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Bonjour, Quebec!

This post is about three months overdue, but I have it on good authority that time is relative. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So much has happened… The move from Toronto to Quebec City was an exercise in organized chaos: I managed to pack all my stuff (including all the small detritus of life that takes up an alarming amount of cubic space) into plastic crates, moved them into the small Uhaul truck I rented, and drove it all the way to QC with an overnight stop at a rest area. (My original estimate of completing the 8-hour move-and-drive by 6pm was wildly optimistic.) Then it was all about unpacking and moving my stuff to that shiny, beautiful second-floor apartment that is my home. Returning the Uhaul. Walking back to the apartment, ogling all the French signs and sights. I hope those first memories will never fade away.

At some point, I’ll probably forget and normalize the memory of my first month here, before I got my furniture (mostly Ikea, and a couple of used furniture stores), but it was pure chaos: sleeping on my mattress on the floor before I finally got one of the last beds available at the local Ikea. (With another Uhaul rental – those things are like cheat codes for everyday life!), then navigating through all the furniture boxes in my living room, then slooowly assembling it all over the course of three days or so. Did you know that there actual online support groups for people who try to assemble Ikea’s Malm dressers? Ask me how I know…

There were casualties: I wasn’t careful with my gaming PC (just yeeted it in the back of the truck instead of securing it on the passenger seat like the precious baby that it is), and something inside got misaligned. The nearest computer repair store fixed it, got it working again, and then held it hostage for four days because the technician didn’t write down how much to charge me. Fun times… Didn’t help that they closed early on Saturday despite telling me earlier that day to stop by at 4. I fought that particular spike of rage by finding a great deal on a used 20-gallon aquarium and acquiring three little guppies to go with it. (And a fancy thermometer. And a big wooden decoration. And a couple of little plants. And an air pump shaped like a volcano. It’s pretty fun, eh.) I’m still figuring out the exact water chemistry, and will probably have to splurge on a tap water filter to make sure they get dechlorinated water when I change it. It’s an ongoing but fun project – and when it comes to the expense/cuteness/stinkiness ratio, fish are far better pets than birds or mammals. (There are also reptiles, of course, but they’re not as cute in my utterly subjective opinion.)

Quebec City itself is beautiful… Just google its pictures and see for yourself: that’s not just one small touristy block, that’s a good chunk of the city, and there’s more beauty in other parts of it, too. All the parks have lots of trails and pathways for pedestrians, bicycles, skateboards, etc. It turns out Duolingo had lied to me, and the Quebec-French is quite different from French-French. The few times I tried saying “enchante” (pleased to meet you) to new acquaintances, the response was mostly “WTF does that mean?” Heh. It’s getting better, though: while I still can’t follow other people’s conversations at parties (just smile and nod!), I can mostly figure out what I’m reading by recognizing the key words.

It turns out the local government pays a $200/week stipend to encourage newcomers (other Canadians, or immigrants like myself, or refugees) to learn Quebec-French and Quebecois culture. It’s an intensive program – five days a week, up to six hours a day, for twelve weeks – but it sounds like an amazing deal. There’s a distinct lack of good apps that teach Quebecois French, and I will have to become fluent anyway… Might as well. Just need to send off some documents on Monday, and then they’ll slot me into the next available class, whenever that might be. Quebec’s government isn’t perfect, but this “bribe to learn” program they’ve set up to preserve and promote their culture and their language is downright brilliant. Kudos, at least on that front.

My PR (permanent resident) card is finally here, after spending seven weeks bouncing between Toronto and Quebec. (My neighbour in Toronto means well, but for some reason he didn’t write his return address on the envelope when he sent it to me.) It’s incredibly shiny and going to make my everyday life a whole lot easier. I celebrated with a meal at my favourite local diner, La Cuisine. Check it out if you ever visit Quebec City: friendly staff, great decor, delicious food, low prices. What more can one ask?

…you know how some movies have that cliché where the main character travels to a strange foreign land and just happens to bump into a local guide that speaks fluent English, has a ton of badass qualities, and is an overall improbably awesome and helpful human being? Turns out that actually happens! My new Quebecois girlfriend is a certified badass that does krav maga, knows how to ride any non-motor thingy that has wheels (roller skates, longboard, etc), loves simple and healthy living, etc. What’s even better is that she’s also open to the idea of becoming a professional nomad, doing her graphic design work on her laptop while vegging out in some cheap tropical country. My life is highly improbable, I know, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

It’s been six months and twelve days since I left Amazon for good. (Unless, of course, they decide to pay me back the 47 shares that they owe me; then I might – might – consider entertaining the preliminary notion of possibly going back.) The time flew by, and I feel so much more relaxed and healthier… This whole “early retirement” thing is great, really. Five stars, would try again, highly recommended. I could stay in the rat race another five or 10 years, become a multimillionaire, get more shiny toys, but I’d never get those years back. You can double your net worth – you can’t double your life expectancy.

To give you some idea of how sweet this life is, the only things on my calendar are:

  1. the final expanse book coming out in 3 days;
  2. liquidating all my stocks in late December because I’m quite convinced there’ll be a major correction by April. (Student loan payments will start up again. People will owe taxes on their huge 2021 gains. None of that is good news. Keep in mind that the dot-com bubble burst in March, when the 1999 taxes were due…)
  3. a cool date at the opera with gf in January;
  4. an equally cool long weekend getaway with gf and her friends at a rented cottage somewhere in rural Quebec in February;
  5. possibly a family reunion in March-April-ish?

In September 2022, I will have lived in Quebec for 12 months, which will make me eligible to join the local Freemason chamber. They’re an odd group, but I like what I’ve learned about them so far. When the world begins to fall apart (sort of like in Vancouver, which is currently inaccessible by road thanks to the flooding and mudslides), it’ll be vital to have a gigantic support network on your side. Prepping and stashing food and guns and medicine is only the first step. The second step is getting to know your neighbours (are they medics? cooks? people with no particular skills but with great vibes?). The third step is acquiring an army: a giant social network you can rely on, no matter where in the world you are. I considered other options, like Scientologists, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, etc, and decided against them – and Freemasons actually seems like a fun and non-judgmental bunch, and a great way to learn new stuff, and make new local friends, and liven up ye olde social calendar. Too bad they have a strict anti-nomad policy in Quebec, thus the 12-month waiting period first.

At some point, most likely May 2023, I’ll be eligible to apply for my Canadian citizenship, and once I get that, I’ll finally start my life as a snowbird, thus completing my weird, weird metamorphosis. Until then, though, I’ll spend a couple of winters here in Quebec. It’s pretty ironic that the goal of my early-retirement journey was to live someplace cheap and tropical, yet I’ll have to live through the coldest winters of my life (since leaving Siberia in 2003, anyhow) as the last rite of passage. Heh.

