Friday, June 19, 2020

I Can Get Used to This Lifestyle 

"The COVID-19 Lockdown has cleaned the air over Nepal and northern India. So much so that for the first time in many years, Mt Everest can be seen again from Kathmandu Valley even though it is 200km away." via the Nepali Times

That didn’t take long. Happy one hundred days of self-isolation and counting. I realized as I was making breakfast that I’ve consumed at least 2 kilograms of oatmeal and a litre of maple syrup in that time. I’ve also seen just how much chocolate a man can eat given 3 months in isolation. For me this isolation thing has been fine. Still working. Still getting paid. Full pantry. Yet there is a weirdness that everything is different and it will take awhile for that to go away. The air is cleaner, the waters of the Venice canals have cleared (no sign of dolphins however), people are riding bikes everywhere and everything is different now. How different? This different:

Addressing Racism

The explosive world wide protests against police brutality and systemic racism may not have happened if a lot of people weren't sitting at home watching the news, with time to digest violent events and time on their hands to make placards. Home crafting skills for the win. As some kind of indicator that this may be more long lasting than a moment in time: ten of the top ten books on the New York Times bestselling non-fiction book list are on the subject of race politics and anti-racism activism.

Being Over-Policed

From those protests the idea of defunding or at least de-militarizing local police forces is a serious topic of conversation. Politicians are proposing reduced budgets for police and have said they will oppose powerful police unions who lobby for greater funding. No more billy clubs for bullies, or tanks and grenade launchers for that matter.

Women's Rights

The recognition of women at the frontline of healthcare, as executive level bureaucrats, as elected officials and as the most affected workers in this cryogenic freezing of the economy has been more than enlightening. We may finally pay attention to how women earn less than their male counterparts, revisit the importance of day care for women to take part in the workforce or even look at higher minimum wages for those in service industries.

Housing and Health

The realization of the importance of housing and health to the economy. Rents and mortgages can completely break unemployed workers and it’s never been more obvious how crippling the cost of living can be to the overall functioning of an economy. For years politicians have hacked away at budgets for healthcare and mental health while inflating police budgets. This pandemic has exposed the folly of that. It’s time to find ways to make housing affordable and to spend what it costs to take care of our elderly.

The Role of Science

Seeing every stripe of politician and leader take a back seat to policies set by scientists and medical professionals might mean a greater acceptance of science-based decision making or science-based information in general.


Environmentalism isn’t just for aging hippies and kids anymore. If you learn to trust scientists armed with data, maybe you’ll accept vaccinations and data about the health of the planet. Also, in a weird way, seeing how your actions directly affects an environmental agent like a virus may make a connection that your actions affect the planet. Rumours of dolphins in Venice (sorry, didn’t happen), stories of goats wandering Welsh streets (doesn’t that happen anyway?) or photos of blue herons landing on the balcony of someone’s downtown condo makes it all too obvious that if we are doing less to the planet, the planet might give back a bit.

Big Gov is Alright, Guv

The idea that big government is OK sometimes and in fact, may save you far more than the private sector could. While it was governments that forced shut-downs, it was also governments that picked up the slack with emergency payments to both business and individuals. This may also have proven to some economists that as a society, we can pretty much spend what we need to, when we need to and that fretting about deficits and debts is a bogey-man the right has overhyped.

Guaranteed Income

Those emergency payments have also shone a light on the possibility that a guaranteed income might make a far better social safety net than unemployment and welfare programs with all of their punitive measures and disincentives. People who claim a few hundred dollars is a disincentive to work, don’t understand that no one works harder than the working poor and a guaranteed income could behave like a top-up for those who need it.

Guaranteed Sick Leave

I was surprised to learn that everyone doesn't get sick leave and yet, a flexible and simple way to allow people to stay at home when sick is clearly necessary. Some very small technology firms give their employees all the sick and vacation leave they want and guess what? Most employees at those companies still don’t take enough time off.

Two Wheels are Good

Bike lanes are being put in everywhere as an affordable and safer alternative to public transit and many of them will be permanent. Last weekend, I rode my bike in the middle of Bayview, a roadway usually crowded by cars going 70km/hr or faster. Be careful, Toronto, you might make something of yourself.

Public Space for the Public Good

Along with making way for bike lanes, many cities have dedicated more space for pedestrians. Additionally, with warmer weather, one way to allow restaurants to operate safely is to allow them to expand their outdoor patio space. There’s a danger more places might even become like one of those lovely walkable European cities with all the cute sidewalk cafes that we like to go to. Well, you can’t go there anymore so you’ll just have to recreate it where you live.

Working From Home

Working and studying from home were always seen as a fringe thing until almost 40% of workers and 100% of students did it. I gave up freelancing in part because I liked working in an office with other people, but now I work at home with other people. I use to ride my bike twenty minutes at a time, twice a day. Now I have to remind myself I even have legs. I’ve lost seven pounds, presumably from wasting away and loss of muscle mass. Wait? That means I had “muscle mass”?

