My pack of friends had been talking for weeks about have a get together sometime, as COVID numbers were climbing and summer was waning. We’d also been talking about summer vacations. No one wants to fly and then Cook County started putting quarantine restrictions on people coming in from different states. In the end, three of us decided to do a short road trip to Galena, Illinois. Galena is one of those river towns that was a big deal in the 19th century and is now a favorite weekend getaway for Chicagoans. I haven’t been there in several years.
Galena has loads of B&Bs, but I felt like we would be more comfortable in a real hotel where there is no expectation that one would socialize with other guests. We decided to do Sunday – Thursday so as to further avoid other people. We landed on Stoney Creek Inn. A small, simple, comfortable hotel a couple of miles from the “downtown” area. The rates were great, the parking was free and there was a Piggly Wiggly next door, in case we couldn’t find sufficient outdoor dining.
There are two state parks near Galena – three if you want to cross the border into Iowa. Our idea was to spend the mornings hiking around, spend the afternoons in town, and be exhausted at the end of the day. I didn’t take many pictures, but this was at Apple River Canyon State Park. It had a few shorter hikes, including one that involved many, many stairs. We skipped that one.
After hiking, we would have a late lunch, then go back to the hotel and chill for an hour or so before going into town.
Galena was once filled with antique shops. It is now filled with coffee, wine bars, and restaurants. The shops on Main Street are mostly closed on Mondays – some also on Tuesdays – so we needed much less time (but more planning) to shop. Which means we started drinking at about four.
There was a bar called Miss Kitty’s Grape Escape that I would be happy to go to for the rest of my life. Sangria was lovely, martini specials were fantastic, and the outdoor seating was like sitting in the backyard. But with better people watching.
The best restaurant in town remains Fried Green Tomatoes. They are on Open Table and you can reserve a table outside.
Overall I am very happy that we went. The weather was fantastic, the company was fabulous, and I managed to pick up a few bottles of Merry Merry Cranberry which my mother really needed before we all go on lockdown again.
I feel somewhat better now.
We are allowed back in the office..if we want. There are plenty of rules about masks, and checking in, and shared spaces, but absolutely none about coming and going. There were..four or five of us in this morning. Fewer in the afternoon.
Time has little meaning.
At lunchtime, I went to the mall for a pretzel. You really can’t tell what is going to be open and what is going to have a line outside (because only a few people can be in the store at a time). I was happy to say I recognized the people at Auntie Anne’s. I ate my pretzel under a shady tree in our parking lot. I did not see any other people come or go from our building.
I miss my people. I miss airplanes. I miss theatre. I miss the El. I miss Clark Street. I miss Bourbon Street. I miss bars and restaurants and hotels and libraries and book stores. I miss waking up early in a different city and finding the coffee shops and watching it all wake up.
I have a job. I am not sick. My people are not sick. I have a job. I am not sick. My people are not sick. I have a job. I am not sick. My people are not sick.
I deleted the block I had on my calendar for a vacation. There isn’t anyplace I can think to go that feels safe. And at least if I am working, I know what day it is.
When word hit Chicago that Hamilton was coming to town, I was not impressed. Musicals aren’t really my thing to begin with and I find the musicalization of everything rather irritating. When one of my theatre friends mentioned it to me, I said I wasn’t interested.
The day the tickets were released, there was a frenzy in my office. I’m pretty sure folks broke the Internet and I just did not get it. But as the weeks went by and people started going..the feedback was that it was fantastic and the music wouldn’t bother me and it was just the kind of thing I would love.
One morning in March, my friend Lisa came in to the office and announced that tickets were going on sale that morning for the next wave of tickets. I was not to bother her at 10am. I thought about it again after lunch, then went to the website to see what was left. I found a pair of tickets for the Wednesday after Christmas and bought them.
By the time Christmas came around, the one person I knew that hadn’t seen it already and would be delighted to go was..my nephew Alex. Then age 12. So I made him a Christmas card, saying that the next week we would spend a night in the city and go see Hamilton. Obviously, he was thrilled.
