Masked Driving

We took a long drive this week.  It was our first extended road trip in a while, but it also was interesting in other ways as well.  In fact, I would say it was one of the more memorable drives I’ve ever taken.

b3effd_ltptolls020411It’s as if the country is reawakening from a long sleep.  Some people are up and wide awake, some are groggy from the long slumber, and some are still snoring.  As a result, the roads weren’t nearly as busy as you would normally expect on the Thursday before the Memorial Day weekend.  In the early morning hours in Ohio, we saw lots of trucks on the road — a good sign, incidentally, for a resurgence in the nation’s economy — but virtually no cars.  By mid-morning, as we rolled through northern Pennsylvania on I-80, the trucks still dominated the road and cars remained few and far between.  The traffic picked up as we skirted New York City and Boston, but we didn’t hit any stoppages, even with lots of road construction.  As a result, we made excellent time.

The lack of traffic is one reason why the Cannonball Run record — the wholly illegal effort to make the fastest drive from the Red Ball garage in New York City to the Portofini Inn in Redondo Beach, California — has been broken repeatedly during this national shutdown period.  The new record now stands at less than 26 hours, which is mind-boggling and makes you wonder about the top speed reached as the cars zipped through the wide-open western states.

But the lack of traffic wasn’t the only reminder of the coronavirus.  As has now become the norm, for me at least, once you are out of your personal space you become acutely conscious of every common surface you touch.  Refueling means touching buttons on the gas pump and holding the nozzle.  You don your mask as you enter gas stations — some stations have signs saying that masks are mandatory — and think about the safest way to open the bathroom door, flip up the toilet seat, and flush the commode if you need to use the facilities.  (Your prim and proper grandmother was never more worried about the cleanliness of rest stops than you are right now.)  At one stop, as I stood masked and trying to do my 20 seconds of vigorous, soapy hand-washing, a trucker stood next to me and brushed his teeth, which was a bit unnerving.

You put your mask on, again, as you pay at toll booths, which is probably the best argument ever for getting EZ Pass and just rolling on through.  Every toll booth worker was wearing masks and gloves, and at the I-84 toll booth in New York City the attendant applied some kind of disinfectant to the dollar that I handed her.  It makes me wonder if COVID-19 will drive another nail in the coffin of cash and spur faster adoption of contactless payment card technology.  For that matter, it makes me wonder if toll booths where you can actually use the nation’s currency also aren’t going to be around for long.

In all, a very memorable trip.  The coronavirus continues to affect just about everything.

The Mask Factor

I realized the other day, as I was checking my messages while waiting for a doctor’s appointment, that my iPhone facial recognition software doesn’t work when I’m wearing one of my coronavirus masks.  Like a character in a Lone Ranger TV show, the phone was left dumbfounded and asking:  “Who was that masked man?”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise.  The mask covers a significant portion of your face, including some noteworthy recognition-triggering features — namely, your nose and your mouth.  Our identification of a person’s face is based on the eyes, nose, and mouth working in combination, and the masks are covering up two of those three features.  We’ve been trained since birth to pay careful attention to the facial features of the people we talk to and notice any changes.  And think about how much attention you pay to the mouth, in particular, as you interact with people.  Are they smiling?  Frowning?  Grimacing?  Does the combination of the mouth and eyes indicate that they’re angry?

I thought about the blocking effect of the mask when I went to get a haircut yesterday.  Both my stylist and I were masked — of course — after I had gone through a doorway vetting procedure that included having my temperature taken and answering some COVID-19 exposure questions.  As we talked during the happy haircut, she mentioned that she was trying to be more expressive with her eyes, because people couldn’t tell whether she was smiling or not.  It was true, and I realized that she also couldn’t see my smile.  After that, I tried to be more expressive with my eyes and eyebrows, but the eyebrows especially are not designed for nuanced non-verbal cues.  You’ve got knitted eyebrows, and raised eyebrows, and that’s about it.  Trying to communicate much with your eyebrows is like mugging for a camera.

Masks definitely change things, but we’re just going to have to get used to them because they are going to be a requirement for a while.  I’m going to have to work on adding some additional, unmistakable eye and eyebrow communication techniques to my facial repertoire.

And I guess Apple is going to need to come up with a masked and an unmasked version of the facial recognition software.

In A Mask, No One Can See You Scowl

Obviously, you see a lot more masks around now.  People are ordering masks, making masks, and talking about masks — a lot.  In Ohio, there has been a lot of chatter about masks over the last 24 hours because Governor DeWine’s administration seems to be revisiting precisely who should be required to wear a mask, and when, when businesses reopen.  Kish and I have laid in a supply of cloth masks and disposable paper masks to meet our masking needs once the masking guidance is settled.

2020_4largeimg_183406303So far, I haven’t been in an enclosed structure other than our house since before the guidance on masks started to change.  You will recall that, initially, health authorities took the position that masks weren’t needed and actually might be counterproductive, because donning and doffing a mask might cause you to touch your face, which was totally discouraged.  Then the prevailing view changed, and masks became recommended.  Now, in at least some instances and for some people, they apparently are going to be required when you are in a structure.

So far as I can tell, however, there is no requirement that you wear a mask if you just go outside for a walk.  I don’t wear one for that purpose, and most people I’ve seen around German Village don’t seem to do so, either.  I’m not aware of any studies or medical information indicating that, if you maintain proper social distancing when you are out in the open — and I do — you are at risk of contracting coronavirus, or communicating coronavirus to others.  And a mask really interferes with one of the key elements of a walk, which is to breathe in some deep gulps of fresh air while you are out stretching those atrophied muscles and appreciating nature.

Nevertheless, some people now seem to be arguing that everyone should be required to wear a mask when they exit their front door.  That’s because the whole mask/no mask issue plays into the busybody gene that those people have in abundance.  They decide to do something, and because they do it they think everyone else should be required to do it, too — and you’re a hopeless idiot and horrible person if you don’t.  And they will gladly share their opinion with you, in stern and certain terms.  But just because they conclude that they want to be masked when outdoors doesn’t mean I must follow their lead.  In our land of liberty, you have the right to wear a mask outside if you choose, and I have a right to go maskless — at least, until our elected representatives instruct to the contrary.  That hasn’t happened yet.

I’ve heard of some busybodies taking people to task for walking, jogging, or biking without masks.  That hasn’t happened to me, yet, and if it does I’m just going to ignore it.  The masked among us can judge us all they want, but they need to remember that when they’re wearing a mask we can’t see them scowl.  And that mask pretty much muffles their hectoring comments, too.

A Mask Of My Own

I’ve written before about Handy Heidi — my lovely and talented sister-in-law — and her magic paint brush.  Her skills extend beyond painting, however, to also include sewing.  And in yesterday’s mail I received the latest fruits of her labors:  my very own coronavirus mask, courtesy of Handy Heidi’s magic sewing machine.  Thanks, Heidi!

It’s a sturdy mask, in suitably sober colors, as befits its sober purpose.  I know that some people have opted for more brightly colored masks, but that’s not where my head is at, frankly.  If I need to wear a mask on my walk to work or around the office, I don’t want it to look like I’m celebrating.  And the black on one side, brown on the other side color scheme will match my boring lawyer suits.

I’m not keen on wearing a mask, but if that’s what it takes to open Ohio and America for work again, I’m all for it.