The Loss of Public Transit

If you can work from home, or live close enough to work that you can bike there, then you probably aren’t a poorly paid worker who lives in the suburbs without a car. Sorry, but you’ll still have to chance it taking the bus, even if there are fewer buses because ridership is down 90%.

The Car Also Rises

For some, taking transit always sucked and bikes and walking are for losers so they will drive everywhere in their expensive, gas burning, pedestrian-killing, self-isolating transportation bubble called their car. Whatever. You won’t be able to park anywhere because all the spaces will be used for sidewalk cafes.

Accessible Internet

You can’t work or study from home viably at Canada’s current Internet and mobile rates. Internet access has become a common utility and at some point if people keep having to use it they will demand more affordable options and governments will have to enforce it.

Shopping Online

I never bought that much stuff online before, mostly because I was never at home to accept packages. Now all but my groceries are purchased online. It turns out, neither the mighty nor Canada Post were ready for the tsunami of shopping heading their way. They remain overwhelmed despite aggressive hiring.

Discretionary Spending

It’s kind of shocking to see just how much of our economy relies on our discretionary spending. Eating at restaurants, buying take-out coffee, going to movies, live shows, theatre, art galleries, museums or just buying new pants or shoes almost seem like things we did because we were bored but they are a huge part of our economy. What do you do when you’re broke and have nothing to do? There’s probably a protest to go to.

The Death of Main Street

If you can buy almost anything online and you aren’t allowed to buy anything in person, you will turn to the Internet et voila; your local vendor will never recover. There is a genuine fear that shops that boarded up in March will stay that way. And not just your local writing implement boutique (oh hang in there my dear Wonderpens - but massive retailers like Starbucks, Zara and H&M have all announced closures while JC Penny, J. Crew, Neiman Marcus and Gold’s Gym have all filed for bankruptcy protection. Those are just the retailers, dozens of energy companies and travel, cruise and hotel operators have simply disappeared.

Bread and Roses

I wonder if all those people who have taken up baking and gardening will keep it up or will it just be remembered as a fad like fidget spinners and chia pets. Remember that time we all had a sourdough starter and planted lettuce?

Germs are Icky

Just as we were convincing people that single-use plastics are bad, they are suddenly good again. Sorry Pacific Ocean, there goes the neighbourhood. Disposable gloves, masks, plastic bags and anything else that, for some reason, people see as “cleaner” than something you simply keep, clean and re-use, will now be filing the landfills of the nation. Today I got a flyer, not from Canadian Tire, but from a company that has pivoted to making fashionable face masks.

More Partisanship

All aboard the S.S. Partisanship! We thought we were all “in it together” but it turns out if you are overweight, poor, black or live in a large city, you are in it way more than everyone else. That leaves white, rural, middle-class and affluent folks to want everyone else to get over their little flu and open up the golf courses, beaches and hair salons again! Worse, the most likely timing of the COVID19’s second wave may coincide with American presidential elections. Those that show up with guns at protest rallies along side anti-vaxxers might not be big in number, but there are enough of them to worry everyone else. The pandemic is also a perfect Petri dish for misinformation and malevolent Internet trolling. Who knew a virus would make the Internet worse?

There are still so many questions. How did we get here? Were we too slow to act? Should we have closed all ports of entry sooner? Maybe that’s for historians to decide. What will future historians want to know? Would they like to know that I have explored both the outer and inner reaches of my house and mind. Will those historians scroll through our social media feeds sifting for signs of our psyche? What music did we listen to, what movies and TV shows did we watch, what food did we eat (what didn’t we eat?) how did we handle life without contact?

Oddly, it feels like there’s a Talking Heads song for every occasion. In the first days of the lockdown, every thing felt like Life During Wartime. Now it feels more like Nothing But Flowers.

“This was a Pizza Hut
Now, it’s all covered with daisies
You got it, you got it
I miss the honky Tonks
Dairy Queens and 7-Elevens
You got it, you got it
And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention
You got it, you got it

I dream of cherry pies
Candy bars and chocolate chip cookies
You got it, you got it
We used to microwave
Now, we just eat nuts and berries
You got it, you got it

Don’t leave me stranded here
I can’t get used to this lifestyle"

Yet, here’s the thing David Byrne, I can get used to this lifestyle. I have gotten used to it. Forget about “new normal”, this is just normal. I sleep in but I’m never late for work. I take naps at lunch time. I work late but am still at home in time for supper. I watch what I want, eat what I want, drink what I want. This is not the time to examine my relationship with food. I take breakfast on the patio, I’ve planted herbs and grasses and flowers. I listen to the music I like at work and I listen to it on “11". The coffee has never been better. Shopping has never been easier. I don’t have to make awkward small talk with people I don’t want to see because I do not see them.

Could it be better? Yes. Some more human touch would be appreciated. I dream of bookstores, going to movies, eating at restaurants and I do miss the honky tonks, Dairy Queens and 7-Elevens.

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