Somewhere along the way, I started following Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter. Not because I knew any of his work, but because he is delightful. I didn’t read anything else about Hamilton. I didn’t listen to the music beforehand. I went in to the show completely cold.
I remember the crowd out front was so jam-packed that I couldn’t take Alex’s picture for his parents. (It wasn’t just annoying people, it was freezing cold). I remember walking in with rather low expectations, and walking out in tears and downloading the soundtrack. I also remember Alex saying that he could barely see the action on stage and it was still the best thing ever.
Part of it is that Hamilton is just that good. Part of it is that time..December of 2016..was so ominous in the United States. Hamilton reminds us of everything that was beautiful and hopeful. Of America the Idea. The Potential. When our leaders knew that every decision they made was serious, and they wouldn’t get everything right but they would take it seriously. Hamilton even managed to address Slavery (referred to on The West Wing as America’s Original Sin) in a way that was honest and also optimistic that we would someday Right that Wrong.
I have gone to other musicals since then. Wicked. Book of Mormon. A couple at the Marriott. More at Writers Theatre. They were fun, but they do not stick with me like Hamilton. Hamilton songs still make me cry.
I have spent most of my adult life feeling like we are one screwed up nation, but the things that are bad are fixable. Perhaps not in my lifetime, but we will fix them. And that there isn’t any place else that I would rather live. I am no longer sure that is true.
A couple of days ago, my nephew sent me a text. “”What do you think about Hamilton going on Disney Plus?” I said, “I think I am going to be at your house this weekend.”
For me, Disney dropping Hamilton early is not just about getting us through COVID19. It is about getting us through until the next election. And to John, Lisa, Leah, Kristin, Karen, Judi, et. al…you were absolutely right. Thank you.
Week 7 – I’m not sure if this is getting harder or I have just had a really bad week. So I’m going to shake it off and talk about some delightful theatre things.
First, I was on a call with AstonRep a week or so ago talking about the cancelled season and what we dare try to schedule and ideas for virtual fundraising and I said, “Well, someone is just going to have to write a Zoom play.” And that someone said, “Well, actually..” And I was invited to a staged reading of a Zoom play. Which was fantastic. And during that staged reading of a Zoom play, I learned that other people are writing Zoom plays. It was quite comforting to know that Art is still happening and we just have to find more ways to share it.
Along those lines, I found that London’s National Theatre is streaming, free of charge, two versions of a 2011 production of Frankenstein for a full week. I watched Benedict Cumberbatch as the creature last night. That led me to find several other companies doing similar things.
Some of these are charging for tickets and some are simply pointing people in the direction of links to make donations. But all of it is doing something to stay engaged with audiences and perhaps raise a bit of cash.
Last weekend, I facilitated a book club virtually. There weren’t many people and we hardly talked about the damn book, but it was nice to see that group. (Plug: Next up is Dan Egan’s Death and Life of the Great Lakes on May 17. Message me if you’re interested.) The bookstore that hosts that group – the Social Justice Book Group – is obviously closed to the public right now. They seem to be doing ok with online orders and they have taken their events online. I am flagging some on Facebook, but there are so many online events that I am starting to lose track.
Speaking of..a radio station in New Orleans is doing a virtual Jazz Fest with some of the best sets of past years. I was listening to Harry Connick 2007 over lunch today.
Last night, I was on a Zoom with the fundraising committee for AstonRep Theatre Company. After coming off a really successful Fall show, we had to cancel the one scheduled for the Spring. Tossed around a lot of ideas for getting back on track and the easy one was to participate in #GivingTuesdayNow – a campaign set up by GoFundMe Charity (which acquired Crowdrise). So I realize that the arts aren’t the first thing we think of to help, we don’t want to lose them either so I am taking the opportunity to plug that, too.
So most of my life has gone online. But I’ll tell you something..I have been sending out a lot of snail mail, too. There are plenty of people out there that could use a two-minute surprise “I am thinking of you”. And I have a lot of note cards.
I may have mentioned that in my youth, I was really into cruising. Driving around for the sake of driving around and not going home. This weekend I learned that we can’t do that because there are no public restrooms open and eventually I will really need to pee.
