The Encroachment of "Harm's Way"

8 months into our new life in Albany I had thought we would be settling in to a new normal of an East coast job and finding new friends and new places in our new home.

I didn't think this would happen.

I'm still working for Linfield (albeit remotely). My new friend Jill I've never met in person. Carolyn and I take turns going to the grocery store to pick over the shelves that are positively Soviet in their depletion. A quarter of my retirement savings are gone (so far). Everyone wears masks. The streets are largely deserted.  Every time one of us sneezes we look accusingly at the cats and are quietly relieved we have them to blame because the alternative isn't funny.
Even hiking has become "complicated"

I guess none of us saw this coming. We like to think we did. Americans love to be afraid. Gives them purpose. I'm actually kind of proud of my fellow Americans right now; at least the ones in my sphere of awareness. I'm seeing great heart, compassion, patience, and a real willingness to do the right thing even if the right thing is an evolving goal.

We were all a bit slow out of the gate though. Friday the 13th Carolyn and I went to D'Raymonds, an old classic Italian joint over in Loudonville. The kind of place you go for piles of pasta and maybe see a mob hit. Loud, filled with families laughing, small, cramped. Staffed by old, brusque, waiters who have neither man buns or any concept of social distancing. We loved it.
Not a great wine list but the Manhattans were just fine.
It was our 33rd anniversary and things were just starting to get weird in the world around us. We saw "Emma" in the afternoon just a couple days before the theatres were closed. They needn't have bothered. There were three of us in attendance. I think you'd be safe running Jane Austin movie marathons in your local art house and be assured there will be six feet of empty seats between everyone.

D'Raymonds did feel strange. You got the sense that people knew this scene wasn't going to last so they wanted to soak it in, and they knew this because it felt "wrong".  Like you could really catch something from the crowd or a badly washed glass and the "something" everyone was talking about has a 4% mortality rate for people over 60 which was the entire restaurant staff and half the customers.

I don't want to harsh on D'Raymonds. The truth was the same scene was being played out all over Albany for lack of a clear directive not to. That night was the first moment we started to feel normalcy being chewed away and the idea of putting yourself or others in harm's way began to fill the normally safe places like theatres and restaurants. 

The next day we went to Hannafords to restock our pantry. Before you give me the stink-eye, we actually have a pantry, and we cook with dried beans all the time, and we didn't go near the toilet paper aisle*. The rest of Albany apparently also loves to cook with dried beans too and didn't get the memo about being trolled for stockpiling toilet paper because our supermarket was pretty wiped out.

I just saw what I wrote there. I'm sorry about that.

I do want to take this opportunity to point out that you cannot stockpile bananas. It's the most unstockpileable fruit in the universe, so please put a couple of bunches back.

So the supermarket took on a more frightening appearance and the normal world got a still smaller.

D'Raymonds went to a take out only model a couple days later. That was a lot of their business already so at least the kitchen staff will have work; at least until yesterday when all non-essential businesses are ordered closed in NY and we were told to shelter in place.

Last Saturday morning, I drove down to meet my sister for our last winter hike in the Catskills. We did a brutal but beautiful scramble over Slide and down to Cornell and Wittenberg. At 5am the Interstate was largely empty. Reader boards appeared every 10 miles that said "Stay Home", "Save Lives", "#flattenthecurve". It was deeply unsettling to say the least.

We squeezed our hike in between the announcement that sheltering in place was coming and Monday morning when it actually started, but already the messaging had changed from "sensible advice we should follow" to outright commands. A hike - something that was being actively encouraged a couple days earlier, was now a threat to others. Mallory and I took great care to not touch each other and give the few hikers we saw plenty of space. When we got back to the car and said goodbye, we knew it was for an undetermined amount of time. I can't go back to see her or mom until this has passed.
the view from Slide to Cornell and Wittenberg

By Sunday the hiking forums and Facebook groups were shaming anyone who drove anywhere to take a hike. This eventually decayed to shouting matches about social responsibility and infection rates to the point that the Catskill Trail Conditions group on Facebook was put back on moderation, veteran hikers quit the group the the remaining members all sound like they hate each other now. They'll get over it. We all feel angry and betrayed and the rules have changed so fast, we've had no time to get used to them. Maybe now we have that time.

Like I said: I didn't think this would happen. None of us did. That's one of the surprising stresses of the present: We're all  in the same boat. None of us are special. My fears are your fears. What story do any of us have to tell when we all share the same one? There's comfort in that though. As we sit in our houses staring down the forgotten jigsaw puzzle we found in the closet, we know we are not alone.

*We loaded up at Costco last month.


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