee the next morning using the coffeemaker in the room, plugged my computer cord and smartphone cord into the outlets, then spent the whole day in a conference room that was full to the brim with about 20 people sitting right next to each other.  We all got coffee from a shared coffee urn and poured cream from a common cream container.  At lunch we got sandwiches and cookies from a common tray.  At the end of the day I took another cab back to the airport, stood in the TSA pre-check line with other passengers breathing in that LaGuardia terminal indoor air, and then navigated through the crush to get to my gate.

I was aware of the coronavirus at that point, but the only time I thought about it during the whole trip was at the gate, when I sat in one of the common seats in the gate area and wondered about the people who had sat in the seat that day, and where they might have been traveling from.  But it was a fleeting thought that passed by, and I then concentrated on checking and answering the emails that had stacked up during the day.  My flight was called, I stood in line to board with my group, and then sat in close proximity to other weary travelers on the 90-minute flight home.  To my knowledge, no one on the flight was wearing a mask.

As I sit and think about what was a pretty routine, uneventful trip to Manhattan only two and a half months ago, it seems like a totally different world.  I don’t know if or when I’ll take another business trip to New York City, but I can be sure of one thing — it won’t happen with the kind of carefree nonchalance that I felt, without thinking about it, on that last trip, or during the hundred or so trips that preceded it.

Will Columbus See It Through?

I’ve seen this sign on display in several German Village windows, and I appreciate the message.  Our community, our state, our country, and the entire world have been through a lot over the past two months, and in Columbus, at least, we’ve managed to hang together.  Sure, there have been some nuts doing nutty things, but for the most part people have been cooperative, understanding, and respectful of the instructions of our public health officials and elected representatives.

It seems to me that the sign’s sentiment is especially important now, as we move from the shutdown mode to moving down the cautious road back to normalcy.  I feel like there is more of a chance of social splintering now than at any prior time during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Officials have made some difficult judgment calls — and, consistent with the notion that states serve as “laboratories of democracy,” different states have taken different approaches — and now people are going to make their personal decisions accordingly.  Some people think we’re moving too fast, some think we’re moving too slow.  It’s a perfect situation for second-guessing and playing the blame game, both as to elected officials and ordinary folks who might decide whether to go out to dinner — or not.

There’s no historical parallel for what has happened here.  The U.S. has never shut down its economy in response to a global pandemic, required people to stay home for weeks, and then addressed when and how to lift such sweeping restrictions.  There’s no road map.  And we know one thing that we’ve learned about models and predictions during our crash course in coronavirus issues — many of the models and predictions have turned out to be wrong.  No one has a crystal ball.

I’m hoping that Columbus will, in fact, see it through.  If people show some restraint and understanding and hold their criticism, I think we will.  

Reopening . . . One Step At A Time (Cont.)

And speaking of reopening, our neighborhood Starbucks is reopening this morning after weeks of shutdown. I walked by before the official opening and the coffee emporium was ready to go with designated lines, signage, ground tape to show proper social distances, and masked baristas.

I never thought I would say I was glad to see a Starbucks open, but I was. These are extraordinary times, indeed.

Reopening . . . One Step At A Time (Cont.)

A sense of palpable excitement swept through Ohio yesterday, like a fresh, warm May breeze carrying the scent of lilac trees and spring flowers.  Continuing with its gradual approach to reopening the state’s economy after a prolonged shutdown, the DeWine Administration announced the next step in the process:  allowing hair salons, nail salons, barber shops, and bars and restaurants to begin to service customers once more.

gettyimages-638568556Some other businesses and offices opened this week, and retail stores and service businesses can reopen next Monday.  Under the Governor’s latest order, tonsorial parlors will be allowed to begin operating next Friday, May 15.  Restaurants and bars that have outdoor seating will be allowed to start serving patrons in their outdoor areas that same day, and indoor dining will begin again on May 21.  By May 21, the vast majority of the state’s businesses will have been permitted to reopen in some form or another, and the economy will lurch into gear once more.  Governor DeWine has concluded that, with the curve flattened, the economy simply can’t be shuttered for much longer without doing irreparable damages.

The Governor’s order indicates that the reopening won’t be an immediate return to the old, pre-coronavirus operations:  customers and stylists will be masked, for example, and restaurants will be trying to align tables and establish patron admission procedures to achieve social distancing.  There will probably be a run on plexiglass and plastic barriers, too.

Shaggy Ohioans who are heartily sick and tired of eating their own cooking, and who yearn for a return to more normal times, greeted this news with breathless excitement.  Soon we can get haircuts again!  And eat at a restaurant, too!  (Well, kind of.)

The news spread like wildfire on social media, where announcements of hair styling appointments became, for the moment, more popular than unsubtle political memes or cute videos of tumbling kittens.  Expect to see lots of Facebook posts with selfies of masked people getting their hair trimmed by other masked people, or people eating at some outdoor venue.  What used to be taken for granted is exciting news right now.