And now, after a walk through the snow and a bit of exercise, I’m off to do some more gaming (gf is in Montreal this weekend) – Sunless Skies is both amazing and cheap – while listening to the excellent Ologies podcast (amazing pop science in 90-minute-long increments!), followed by a homecooked meal with a glass of red wine, and maybe another Werner Herzog movie. (It is my new quest to watch everything he’s ever written and/or directed. Two movies down, dozens to go!)

Life is good.

Farewell, Toronto

Twelve hours from now, I’ll be in the process of loading a Uhaul truck, getting ready to drive away from Toronto toward the improbably beautiful Quebec City. Aside from Seattle (where I spent 3.5 years), this is the longest I’ve stayed in one place since 2009: 2.5 years in this strange, strange city. I will not miss it.

Toronto tries too hard to be like New York City. It definitely succeeded in attracting all the money, driving up the housing and rental prices, building a little subway and transit train system, and setting up one helluva zoo, but as for the rest… Perhaps it’s just the pandemic. Perhaps in some other, baseline timeline where that didn’t happen, the city would’ve been tolerable. As it is, all the annual summer festivals got cancelled for the second year in a row – and they won’t have enough money to come back in 2022. The subway system is a bit impressive, but it shuts down at 11pm more often than not. (Which makes Toronto “the city that never stays up” rather than “the city that never sleeps.” Heh.) God-awful drivers are enabled even further by the cops that don’t give a damn about enforcing any rules. (One time, I saw a cop – with his sirens off – blatantly run a red light. Leading by example, eh?) Last week, a woman almost hit me while taking a right turn smack into a bunch of right-of-way pedestrians. When I gave her ye olde stink eye, she yelled, “I didn’t hit you, did I?!” Fun times.

This city is the ground zero of the new Canadian housing bubble – or maybe it’s Vancouver, or both. The mechanism won’t be the same as when I lived in Nevada (these foreign buyers can definitely afford their mortgages), but eventually it will implode – and when it does, things will get for the Canadian economy. Let’s just say that when a) your Lyft driver starts giving you real estate advice, and b) local news shows have recurring segments on increasing your property’s value, and c) the local authorities don’t give a damn about their constituents renting out fire-trap basement apartments (one exit and a tiny window) for $1,300… Well, that’ll make one very bad cocktail. For what it’s worth, the Centre Island is beautiful, and so is Lake Ontario, and so is all the beautiful Art Deco architecture in the financial district. That’s not enough to make up for the negatives, though.

There is, of course, the emotional baggage. Toronto was the city where Amazon did their damnedest to make life difficult over the course of two years and two months. It’s also where my old flame killed herself… She came to me in a dream on the two-year anniversary. We had a long conversation I can’t recall. I’m not sure if that’s a giant red flag from my subconscious, or proof of the noosphere of some sort, or perhaps all of the above. Regardless, there’s a little too much baggage here to stay.

I still talk to xgf: she said a lot of her Toronto friends are leaving too – all at once, and almost all of a sudden. I think I get it: after about 18 months of this pandemic and the assorted lockdowns (which lasted longer here than anywhere else in North America), people got a lot of time to think. Think about what they want to do with their lives, what they’re missing out on, what their true priorities might be. It’s somewhat comforting to think that there are others like me, that I’m part of the grand Millennial covid migration.

I’m fairly certain I’ve written other “goodbye” posts for Vegas/Fort Worth/Tampa/Seattle on this blog before, but I can’t be bothered to look for them. I do recall that I left each of those cities with a sense of relief. Is there something in my personality that makes me squeeze every bit of value from a city before I abandon it and run off someplace else? Or maybe it’s objectively true that each city had, say, a better dating scene or some such. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I’ve spent the last week slowly packing up all my stuff: when I made the long drive from Seattle to Toronto in March 2019, I’d managed to fit everything in my little 2013 Kia Rio. I’ve got slightly more stuff now, though I’m pretty sure if I tossed out all the giant pretty rocks, the bookshelf, and the mattress, I could still make it work. Maybe. As it is, tomorrow morning I’ll pick up the smallest Uhaul truck, load it up solo and in record time, and then hit the road. (Renting a Uhaul at the very end of the month is pricey, but still, I’ll save a fortune on the rent differential…) My Quebec City apartment complex (an 8-hour drive from Toronto) won’t meet me outside the business hours, so my brilliant plan consists of loading the truck, driving it for seven-ish hours to a rest stop just outside Quebec City, stopping there for the night (yay Kindle! yay snacks!), waking up hella early the following day, picking up the keys at 8am, and then unloading the truck, returning it, finally taking the much-needed shower, and going into a minor hibernation. Still less complex than my luggage logistics in Las Vegas, eh.

So here I am… Almost everything is packed up. All that’s needed now is to take out the trash, place the free stuff on the lawn for urban scavengers (the free stuff includes a juicer, a full-size shovel, and six cans of beans, among other items), and do some cursory cleaning as I pack up all the rest. I’ve just celebrated my last night in this city with a small $10 bottle of Prosecco, tiny store-bought and pre-packaged slices of toasted garlic bread, and six slices of that triangular Laughing Cow cheese. (Hey, I never claimed to be classy.) Aside from a short trip back in March to take care of some formalities for Project 2039 (more on that someday later), this will be it.

…it’s tempting, ever so tempting to just pour some gas on the sum total of all my material goods, throw a match, and just start over with a sleeping bag and a cellphone. Almost done packing, though. Just two days of discomfort, and I’ll be in my permanent home base. The only way out is up, right?

Still traveling, eh

Well, that was fun. I am, indeed, still alive and well, though the multitasking Russian Lyft driver in Huntington Beach almost killed me when he decided to take a left turn into the oncoming traffic. Ahh, California…

It’s a strange and wild idea, but I might have temporarily overdosed on the whole travel thing. Thirty-seven days and seven cities, with new people, experiences, places, or just plain old airports, every single day. Even though I’ve been back for 23 days, it feels like my brain is still processing all those inputs. Every so often, I get a random flash of something I did or something I saw during my gigantic revenge vacation, and all the pleasant memories flood back: all the old friends I hung out with, the bars I hopped, the museums I saw, the old haunts revisited once more. (Rest in peace, Harrah’s casino.)

In no particular order…

I found a town that was filled with nothing but touristy souvenir stores, one of which attempted to print out every single motivational Instagram slogan on pillows and hanging signs. That proud town of Snohomish, WA also featured a huge antique store that was definitely bigger on the inside than it had appeared on the outside. I may have gone overboard and bought six antique cameras that I then lugged in my backpack all over the continent for the following month. Heh. I confirmed that cider doesn’t exist outside of the Pacific Northwest: Nevada’s casinos didn’t have any in stock (on tap or in bottles), and a cornered bartender finally told me that’s because the entire beer supply chain is severely disrupted. Oof. Just… oof.