I’ve told you about virtual yoga. I have a virtual Happy Hour each Saturday with some friends. My mother calls it my “group therapy”. Accurate. I did my first online job interviews this week. I ran my first virtual Book Club today. You can imagine how much time was spent talking about the book.
There is a guy in Chicago named Adam Selzer – author and local tour guide – who has been doing his thing on Facebook. Just takes his camera into the cemeteries and gives his talks. I have missed the last couple of them but will absolutely catch up.
Chicago is about to go completely insane because ESPN is starting The Last Dance tonight. Documentary about Michael Jordan’s last season with the Bulls. I don’t watch much television anymore and I don’t watch professional sports anymore, but this seems like it is going to be an event (at least on my Twitter feed) so I figure I’d better tune in. I mean..I do remember exactly where I was when I saw him make that last shot.
All of the contact I have with my 15-year old nephew has been trading stupid things on Instagram. I introduced him to @whereslightfoot and he sent me the Bulls parody shots. He sends me football memes and I send him cheeky panda videos. He sent me a thing from @americanbattlefieldtrust about the 245th anniversary of Lexington and Concord and now we are both sad because that would have been a great summer vacation. (Seriously. He follows @americanbattlefieldtrust on Instagram.)
My mother has been on YouTube all weekend with something for cross-stitchers that is not How-to and not really a Stitch-n-Bitch but something inexplicable and in between.
In the first couple of weeks I told myself, “If we get this right, we will still have a Chicago summer.” As those hope are fading fast I am left with, “My people aren’t sick and I am still getting paid.” And still, one wonders how long that can hold.
I don’t expect we are going to “get back to normal” and I am hoping this experience will be a catalyst for change. I hear the privilege in my words and it doesn’t help to give me perspective. And virtual perspective doesn’t cut it.
A thing I tweeted earlier today:
No, we don’t expect you to be logged in and available 8-5. No, we don’t expect you to be particularly productive. We expect you to do your best and be kind to each other. We’re just trying to hold it together, too.”
I do not often have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I generally sleep well, and when I know I’m going to have a difficult day, I tell myself to Get it the Hell Over With. That usually works, and I know it is a gift.
It is getting harder.
I remember during the worst patch I ever had at work (which was not long after a really difficult patch at home) I would lie in bed and think to myself, “Name one reason why you can’t just call in sick.” And every morning, I had at least one.
I don’t have one now. Nothing is going to break if I don’t log in. No one is going to judge anyone for taking a day off. But I am afraid that if I do it once, I will keep on doing it. Example: In Week 1, I would get up at 6:30. Bathroom/contacts/teeth. Open my birds’ room. Feed them. Get dressed. Do the make up. Log in and get started.
Week 4: Get up at 6:30. Bathroom/contacts/teeth. Open my birds’ room. Get back into bed. Log in. Turn on the TV. Check email. Check Twitter. It takes me about another hour to get up, dressed, do the make up, and pull together whatever I need to get things accomplished in the morning. (I wasn’t doing my hair for real, even in Week 1).
I’m not “watching the calendar” right now. I’m not counting days. We are deep into it and the earliest “end in sight” is three weeks away. Even that doesn’t seem realistic.
Then something happened. Early this afternoon I received a text from Arielle, a relatively new young lady on my team. She said, “This company is beyond amazing” and sent a picture of a gift basket. About an hour later this arrived:
I actually Googled whether there was a corresponding negative word for “nostalgia” and it turns out I am not the first person online to ask. There isn’t one. “Flashback” “Dragging up memories”. Meh. There are too many nuances.
I saw my chiropractor last week. Yeah, yeah. Not essential. I am not in terrible pain but it’s not like I’m getting any less screen time right now. He has a ton of protocol going on to keep everyone healthy, including only having one patient and one staffer in the building at a time. So after he adjusted my back, he did my ultrasound treatment and we got to talking. He asked if I’d noticed the air traffic. Meaning the lack thereof.
Why, yes. I had. “Does it remind you of 9/11?” Why yes. It does. A thought I’d had several times before and not uttered out loud because comparing anything to 9/11 seems so very wrong.
