I’m Committed Now…Or I Should Be Committed

So I signed up for a 10K race in November. Which got cancelled about two weeks after I signed up for it. Busing issues, the organizer says. We cannot move hot and sweaty busloads of runners to and from the parking areas to the starting point safely given the need to adhere to COVID-19 protocols. OK, so no one thought of this in the planning stages of the race, I guess.

The organizers were fair. They gave runners an option. Refund of the entry fee, donate the entry fee to the race’s nonprofit beneficiary, or use the money for one of a half-dozen other future races. One of the future races is none other than the half-marathon I was thinking about doing next February.

Why another half, when I swore, exhausted and miserable on a dubiously stacked set of definitely unholy tomes, that I would never do another half after my last one four years ago. I finished that one, but it was not a pretty event. The race itself was slightly marred by a poorly marked course (some runners covered more mileage than necessary because of that) but was otherwise not bad. I just did not do well. So I called a halt to half-marathons.

Until a few months ago, when I started to wonder about the “what-ifs” of life; a pandemic will play with your brain this way. Did I really want that half to be my distance legacy?

Apparently not. I started distance training about six weeks ago with no real goal in mind. Until the race cancellation and the chance to move money to a new race venue. Oh, I looked at the other events, including the cancelled race’s November, 2021 date. That’s a long way into the future for an aging person to consider. A lot of other things can go wrong in a year.

I should probably be sent to a home for wacky, wayward seniors to protect me from myself at this point; a place where they could take away my plastic money, my Internet access and my running shoes. But I am intent on outrunning my pursuers at this point. Because what I’ve heard is true: the chase is half the fun.

Say Goodbye To My Little Friend…RIP Landline

I was struck by lightning this week. No, not in the form of a great idea or mental breakthrough. I mean the literal kind. A bolt from the sky that hit my backyard and traveled into my house kind of lightning.

This kind of strike, called a side flash, blew an electrical plate off the wall, sending plastic and metal shards through my home office. It knocked out the thermostat and burned out the control panel of our generator. It produced an alarming smoke smell (aside from the burned wires, nothing caught fire).

And yes, I was sitting in front and slightly to the side of the plate when the bits came whizzing by. No time to get up and go anywhere else, or catch any of the pieces. In the end, I was still finding shards of plastic four days later, scattered under furniture.

It also permanently removed our old friend, the telephone landline, from our lives.

The phone company tech who came out was not “specialist” enough to fix the landline issue; for that matter, telecommunications companies don’t have landline repair people anymore, because few people use them now. So our old reliable, stalwart household member is gone, the fried wires hidden beneath a plain plastic wall plate (well, not plain anymore; I drew a little tombstone on it).

The phones themselves survived the flash, and will be rerouted to VOIP service next week. Cheaper, more reliable and we can easily block the scammers and pests who pretty much used our landline as a playground, calling us for everything from computer problems (for computer brands we’ve never owned) to surveys to Social Security/Medicare issues that only a credit card or bank account number can fix, lest we wind up in jail.

For the record, we like to mess with scammers and phone pests. We do the whole wide-eyed, dumb-as-a-rock routine and play along with them, pretending to turn on the computer or take out the credit card, and proceed to give them all kinds of bogus information or bumble through their instructions. It’s easy to hang up on a scammer. Pissing off one enough to hand up on you is even better.

So we lost an old friend this week, thanks to the wrath of Nature. She’s quite the mother when she wants to be, but it won’t hurt to come into the 21st century, either. I may miss those suspiciously-accented calls from “Microsoft Mike” or “Steve from Apple” about my computer virus. I hope those “techs” find work in these strange times.

It’s A Wonderful Workout …Even If The Pool Is Green

My Saturday morning started out like most Saturday mornings, with my two-hour Master’s team workout at the local pool. After a broken main pipe shut the pool for a few days last week, it was nice to be back.

The 50-meter pool looked nice and clear. The 25-yard training pool was another story. It’s green. Really green. Like alien, otherworldly green. The lane lines are obliterated. Even the frogs who occasionally find their way into the pool from the nearby retention pond were not going near it. You could see them, sitting along the edge, commiserating about how much it looked like their standard swamp abode and kind of daring each other to be the first one in.