Reno’s casinos got mostly consolidated after Eldorado took over just about everything. One of their few remaining competitors, Sands, was so understaffed that they had to shut down all their table games at 1am. (If that’s not horrifying, I don’t know what is.) The week in Nevada, split between Reno and Vegas, was a strange blast from the past, an opportunity to over-indulge (I mean, way over-indulge) in all my vices. How strange to think that I’m still very much the same person who left the state in 2013. The Strip was as full as ever, though the roaming showgirl duos replaced the water peddlers and the “massage” card distributors. I did the most cliché tourist thing imaginable and paid $100 to go to a gun range that offers multiple types of firearms. (You know, like in the “Big Short” movie.) I can definitely see why people get so addicted to their shotguns and semi-auto rifles: addictive, and powerful, and dangerous.

Portland was filled with beautiful wacky-haired tattooed people. That city, unlike any other I’ve ever been to, may as well be the setting of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. (Sorry, Toronto, but you’re just not hip enough.) In some other world, I might have visited Portland and fallen in love with it and maybe even moved – but meh.

I spent several nights wondering through Vancouver’s tourist-trap district, following random noises, but never did manage to find any live music. All the karaoke bars listed on Google Maps were shut down. I did go on a whale-watching trip, though: deep inside, I’ll always be a broke 19-year-old college student, and that was more expensive than I was comfortable with, but damn, that was worth every penny. Seeing those giant beautiful creatures in real life, just 100 or so yards away, was majestic. Not unlike the time I rode an elephant at a Tampa Renaissance fair: the experience turns the animal from something you’re theoretically familiar with (like anteaters, or ostriches, or Wisconsin) and turns it into something far more real and tangible.

I stayed in a Vegas hotel (Treasure Island, to be precise) for two nights after cashing in some of my M-Life app reward points, and now I can sort of understand why people pay the top dollar to stay at those resorts – as opposed to, say, finding dirt-cheap AirBnB accommodations. Next time, whenever that may be, I just might stay at one of the low-key casinos in the Fremont district. I’m quite impressed that my elaborate plan of checking out of the hotel, dropping off my giant heavy backpack at a 24/7 bail bonds agency, checking into a seedy AirBnB (the check-in instructions explicitly asked not to bleed or jizz on the carpet because the cleaning fee wasn’t high enough to cover that), partying it up the whole next day, and packing up my backpack 36 hours later, at 1am, actually worked. There were a lot of moving pieces there, and while that worked out perfectly, I definitely won’t do that again. Great proof of concept, but for the price of all the running around, I may as well have bought that third hotel night with my own cash. The 4am flight to New York went splendidly, though I ended up sleeping 14 hours the following night. Good times, good times.

The evening train from Seattle to Portland remains an amazing experience that everyone should try.

Some of the groupies from the Seattle-based finance email list that I frequent ended up dining and wining me (cidering me?) in exchange for my sage advice. It was so weird to give out money wisdom to a guy who makes almost my entire net worth in just one year. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up inspiring an annual pilgrimage of my fans into Canada, the way Buffett’s fans visit him in Omaha.

New York was as beautiful as ever: I ended up munching on more bagels than I can recall, as well as enjoying some amazing pizza. I also might have run out of museums to visit.

On my final day, I lived a futurist’s dream: traveling by bus (New York City to Buffalo), car (a Lyft to the border station), my own two feet (crossing the eerily empty bridge in Niagara Falls), train to Toronto, and finally a subway ride back home.

And then… I spent five days scouting Quebec City and checking out several rental apartments. I’m moving in a week: a small U-Haul truck filled with a few plastic crates, an eight-hour drive (far better than the 10-hour train ride!), et voila – I’ll become a Quebecois! It’s the only Canadian province with rent control, which would explain how I managed to find a 1-bedroom apartment with plenty of windows, with all the utilities and high-speed internet included, for only $523 USD. (Aka $660 CAD.) That is not a typo – that really is that good of a deal. Of course, it helps that the city is beautiful, everyone speaks a fun new language that I’ll be learning, and that there’s live music on every corner. The jury is still out on their karaoke and cider scene, of course.

All in all, this will be 10 weeks of intermittent travel. I cannot wait to leave this A/C-less studio refuge with its $1,000 penalties for setting off smoke detectors (aka, you know, cooking) and finally settling down someplace new. Someplace permanent.

That should be fun, eh.

Going, going…

It’s 10:30pm, and in about seven hours I’ll embark on my revenge vacation. Thirty-seven days, seven cities, and hopefully enough memories to put a dent into the sum total of missed experiences over these past 15 months. The trip will start in Vancouver, followed by Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles (well, Huntington Beach, to be precise), Reno, Vegas, and New York. At the very end, I’ll take a ceremonial walk across the border from Buffalo to Niagara Falls. (When I was booking the trip in May, the border situation was very uncertain. It’s still a bit murky.)

Some of my best-laid plans have already gone sideways. Three AirBnB hosts in a row cancelled my reservations as soon as I booked them, followed by a mad scramble to re-book. Amtrak has confessed that they did not in fact know if the border would reopen when they sold me a suspiciously cheap ticket to a crossborder bus. (Guess who’s got two thumbs, paid $300 extra for a last-minute Vancouver/Seattle flight, and will never ride with Amtrak again? This guy!) Air Canada unilaterally changed my Toronto/Vancouver flight to an earlier time, which means I’ll have to head out before 6am instead of sleeping in a little. (I won’t lie, I’m tempted to just head to the airport right now and spend the night there to make sure I don’t accidentally sleep through.)

So, yeah, life. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ On top of that, for the first time in my life I bought international traveler insurance. Judging by their dual classification of “just abroad” and “the US of A,” they probably charged me extra due to all the fun gun shenanigans the US is so infamous for. Oh well. Given the sheer randomness of all the public shootings in that fallen state (still no January 6 commission, almost six months later), I guess I’ll just have to hit the ground every time I hear a bang. Maybe slather some ketchup on myself for good measure – you know, to boost those odds. (If I do, in fact, get shot while I’m in the States… Come on, this was funny, though.)

Ontario tentatively started to reopen 10 days or so ago. It felt like a bizarrely perverse experience, eating a fairly bland (and oversalted) burger with fries and beer while other people did the same all around me, unmasked though distanced. I’ve gone out a few more times (you know, for science) and the sensation is still there, though it’s getting better. Even for someone with my wanderlust, this is one helluva long trip – the longest I’ve ever traveled, actually. I figure this sort of shock therapy is just what I need: people, museums, busy sidewalks, new sights and old friends every day… Every trip and every experience changes us, if only just a little. I know I’ll be a very different person when I return (hopefully without any new scars!) – I’m curious to learn just what those changes will be.