You’d have to be a certain age and lived or worked in a certain place for this to be a thing. But since 9/11, planes in the sky = The World is Working. In my brain, anyway.
It is such a subtle thing because first you have to notice the quiet. Between pets and trains and landscapers and the county tornado siren drills at 10am on the first Tuesday of each month, one does not always catch the quiet. After you catch the quiet, it takes a minute to recognize the quiet is wrong. And another minute to make the connection. The World is Not Working. Then a wave of something that I can only call despair.
It only lasted a minute.
Anyway. It was a relief to have someone else say it out loud.
This morning, after virtual yoga, I left the house.
Starbucks, bank, drop off supplies at the bird rescue.
I pulled into the lot of my local Starbucks drive through. The line snakes differently every time I am there but after three weeks I can estimate. It looks like a good 30 minutes to me. There is, however, a sign that says they are doing curbside pick up if you use the app. So I parked. I have never used the app before because I always have my own mug. It took a few minutes to pin down my regular order but I got it, and Favorited it, and walked across the lot, through the drive through line, to the curb. It took a couple of minutes, standing in the cold, but it worked.
Drive through line at the bank was no different. And then I dropped the supplies – a ton of newspaper and some toys – at the rescue.
On my way back, I was stopped at a light and drinking my coffee and a Doors song came on the radio. Transport to high school. And I thought that maybe I’d like to just keep driving. Is cruising around allowed in a pandemic? I’m not breathing near anyone. But where would I go?
I wondered if the Mars Cheese Castle was doing curbside pickup. Oh! Or Fair Oaks Farms. Someplace that would take a good chunk of time to get to, but have some kind of purpose. As in, “We’re on a Mission from God.”
The light turned green and I cruised home.
I refer to March 16 as Day 1. It was the first day that I worked from home under my kind employer’s “strong encouragement” to all staff. I had done the grocery shopping and gone to yoga over the weekend.
We felt like we knew it was coming but it wasn’t really here yet.
We were told to plan for two weeks. Our techies were about five minutes ahead of the curve in that they had deployed laptops to all employees late last year. We had a demo on the VPN two weeks before, but we hadn’t done anything close to a “live conditions” test.
Day 1 went fine – Cheers to the techies. I had planned for a couple of projects and knocked them out right away.
Day 2 was the Illinois Primary, so I left the house to walk to my polling place. There was no line.
I went into the office on Day 4.
I had a pretty serious conference call to manage around mid-day and was presenting at a pretty big meeting that afternoon and was just more comfortable being at my own desk. There were four of us present that morning, out of..90ish? And I was the only one still there by mid-day.
The guy from Accounting stopped by before he left for a “really, how long is this going to go” with HR. I told him the truth – officially I don’t know any more than anyone else but if I were guessing I’d say we’d be out for as long as the federal government and they were scheduled to be working from home until mid-April. He agreed that made sense.
As he was walking out the door, I actually said, “See you on the other side.”
Sometime that week, my esthetician, Marilyn, called to say that she’d heard that the state was going to declare “shelter in place” so if I wanted to see her, I’d better move up my appointment.
I did that on Day 5. (Note: she has a private suite and is a stickler for disinfecting anyway. I was safer there than in the grocery store.) And we watched the governor’s address while she was waxing my legs.
By Day 6, I was doing virtual yoga with my regular studio. “How are you?” the instructor asked each person joining. I wasn’t ready for reflection. I’m still not ready for reflection. “My people aren’t sick and I’m getting paid, so I am fine.” That was considered a healthy attitude. And that was the day I dusted off my blog.
According to my Facebook posts, on Day 11 I had a Shamrock Shake for breakfast. (That was the day I ran supplies in to the city for my grandfather.) Day 12, “strong encouragement” to work from home became mandatory. Day 15, my pets were breaking into my Skype meetings. Day 16 we were told this would last until the end of April. And I actually pasted pieces onto a Jewel Monopoly board.
Day 17, I woke up to the news that Pete Sakas died. I had known that someone in his veterinary practice tested positive and they were closed to do the required cleaning. I hadn’t know he was ill. I’m not ready for this, either.