Of course, a few of my fellow swimmers were not happy about “only” having a 50-meter pool to use. Fifty meters is a long way, unless you have a reason to do it, like the Olympics or other long-course meet competition. Twenty-five yards is a nice, comfy distance between one wall and another. And throw that on top of (GASP) having to share a lane with someone. Social distancing in a pool lane is attainable, with opposite side breathing and swimmers entering from different ends of the lane. That’s not the issue. It’s more like, oh the horror of having to share the space.

Given that we were two months without a pool at all, courtesy of COVID-19, should make us all grateful to have even one. Given that we are well over the half-million mark in terms of positive virus tests in our own state and approaching 200,000 nationwide should give us a pause and reflect moment on what’s really important: the opportunity to live and breath. Given the increasing number of police shooting protests and the growing unrest and distrust among Americans for each other and among other nations for America, just how big a deal should an off-limits, chemically cranky pool be?

Take a breath, gang. A big dose of chlorine will set the little pool to rights again in a few days. You won’t share forever. The pool, like life, will be normal again. We will be able to see the steady black lines of guidance again when everything clears.

“Sorry, Our Computers Are Down Right Now…”

Oh, for the days when we had to function with a whole lot less technology.

I am trying to re-book a flight out West to see family (they’ve rejected a visit from me for this year, thanks to COVID-19) and doing it online has been miserable. So much for “managing your miles” the easy way. Two calls to the airline’s customer service department has yielded the same results: none.

Bottom line: I have to call back when their computers start working again.

Don’t get me wrong. I like tech. I know you either have to adapt or lose out when it comes to jumping the digital divide. I don’t get my fellow older folks who just refuse to learn how to use a smart device because it’s too complicated or too impersonal. It’s either learn or be left out of pretty much everything.

But I grew up with no personal tech. No smart phones, no portable music or books, no personal computers, no digital connections to people or business. Money was mostly cash or checks, communication was a phone with a dial (you were pretty posh when your parents got a touch-tone phone with buttons), and television was a box with a few channels and rabbit ears if you lived in the boondocks.

Sure, it was slow. But it was also direct. Your bullies were not online and out of sight. You knew who your school yard friends were and who wanted to pound sand in your face at recess. “Ghosting” people you didn’t like had a different meaning back then, and it involved a Halloween prank. Tags, likes, and follows were mere verbs rather than nouns or measures of personal worth.

So while I dislike what technology allows sometimes (ignoring people via blocking, unfollowing, and snooze) and the obvious downfalls (it breaks when you actually need it to work), we are faced with no choice but the big embrace of it and all that it allows us to do, especially those of us at home with limited capability of outside interaction.

And note to the airline: get your act together. I’d still like to travel sometime, hopefully in a safer, post-pandemic world.

This $%!# Just Got Real This Week

I lost a friend to the coronavirus this week.

John wasn’t young, and his health was more than a little compromised. I won’t even deny those things. But that did not mean he deserved a death like this.

He was hospitalized less than 48 hours, and not even sick enough for a ventilator. Respiratory and cardiac arrest brutally arrived like twin freight trains barrelling though his body, and no amount of good medical care from hardworking staff could slow it, stop it or treat it. There wasn’t even time to contact his family to let them know he was losing the fight for life. He lost so suddenly that no one expected it.

John left a wife, kids, grandchildren and a very large gun collection. He wasn’t a survivalist or looking to take target practice at his condo neighbors. He just liked guns and the history they represented. There were a lot of things he did not like about America as it is today, yet he was so perfectly American in his own way; a hardworking every man-type who did his time on the job and retired to lead a decent life with the people he loved, doing things on his own terms.

Until the virus came calling and viciously ended it all. As it has for over 160,000 Americans so far and more than three-quarters of a million people worldwide.

Most of us will end up knowing someone who is sick or dead from this, or face the virus ourselves. I don’t think that statement is a gloom-and-doom prediction; I think that without enough testing and the continued refusal to believe in simple safety precautions such as masks and social distancing, those who insist on their rights and freedoms to live in selfish denial will condemn the rest of us to a fate over which we have little control.

John’s memorial service is next week. Social distancing and masks are required by the funeral home. I am going to pay my respects to his family and see some old friends who are showing up to do the same. And for all of us, share the realization that the virus is no longer someone else’s statistic or another neighborhood’s nightmare. It’s here.

I Bought Shampoo; They Sent Me Stickers, Too

We’ve all coped with COVID-19 in a variety of ways. Some people drink and do recreational drugs; some do those things more than they used to.