I’m going to hit up almost all of my old haunts, though I never lived in Portland or Los Angeles – and I’m skipping Dallas and Tampa because, you know, the plague. Southern states are the least likely to be vaccinated at this point in time. Nevada, being a very purple sort of state, is as low as Texas, with only 40% being fully vaccinated… Guess I’ll just have to dodge everyone who coughs, eh?

In a way, this will be a trip back in time, visiting all the old places I’ve lived in, all the friends and classmates I haven’t seen in years – and seeing my US family for the first time in over two years. (Or even as long as four years for some.) Just to preserve these memories, I’m taking my DSLR with its obnoxiously large zoom lens – next time I visit the US, the trip will be much less ambitious, so gotta make those memories count.

And meanwhile, I’m stuffing my shiny new 40-liter Osprey backpack with everything I can think of. (Can’t forget my laptop! Heh.) The backpack cost me a pretty penny, but I can see what all the noise is about: I keep finding more and more features and hidden compartments. That right there is as close as one can get to a Bag of Holding in real life.

And so… A few hours of sleep. A quick shower and breakfast. (I’ve tactically set aside a Tim Hortons cinnamon bun to reward myself for getting up before sunrise.) A trip to the airport before the city begins to wake up. A westward and cross-continental flight in defiance of all those pesky time zones. (In a way, it’ll take only an hour and 46 minutes. Heh.) The one revenge vacation to end them all…

Wish me luck, eh?

Pedestrian once more

It’s been 39 days since I left my job, and I’ve finally sold my car. It was an inevitability: at some point, you either get rid of your car or it gets destroyed in a wreck. Or it outlives you, I suppose, but that’s a bit too grim.

After leaving my job, there was no longer any reason to drive. Living in southern Toronto, in the densely populated Annex neighbourhood, everything is within walking distance. I had to actually drive to the grocery store half a mile away just to make sure the battery didn’t die from atrophy. One of peculiar things about Canada is that they’re not very flexible on car insurance: you must purchase the full liability coverage, and as an immigrant, there’s the added surcharge. In the end, my car insurance ended up being $230 CAD a month, and that’s after all the discounts I’ve managed to stack up. Add the monthly parking fee on top of that, and it’s close to $400 a month, which is a lot to pay for a glorified paperweight.

Thinking strategically, there’s only one time I’ll absolutely need a car in the next year or so, and that’ll be for my upcoming move to Quebec. (I have my heart set on Quebec City…) Even then, I’d need to get a Uhaul to move all my stuff, so once again, a car would be a liability. (Not to mention paying extra for the registration in Quebec, etc.)

I’ve had that little Kia Rio since 2013, but it was time to say goodbye. After 61,777 miles, after more roadtrips than I care to recall, we parted ways. Of course, things didn’t quite go smoothly: an overly enthusiastic car wash guy slathered absolutely everything in shampoo, flooded the car’s electronics, disabled the fuel gauge, a couple of small buttons, and half the wiper functions – and ultimately cost me about $450 in repairs and discounts. Ho hum. In the end, the car I’d bought for $24,000 USD in Vegas ended up getting sold for $3,750 CAD in Toronto: that’s an 87.4% drop in value. The purchase price is a bit high because I was an idiot and fell for every single sales trick. Yes, they actually managed to sell me anti-rain windshield treatment in the middle of the desert. (Hey, I never claimed to be wise.) Still, that investment gave me some much-needed peace of mind, since my previous three cars had been lemons that were liable to break down at least every other month. When you’re a warehouse grunt, and when missing a workday not only costs a day’s wages but potentially jeopardizes your job security… In that context, a monthly payment of ~$360 is a whole lot cheaper than spending the same amount of money on repairs. Ahh, youth.

It’s strange, adjusting to the new carless mindset. Earlier today, as I finalized the transaction with an enthusiastic guy (who also happened to be a double immigrant like myself), there was a choice of taking a 40-minute Lyft or a 1-hour-40-minute bus trip home. One of those options was literally 10 times more expensive than the other. I think you know which one I picked. Some panicky part of my brain keeps pointing out all the car-accessible places I can’t easily go to (like the town where they shot Schitt’s Creek) but even then, arranging a ride would be a whole lot easier and cheaper than maintaining a car I don’t really use. My life is simpler now, which is exactly what I’d been working toward. In many ways, I’m drifting back to the pre-Amazon version of myself, right out of college. Replacing cider with coke, reverting from being a driver to being a pedestrian.

There is a symmetry to this: the only reason I ever got a car in the first place (and learned to drive over the course of one weekend) was because of my Amazon job. That warehouse was the only place hiring in Reno during the mean, lean winter of 2009, and it was 35 miles away. There was no transit, and eventually I ran out of carpool buddies. I needed that job, so a $1,200 lemon car was the only way to go. Now that my 11.5-year journey with the company is over, so is my need for a car. It all folds in on itself, eh?

The only objective downside is that I won’t be able to get away at top speed if there’s ever a legitimate but improbably rare emergency, such as a global pandemic or a radioactive leak at the local nuclear power plant – but come on, those things only happen once a century or so. (If the Pickering Nuclear Plant goes kaboom right after I post this… Come on, it was funny, though.) Without my car, xgf and I never would’ve been able to run off on our 72-day-long AirBnB odyssey. Still, even the prospect of a mildly apocalyptic romantic adventure isn’t enough to maintain that dead weight.

This will take some getting used to… Even as my mobility is reduced, my life is so much simpler now. What I gave up in my freedom of movement, I’ve offset by making my bank account happier and my life a bit less stressful. No longer shall I have to be that jerk neighbour who drives to the grocery store a few blocks away – and if that’s not a clear-cut benefit, I don’t know what is. I hope my car leads a long and happy life before heading off to the big Kia parking lot in the sky, eh.

Plague diaries, Day 406

Friday evening.

I’m back, and everything went even better than expected. I don’t know if I’m just incredibly lucky, or if my obsessive preparation always ensures success, or if my innate pessimism means that any unexpected outcome is positive by default. Perhaps all three. Today’s Ohio trip took 13 hours and 20 minutes (4am-5:20pm) and 600 miles. Altogether, including the time it’d taken me to research and book my appointments, drive, and get my shots, the entire vaccination affair took me about 30 hours, 1,300 miles, and over $500 USD. I know it’s not very mature of me, but after all I went through, I utterly despise anyone who decides not to get a perfectly fine covid vaccine that’s available within 25 miles. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you decline the first vaccine you’re offered, you go to the very back of the line. We’ll vaccinate every teenager, child, and pet before getting back to you.

…but I digress. I tried a little too hard with my sleep cycle: after going to bed at 8pm last night, I woke up at 12:30am, and couldn’t fall asleep again. Upside: I didn’t sleep through my alarms. Downside: I was a bit sleep-deprived while driving. Nothing a RedBull couldn’t fix, though.

This time, I drove through the Michigan border, not the New York one. It was even emptier than before: when I finally got there after hours of driving, I was the only driver there. When I stopped at the covid test clinic in the town of Maumee (a suburb of Toledo, from what I gather), I still had time to kill. I marched down to the Maumee river, confirmed it was there, then walked back, and sampled that town’s finest cuisine. I’ll never understand why Burger King’s food is so insanely salty.

Test in hand, I made it to the Toledo health department, which was quite anticlimactic. There was no line this time: perhaps all those articles about the slowdown in vaccine sign-ups are true. I was too giddy to get my shot despite being almost two hours early, so I didn’t pay much attention, but there were about seven people spending their mandatory 15 minutes in the observation area. At a glance, they were between 35-70 years old. This time, there was no address verification – they didn’t even ask me for my ID, only for my date of birth, which they used to find my appointment in their database. (Minutes earlier, the security guard asked if I had an appointment or was a walk-in: are their vaccines really that abundant?..) A really cool medic in the adjoining room asked a few perfunctory questions, asked for my consent (I made sure to reply with an enthusiastic “Yes! Of course! Two thumbs up!” just in case), and gave me the second shot of the Pfizer-y goodness.

The really strange thing happened on the drive back… I’d already made peace with the idea of a second house arrest, another 14-16 days spent indoors without even going outside for a nighttime walk. Imagine my surprise when I rolled up to the border guard’s booth, gave him all my paperwork, and just got waved through. I even asked, “So there’s no test? No quarantine?” and he replied with “Nah, you’re good.” It wasn’t just his whim: there were no PPE-covered medics this time around. Did they leave to start their weekend early? Was their presence needed at the airport after Canada kicked off a month-long ban on flights from India and Pakistan last night? (A lot of Canadians are from India. This will have a major impact…) I don’t know, and I don’t understand, but an official representative of Canada’s government told me all was well, so here we are – no house arrest, just two weeks of recuperation (walks and all) while my body fully builds up its mRNA-based covid defense. This is the best of all possible outcomes, eh.

So here we are… After getting home, gobbling up a celebratory dinner of salmon a la instapot, and drinking some champagne with cheese and crackers, I’m about to fall asleep and end this strange long day. The side effects all my friends mentioned have yet to materialize after almost eight hours – but hey, even if I do feel like death tomorrow, that’s just the price of protection.

I still can’t believe this is over. On the drive back, on all those half-empty highways, I couldn’t stop grinning, laughing, and smiling. I spent a significant portion of that drive with my windows down and yelling at the top of my lungs, “I’m immune! I’M IMMUNE! I’M IMMUUUUUUUUUUUNE!” (Hey, I never said I was classy.) I’m a decent writer and I speak multiple languages, but I cannot begin to describe what a relief this is to finally end this strange chapter of my life…

Even as my own personal pandemic is over, the world is still aflame. Reports claim that several hospitals in India ran out of oxygen last night. Canada is still not sure when it’ll reopen, with more local-level measures being announced almost every hour. Brazil remains a horror show.

For posterity’s sake, here are the latest covid deaths as of right now: as always, these are merely the official figures which don’t capture undiagnosed deaths or excess mortality. The final figures, whenever they may come, will certainly be higher.

US: 570K deaths
Canada: 23.9K deaths
UK: 127K deaths
India: 187K deaths
Brazil: 384K deaths
Worldwide: 3.07 million deaths

So this is how it ends… Later than I thought it would, earlier than it would have if I didn’t keep hunting for every available opportunity. Two weeks from now will be my final workday in the corporate rat race. I’m not sure what will come afterwards. I’ve already come up with a new five-year plan: let’s see how fast I can get it accomplished. And in the meantime… I was a pretty good corporate drone, and an excellent analyst. Maybe now I can concentrate on my artsy side: finally learn that guitar I bought three years ago, or learn to draw something other than stick figures. In the next year or so, I’ll trade in my Kia Rio for a van, put a mattress inside, and go on a loooong drive across Canada, to look at all the attractions and cool picturesque places. I’ve got my whole life ahead of me…

Thank you all for reading. I hope it wasn’t too boring, eh. Your comments are always welcome – and who knows, maybe someday, somewhere, somehow our paths will cross, and we’ll meet up, and chat, and talk, and laugh, and laugh.

So long, and thanks for all the clicks.

Plague diaries, Day 405

Thursday afternoon.

Tomorrow is the end. Here, now, today, is my last day without the full two-shot vaccine protection. Sure, it’ll take my body a couple of weeks to fully ramp up its anti-covid defenses, but that’ll be on autopilot: there’ll be nothing else I’ll need to do. With tomorrow’s update, this blog series will finally end.

I’m writing down the bulk of my thoughts today instead of tomorrow: I don’t know whether I’ll get side effects from my second shot of Pfizer, or if I’ll be in any shape to write. Proper planning and practice prevents poor performance, eh?

I’m not sure how long I thought the pandemic would last back when I started this project in March 2020: memory is unreliable like that. I might have thought this virus could be constrained and isolated. I definitely don’t recall thinking this would go over a year – multiple years in non-G8 countries. Truth be told, I never thought this random project, inspired by a random post I saw on Reddit (“keep a journal, it’s good for you!”) would last over a year. Had I known that, I might not have started, but I’m glad I did.

My personal pandemic is about to end even as most of Canada remains unvaccinated, as Brazil remains every epidemiologist’s nightmare, as India is posting record-high case numbers and running out of oxygen, with people dying without that most basic supply – something that would’ve been unimaginable before covid. Over the past 13 months, I wrote primarily about the things that interested me: video games, books, investing, covid’s effect on public health, politics, finance, etc. There were quite a few aspects I didn’t cover: the plight of frontline workers who eventually lost their “hero pay” and in some cases had their stores shut down, or the spike in anti-Asian violence (almost always anti-Asian-women violence…) in the US and in Canada, or the way children and young adults all over the world regressed and got traumatized away from their teachers and peers, forced to stare at a laptop for months on end. All this – and more – happened, but there are some topics that I have no idea how to approach beyond just shaking my head and muttering “WTF? WTAF?..”