Some exercise more, or started exercising, or adapted to new workouts. Some people cooked more, or ordered in more often, or finally realized they’re not the cooks they assumed they were before the pandemic.

I indulged in something new: I ordered customized hair care products: shampoo, conditioner and serum. I have very complicated hair: thick, curly, a mix of silver and original color, prone to dryness, and tortured regularly with chlorine, sweat, and dirt.

So I spent a little money (and I did use a promo code) and tried out the products. Along with the products, the company sent this cute little page of small stickers.

They’re colorful line drawings of fruit, flowers, bathtubs, and fun sayings like “Have A Good Hair Day.” It’s a nice addition to the packaging, but they’re like coloring books to me: I don’t get their purpose as an adult.

I know coloring books for grownups are a big deal. People who engage in the art of the page and colored pencil say it is very creative and relaxing. That’s fine. Whatever swings your hammock. I was always lousy at coloring inside the lines. Time and alleged maturity have not made things any better.

Same with stickers. I have trouble seeing the attraction, especially with our fanatical focus on disinfecting surfaces. I am not in school (at least not at the moment) so I have no books or notebooks to sticker. I don’t like the idea of anything stuck on my personal computer (though I had no such hangup ever when it came to a computer not my own, like a work computer). And they are far too tiny to make an impact on my car bumper. Not that I would ever put anything there.

I don’t think the sticker idea is wrong, or childish, or unnecessary. I’m just not sure how to wrap an adult bah-humbug brain around them. So if you sticker or color your way through our current corona virus life, let me know. I could use some ideas.

I Still Pick Up Street Change…When I Can Find It

I found a penny in the Costco parking lot today.

Hardly a momentous discovery, unless you’ve heard about our national coin shortage.

The Husband used to get a kick out of my habit of picking up spare change wherever I found it. Mostly it was parking lots, but also in the grocery store, especially around the change converter machine, around newspaper and food vending machines and at school bus stops and on the bridges crossing the waterways while I was out on my morning run or bike ride.

But lately, the sightings of spare change have been slim to none.

Blame COVID-19. We’re outside less, shopping less, spending less, and when we do spend, we’re using plastic or tapping our smartphones, so there’s less actual money circulating. Add the closure of many bank lobbies (which offer free coin counting machines to account holders) and you have a recipe for less sidewalk cents.

I picked up street change for many reasons. It’s legal tender and no one should be throwing it away. And those small amounts add up; on average, I add about $100 to my savings account every year when I turn in the money at the credit union. It’s more than frugal, as my favorite financial writer Donna Freedman says in this 2016 Surviving and Thriving blog post about what she calls found money. It helps you build a safety net in the form of an emergency fund to use for food, rent, medicine, transportation, and any of those things you need when you’re suddenly out of a job, as many millions of Americans are at this time.

None of us ever saw a pandemic coming. None of us ever considered the impact it would have on the economy, schools, culture, education, social interaction, and worst of all, politics. I’m not suggesting one person’s spare change will make an impact on a global crisis. But if you see money on the ground, don’t pass it by. Pick it up and save it. Or bring it to a bank or retailer; they need it if you don’t. Or donate your saved change to your local food bank (on average, every $1 donated to a nonprofit food bank buys 10 meals).

It’s not just the frugal thing to do. It’s practically patriotic It can also save lives.

I’m Working It All Wrong

I brought my road bike in for service today. It had been awhile, and a lot of miles, thanks to the lock down.

Estimated costs for labor, replacements, repairs and cleaning is just shy of $200. And this bike shop likes me. They know me well. I buy a lot from them, including both my bikes and way too much other gear.

Well, OK…maybe that’s why they like me. But I consider it money well spent because I don’t want to yank off a greasy, gritty chain and cassette and replace them. Both tires are worn down to the green protection layer, past the grooves. I consider it an investment to do this, both in the bike and myself.

But I need a new job. I am in the wrong profession when I give out money like this for that. And yes, I am still looking. Spending a lot of time looking for something part-time so I can write full-time and train more often. But mostly I need a new job because getting up in the morning and doing what I don’t like isn’t a good way to live. Working with adults who behave like kids is draining. Getting lectured about how you should feel fortunate to have a job by someone who’s been living less time than you’ve been working is a real “WTF” moment.