This pandemic highlighted – and will continue to highlight – the growing gap between the rich and the poor, both worldwide and within allegedly prosperous countries. It showed how inefficient world leaders can be, especially when they’re authoritarian populists. Bolsonaro’s Brazil became one of the world’s biggest covid hotspots. Trump and his wife Melania got vaccinated in secret in January – for once, he didn’t want cameras to see him, and his follow-up message to his supporters to get vaccinated was too little, too late. Putin finally got vaccinated on live TV, but his own administration never revealed what exactly he got injected with. (That may or may not have been Sputnik V.) Doug Ford got vaccinated with AstraZeneca a few days ago, just a week after publicly criticizing it, and then pretended to die right afterwards to get some cheap laughs from his entourage. None of those things inspire confidence; none of those alleged leaders showed any leadership. (Incidentally, this recent article provides the inside scoop on Ford’s flip-flopping, which it charitably calls “climbdowns.” The short version is that the lockdown measures were decided by a committee; no doctors had been consulted.)

The pandemic also showed that not all high-ranking doctors can be trusted. The WHO spent those first few precious months arguing that covid wasn’t airborne (even as the anti-aerosol evidence kept piling up) or that it wasn’t a pandemic at all. Dr. Fauci, despite all his stellar performance afterwards, originally told Americans that masks don’t work and shouldn’t be used. Later, he revealed that he was trying to trick people so that more masks would be available for healthcare workers. That might have been an okay tactic, but it was a terrible strategy which destroyed trust. Dr. Birx kept sucking up to Trump, at one point claiming that his extensive business background and his alleged ability to read balance sheets and such would make him great at reading academic papers on covid. (That was not the case.) Birx’s post-election attempt at a PR rehabilitation tour haven’t been very convincing. Here in Canada, Dr. Tam (Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer – our version of Fauci) told everyone that only sick people should wear masks. That was in March 2020, that most critical month… She doubled down on that statement in the following weeks, before finally recommending masks seven weeks later. She never did apologize. She still has her job.

All of the above provides plenty of fuel for anti-vaxxers and overall crackpots, and only strengthens my own inherent distrust of authority figures. (Born and raised in the Soviet Union/Russia, remember?) Some leaders, some countries, some communities performed admirably against all odds (way to go, Navajo Nation!), but most did not. An idiot can skate by fairly long in absence of any real emergencies, but when they actually happen… Well, we’ve al seen the results. The Peter Principle is all around us at all times, and I’m not sure it’s possible to adequately tell if someone will perform well or absolutely crumble and self-sabotage when a true crisis comes along. All I know is that next time there are reports of a weird highly contagious virus, I’ll try to run off to New Zealand, or Taiwan, or Vietnam, or at the very least to Canada’s Atlantic provinces that formed their own bubble: it didn’t last forever, but it was quite impressive nonetheless. Not everyone has those options or mobility, I know: most people would have to make do with the idiot leaders and/or doctors that happen to be in charge at the time.

On the personal front… I am not okay. I’ve learned some cool and useful things about myself, such as the fact that cider doesn’t actually do anything for my stress levels, or that I can operate just fine without ginkgo biloba (though it does make feel great), or that I cannot survive without caffeine – those withdrawal headaches suck. I perfected my investing skills and learned a little French and a fair bit of Spanish. But on the other hand, I’ve gone pretty damn feral. It’s been many months since I touched another human being. (My party-loving Vietnamese landlords weren’t into hugging.) The only real-world conversations I’ve had over the past three months were with the vaccine trial doc. I can’t adequately describe my yearning to reconnect with the rest of the world, to date, to love, to party, to converse. I sense that I’ve grown much more irritable and easier to anger. I’ve definitely developed a video game addiction. With not much else to do but stare at various screens, my eyes dry up and hurt. (It doesn’t help that I have a stress-related tick where I forget to blink.) I maintain my pre-pandemic weight and try to do some half-assed exercises but with gyms being unsafe, I am – at best – in the same shape as before covid, and likely a bit worse. At least the vitamin D supplements (aka Canada’s national snack) keep me from getting depressed, to the extent that it’s possible.

If you’ve been reading this blog a while, you might think that I severely overreacted to this whole pandemic business and have only myself to blame for everything I just described. Who knows, you might be right. At first, it was a game of “dodge the virus” because things would’ve gone pretty damn bad for my then-gf if I caught it and infected her. And after those first 72 days, after we split up and went our separate ways, there were multiple reports of long covid, of survivors with ruined lungs or persistent brain fog. As someone who aims to die of old age with most of my brain intact, please and thank you, that alone was pretty terrifying. I’m up for many things, but I’m rather risk-averse when it comes to permanent damage, or high risk thereof. (If you ever see me riding a horse, a motorcycle, or both, please call for help.) I know quite well that I’m both lucky and privileged to have an okay job that allows me to work from home: had this pandemic happened just seven years ago, I would’ve been as screwed as the rest of all y’all. My experience has been very different from that of most of my fellow pandemic travelers, and it is my hope that maybe, somehow, someone will find this long (and occasionally dry) recollection of events useful.

In more down-to-earth news, today was spent preparing for the big trip tomorrow, as well as the big quarantine that will follow. A bit of cider, just one can every other day. Two bottles of champagne, one to celebrate my full vaccination tomorrow night, one to celebrate my last day at work two weeks later. A bit of salmon and chicken to last me a week: the tiny fridge doesn’t have a freezer, so the second half of my house arrest will consist of Ramen noodles, canned tuna, sandwiches, white chocolate, and good vibes. An urban hike to the nearest Royal Bank of Canada bank (which turned out to be closed due to an unspecified emergency – a covid outbreak?..), followed by a hike to a different branch, where I learned it takes three whole weeks to deposit a check from myself to myself, from the US to Canada. I hope the dude they send on horseback to Seattle will avoid highwaymen and make it there and back in time.

As a night owl, I’m rather proud of myself for successfully waking up (and staying awake!) at 5am today. I’ll aim for 3:50am tomorrow. I am prepared: the US passport, the Canadian papers, the index cards with the locations of the covid-testing clinic (for the low, low price of $210 USD) and the vaccination center and my fake Toledo address. The water bottles, and a few cans of coke, and some cashews. A backpack for both my home and work laptops in case I can’t reenter Canada. Multiple backup alarms. Podcasts downloaded on a USB stick for the long 10+ hour drive. The Ohio addresses are already punched into my GPS. This giant blog post written and about to be released into the worldwide web wilderness… This is as ready as I’ll ever get.

I can’t believe that after all this time, my personal pandemic is almost over. So close. So very, very close.

Cheers, y’all. Wish me luck.

Plague diaries, Day 404

Wednesday evening.

Heh… 404, not found. That’s how I’ll think of this entire wasted part of my life, and I doubt it’ll be just me. Can we all just pretend this last year+ never happened? It’ll be like the “gas leak year” on NBC’s Community, which they used to pretend the two middle seasons never happened.

Ahh, the glamorous life of an expat… The deadline to file Canadian taxes is in nine days, and thus far my company-provided accountants have been replying to my questions with the verbal equivalent of a shruggie emoji. Just in case the bill is on the high side, I tried transferring some money from my online stock account to Canada, only to be told that’s not an option. Moving the money to my US account and then wiring it off to Canada also wouldn’t work, because their wire confirmation system refuses to text Canadian cellphones. (I grudgingly admire their commitment to security.) Driving to the nearest Wells Fargo to arrange that in person (and/or pick up some cash to take to Canada) would also be problematic, seeing as they sold their entire Midwest division to Flagstar in 2018, and the nearest bank is in Philadelphia, an eight-hour drive away.

So, guess who has two thumbs and will slowly siphon his own US checking account through Canadian ATMs? This guy! I’ll probably look like the world’s stupidest criminal if that sets off any red flags. At some point this year, during my big US tour, I’ll have to bring a big old pile of papers to Wells Fargo to get them to wire some cash from myself to myself as if I were some eccentric 19th-century merchant. So much for progress, eh?

On that note, my broker has finally realized that I no longer live in the US (it only took them two years + a Canadian phone number + a Canadian IP address + me explicitly telling them “I no longer live in the US”) and shut down my account, which I’ve had with them since 2007. The good news is that transferring the whole account (main trading as well as the Roth IRA) to a better broker should take just one week. The bad news is that even with the move from the US to Canada (aka the easiest international relocation out there), bureaucrats still can’t quite handle even the most basic stuff. At least I live near the border, and can hypothetically drive out to settle things in person. If my 2018 attempt to move to Australia had been successful, that would’ve been a loooong swim home.

Incidentally, and because this cannot be said enough times: Ally is the worst possible broker you can imagine, and it’ll probably be only a matter of time before they go broke or suffer a catastrophic hack. Rot in hell, Ally. (Seriously, folks, stay away from them: just the fact that they occasionally disable the login page for shits and giggles… Real companies don’t do that.)

One of my Vaccine Hunters buddies, a fellow US infiltrator, told me he got his second doze of Pfizer in Ohio yesterday. (He has family there, so he stayed there the whole three weeks between the shots.) He also said the vaccination center had to shut down early because they feared riots once the verdict in the George Floyd case got announced. (The one where the white cop killed a Black man’s by kneeling on his neck for almost 10 minutes, in the middle of the day and surrounded by many witnesses.) Surprisingly, and hopefully setting a precedent, Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all charges. I can’t recall another time that happened. Of course, even as the case was being deliberated, cops shot and killed more unarmed Black people all over the US… That country has issues. Many, many issues.

Somewhat related, it’s been over 100 days since the attempted coup on January 6th, and only 410 domestic terrorists have been arrested. Based on the size of that mob and all the footage, there were easily thousands of them. That means only a fraction suffered any consequences: there are probably some more in the pipeline, waiting to be identified and/or processed, but that just means most of them will get away with that. And as we already covered, lack of consequences is just an invitation to keep trying… I’m sure they’ll do better on their second try – their third try at the latest. I only hope I’m not in the vicinity when that happens. (Washington DC has some amazing museums. I don’t know when I’ll visit it again, but it’ll happen at some point in the future.)

In more uplifting developments, Simon Rich is a brilliant author: I’ve started reading his Hits and Misses short story collection, and it’s unbelievably well written and funny. I have to pace myself to make the book last longer: he’s got at least eight books out there, but I don’t want to devour them too quickly. Tonight’s high-brow entertainment: Under the Skin, a movie about a mysterious stranger who kidnaps Scottish hitchhikers. The book was excellent, and I hope the move is at least as good.

In covid news, there’s a fascinating new black market industry: fake covid shots. It’s happening all over the world: Poland, Mexico, South Africa, China… In Mexico, they were being distributed out of beach-style beer coolers for $1,000 a pop. In Poland, people were injected with an antiwrinkle compound. (That’s a net positive compared to getting saline solution, but probably not what those folks wanted.) It was only a matter of time before something like this popped up, but still… Taking advantage of the most desperate people in the hardest-hit countries. No bueno, eh. I hope nobody dies as those scammers inject people with whatever is at hand.

To wrap things up, here is an improbably artsy picture I took of my Studio of Solitude before heading out to the experimental vaccine clinic early yesterday morning. The lighting was just too good to miss. Behold, my pigsty in its epic glory!

Good night, y’all. Stay safe.

Plague diaries, Day 403

Tuesday night.

Today’s final visit to the vaccine trial clinic was the most social interaction I’ve had in almost a month: a five-minute chat with the doctor in charge of the small trial was the most I’ve spoken to another living being. (The Ohio vaccine line was mostly giddy, distanced, and shivering in the chilly weather.) The nurse’s touch as she withdrew five ampules of blood was the only human contact since, well, the last time they did that, about a month ago. I said this before, and I’ll say it again: I’m going to get alllll the massages and make alllll the friends when this is over. I wonder how many others are going mildly feral and will have a hard time adjusting to the world.

On the plus side, my participation in that study (which had a 33% chance of being a placebo) ended up making me $300 – that should cover the impulsive online shopping I’ve been doing on and off.

On the down side, I’ve been expelled from the Vaccine Hunters. Heh. Well, not so much expelled as told that a) taking a vaccine from the trial program ended up depriving another person of their chance, and b) they find it “ethically grey area” to give infiltration advice to Canadians who want to go to the States for their vaccine. That came straight from the group’s admins, and it’s pretty damn weird, because a) you’d already need to be healthy to sign up for the vaccine trial (high-risk people weren’t eligible; even smoking pot would disqualify you), b) it’s an experimental vaccine that’s not guaranteed to work (quite a few vaccine trials died a quiet death over the past year), and c) the vaccine trial’s organizers told me, explicitly, during our first meeting, that if I get a chance to take an approved vaccine, I should do so – they didn’t expect any trial participants. to go a full year without getting vaccinated.

As for their US infiltration criticism… I think I mentioned this before: the only class I ever failed was Advanced Bioethics. I fully acknowledge that my ethical system is different from that of most other people. (Nothing illegal, mind you, but the golden rule really doesn’t apply in my case. Heh.) Therefore, I fully acknowledge that maybe I’m the wrong one – but it seems to me that if a nuclear superpower bans the export of the life-saving vaccines you’d ordered well in advance, then you’re ethically, morally, and philosophically in the clear if you can get to them. There is a strange – perhaps uniquely Canadian – phenomenon where people (not anti-vaxxers, but regular people) who become eligible for their vaccinations refuse to sign up. “But others need it more than I do!” they say, and when enough people do that, you end up with empty appointment slots and general disarray. That’s an extreme version of politeness, the sort of outlier that hurts everyone on the large scale. I think this is the same thinking at play: sneaking past the border and getting a vaccine shot that had been allocated for Canada way back in 2020 isn’t something a nice and moral person would do, in their opinion, so they choose to silence the whole discussion instead.