I know a lot of people are out of work due to COVID-19. Millions in my own state are at the mercy of both no jobs and no unemployment payments, thanks to a state system that crashed and burned long ago, headed by a governor who thinks it’s all about how reopening things will solve our problems. But I have to look beyond the fear and possibility of failure and move forward, to find something that works for me. We may be physically masked and mostly still locked down, but creativity, imagination and hard work have no limits.

I’m Not Entitled, It’s Just About My Rights!

I live in the South Florida area, and that is all you need to know when it comes to COVID-19.

We are well over the 100,000 mark in terms of number of infections, and our state infection rate is over 10%. Our deaths per number of infections depends on whom you believe: the actual scientists with real numbers, or our podium-posturing, economy-addicted governor who downplays the numbers and blames everything from additional testing (!) to immigrants, old people, young people and alien invaders for the increases.

To make matters worse, we have a number of “freedom fighters” who believe it’s a sin to tamper with their oxygen and the ability to spout false claims about the efficacy of mask usage, so they are suing the governments of at least 10 counties to make masks a personal choice. They think it’s unfair to cut off a person’s air supply and tinker with their First Amendment rights. They scream about their children starving because they are shut out of grocery stores due to their personal choice.

Have these people ever read the First Amendment? Or do they know of anyone actually suffocated by a mask? I’ll say no on both counts.

I’m not the mask police. I wear one anytime I am outside in public, even to places where it is not mandatory, such as the pool in the next county north. I take on with me when I run or bike, and put it on when I enter a store to pick up a newspaper, short a visit as that is. This isn’t about me. It’s about you. And about my spouse, who is particularly vulnerable to the virus. And about the elderly or medically compromised family and friends you love, and who may still like you in spite of your offensive behavior, who still have some living to do.

There are workarounds for those with medical issues, such as face shields that fit over medical breathing apparatus. There are delivery services offering everything from pet food and toilet paper to medicine and food brought right to your door. If you cannot go out, or will not follow conventional safety practices, ask a friend or neighbor who does and will shop for you.

I believe all those who object to following the CDC safety protocols should be brought together on an island and left there. Free to breathe on one another and commiserate about how great it is not to have to worry about those silly, scared, sad people who believe in that dopey science stuff. Let them shout and sing the praises of unrestricted living. But COVID-19 has no respect for personal belief, hype about your God-given rights or desire to do whatever you want, when and how you want. It will just march relentlessly through the ranks, silencing one after the other. A friend referred to it as thinning the stupid herd. I’d call it survival of the fittest.

While Waiting Out The Rain…

We’ve had our share of rain lately. At the moment, my backyard is a lake and the street is impassable. We fine inside the house, with the food, medicine, and everything else we need.

I went out for a run the other morning, thinking I could get out and get back, beating the darkness coming from the south. I was wrong, and wound up taking shelter under an office building overhang, waiting for the sheets of rain to slow to the point I could run without drowning. While waiting out the storm, I noticed there were more American flags than normal posted on nearby buildings. Some were probably left from Memorial Day, but many had gone up since the death of George Floyd.

It made me wonder why we put up the flag in turbulent times. Is it a sign of resilience or resistance?

Do we do it because we hate the racism, fear and inequality in this country that has never improved since its birth? Or is it the way for the ignorant to take a stand, show they will think as they wish, say what they want, but hide their ignorance behind a symbol that should stand for better?

There have been protests in my area, though none where it could matter the most: in the mostly white and well-to-do areas of the county, where people have no idea how much nearly nine minutes of one man’s knee to another man’s throat really hurts. Most of the outrage has been in areas already hurt by COVID-19, and business owners there either shut down again or may never open, due to the fear of looting. I don’t advocate violence as a means of getting your point across. You’re part of the problem when you engage in behavior that destroys your own house, and teaches the next generation that the response to a senseless death is senseless rage.

George Floyd’s death did not start the riots. They’ve always been there, buried rage in the hearts and minds of many people. His murder released the rage, and that rage is irreversible.

We can do better. We can vote those who do not want change out of office, and compel those still in office to sit down, listen, and learn. We can get out of our comfort zone and engage, even with social distancing guidelines, and understand the history of hurt and why passive resistance has likely met its match on a Minneapolis street. We can ask how to contribute, and clean up the debris of a nation caught in a long cycle of disrespect, dishonesty, and the dire need to own up to being wrong about so much.

It’s not going back to what it was before. And you can neither run nor hide from what’s next. And you shouldn’t be afraid. There isn’t time for it. We’ve been afraid of each other long enough.