The other possibility is that the Vaccine Hunters leadership is trying really hard to be apolitical. On their Discord channel, there’s plenty of people raging against Doug Ford, but the group as a whole doesn’t criticize anyone or take sides when it talks to the media. Perhaps this is their very strange and proactive attempt to preempt any criticism. (Nice journalists reach out for comment; not-so-nice journalists might join the public chatroom and take notes based on what they see.) Either way, my sole contribution to the group was advising dozens of Canadians on the fine points of getting across the border, getting your shot, and getting back. After they banned that particular topic of discussion, there wasn’t much else for me to do there.

I would be lying if I said that didn’t hurt, and I seldom lie. A clean break is for the best, though. I shouldn’t have gotten so emotionally involved. In a way, from a certain perspective, this is helpful. I’m no longer in the US and not affected by their politics, so quitting that political blog a few months ago helped sever that part of my life: a clean break. As my personal pandemic is about to end, I’ll really have to start detransitioning from the covid news diet, and being in that Vaccine Hunters chatroom would not have been productive… I still plan on volunteering at vaccine distribution centers, but life is far too short for hanging out with too-polite-to-live bioethicists. I wonder if this the ultimate fate of every progressive alliance: at some point, philosophical divisions break the group apart as the core philosophy (in this case, “all the shots in all the arms”) fractures. Oh well.

Meanwhile, I’ve devoured Simon Rich’s Sell Out, a four-part story that originally appeared in New Yorker. (It was much easier to find than I’d anticipated.) As a two-time immigrant, I found it absolutely hilarious. I only hope my neighbours didn’t get too alarmed by sharp and sudden bursts of laughing. Next up, literally any other story that Simon Rich has ever written. The man has talent, eh.

I’m trying and failing to adjust my sleep cycle for the very, very early awakening on Friday morning. My covid shot in Toledo is scheduled for 1pm (even though it’s really just FIFO), my rapid PCR covid test is at 11am, and it takes five hours to get from Toronto to Toledo. Given a 90-minute buffer for snacks, gas stations, possible traffic, etc, I should leave at 4:30am. That implies getting up no later than 4am. Considering I stayed up till 2am last night playing Stardew Valley (ye gods, it’s so addictive), I’m not off to a good start. Perhaps if I force myself to get up at 6am-ish tomorrow and Thursday… Worst-case scenario, I can just pull over and take a nap – and if I sleep through my alarm that morning, I can always reschedule, but I’d really rather not extend my personal pandemic by even one more day. First-world problems, I know.

In covid news, Ontario is quietly undergoing a very Canadian form of revolution: instead of following Ford’s patchwork of inefficient guidelines, Toronto and Peel (also Toronto, but a bit to the west) have announced their own localized measures. Any workplace that had five or more covid cases that “could have reasonably acquired their infection at work” over the course of two weeks will get shut down for 10 days. That. Is. Huge, y’all. This is the kind of policy we should’ve had in place a year ago. It’s far too late now, but this will do some good. The hard part will be proving whether the cases were work-related or not, but here is hoping they’ll figure it out and move quickly. This is really quite remarkable: the medical leadership of the biggest city in Canada has snubbed the premier of its own province. Ford has been getting brutal criticism locally, nationwide, and even in Washington Post. Some claim that his party is finally working on providing some paid sick days, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

In less local news, the pandemic is still accelerating around the world: that’s easy to forget if all you look at is the US, UK, and the parts of Canada that are not Ontario. According to the WHO, new cases have been increasing for eight weeks in a row, with 5.2 million new cases reported worldwide last week. The world’s official covid death count is just over three million right now: unofficially, it’s much higher. I can’t describe how bizarre and macabre it is to know that while the pandemic is almost over for everyone I know, it’s actually accelerating for billions of people elsewhere. If there were some way, somehow, to sneak people from Brazil or India into the US and give them their shots, I would’ve done so in a heartbeat…

Good night, y’all. Stay safe out there.

Plague diaries, Day 402

Monday night.

…I just can’t get enough of that “outside” place. Today, I went out three times, as if I were a kid all over again. First, a Tim Hortons brunch (hey, you don’t get to judge me), then an excursion to a nearby park (it was sweater weather; thick sweater), and finally a run to the nearby store to finally pick up the remaining art supplies I’ll need to tackle the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain workbook. (It comes with a lot of requirements, eh.) Between that, the untouched set of oil paint I got for Christmas, and my friends’ assurances that yes, it is in fact possible to learn guitar basics on youtube, the second quarantine should be a bit more entertaining than the first. Hopefully, the weather will be better when I re-emerge from it: this is as close as I’ll ever get to hibernation.

But meanwhile… A selfish part of me spent quite a lot of time planning a very elaborate post-quarantine trip between Toronto, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Reno, Vegas, and New York, which would have to fit in 33 days. (For tax reasons, if I spend more than 35 days per year in the US, my expat tax immunity will disappear.) And then I saw some local headlines that vaccination site volunteers have been posting online to notify folks when there are available doses. New plan: once I get both of my shots and emerge from the quarantine, I’m going to spend as much time as possible helping my fellow Canadians get vaccinated, eh. I don’t believe in karma, but it’ll be something interesting to do, a chance to fight the good fight at long last, and a way to maybe make some new friends. (My penpal friend from Los Angeles can’t make it here in May after all. Bah, humbug.) But after that, though – that 33-day trip is going to be well deserved and utterly amazing.

I mentioned the Dying Light game a couple of nights ago. For the record, it’s completely and utterly terrifying. It’s made by the same people that created Dead Island way back in 2011, and it looks like they doubled down on the strongest parts of the game: urban landscape, infected (but not quite zombie) people running at you with improvised weapons, terrifying noises in the background, occasional human-like whimpers… I had to put the game aside for a bit and cleanse my palate with the most wholesome game I know – Stardew Valley. Trying something different this time: the new character is named Jenny, and she’s already created a parsnip monopoly while slaying monsters in underground abandoned mines. Sort of like Buffy but in the rural environment. That game is something else.

Next reading project: “Sell Out,” a series of short stories by Simon Rich. They were originally published in New Yorker and can’t be found on Kindle: I like a challenge!

In covid news, yesterday they were only four covid deaths in Britain. That’s still four too many, but that was their lowest daily death toll since September – a significant victory and hopefully the beginning of the end. It’s wild how some countries are seeing their healthcare infrastructure crumble while others are very nearly recovered. The next 12 months will be quite strange.

Good night, y’all.