Archive for May, 2020

Sunday night. I’ve just booked my summer vacation – the first uninterrupted stretch of time off, all by myself, in 3.5 years…

One odd thing about a pandemic is that it shuts down everything, up to and including the normally secluded attractions. I was looking forward to sleeping in a tent at one of Ontario’s rural campgrounds, but every single one I checked is closed due to covid.

In Thunder Bay, a city of 100,000 about 15 hours north of Toronto, there are some mines where you can dig around for amethysts for a very small fee. One of them is shut down due to the pandemic as well – I just hope at least one of them will remain open (or re-open) by the time I visit in late July. If not, I can always find a mineral occurrence in public access and do a little digging. Worst-case scenario, I’ll have some peace and quiet, a lot of nature, and all the sleep I can handle. Even with the rental four-wheel-drive car (mine won’t be good enough for offroad driving) and the two AirBnBs (Thunder Bay and Bancroft), this vacation will cost less than $1,000 CAD. That’s quite a steal, and will help me keep my mind off the pandemic. (Things get worse every day…) Just seven weeks of work, and I’ll be able to have my very own rural Ontario adventure.

The world news is mostly subdued by more political insanity from the US. The death toll in Brazil is climbing, though the real numbers are almost definitely higher than the official ones they’ve been putting out. I wonder what this coming week will bring…

It’s Saturday night, and the US is on fire. It was always a powder keg waiting to blow up, and it finally did. Protests in 30 major cities. Police cars on fire. Cops caught on video driving through protesters and assaulting random people (including a congresswoman) who didn’t do anything at all. A photo reporter was shot in the face by the police, and became permanently blind in her left eye…

This is 1968 all over again. We never did learn or grow.

Epidemiologically speaking, all of this will make the second wave far worse (and sooner) than it would’ve been otherwise. It’s also pretty amusing that evening curfews were so easy to organize on short notice in response to civil unrest over a black man being killed by the police, yet there was nothing even close to that level of urgency with covid: loose restrictions, no curfews, little if any enforcement. Priorities, eh?..

I hung out with xgf today: she’s doing well, though seeing me again sent her down an emotional spiral. She’s getting a little too panicky about potential exposure, so she had me wear a mask the entire time, but hey – whatever gives you peace of mind in these here plague times. We drove to a lakeside park, which we had to flee almost immediately after being attacked by a gigantic swarm of weird bugs that were bigger than flies but less aggressive than mosquitoes. Swamp flyers? I think I’ll call them swamp flyers. Tiny but persistent.

Toronto’s traffic pattern is back to its pre-covid self: gridlock, shitty drivers, near-misses happening all around. During 1.5 hours of driving, I saw the outcome of a three-car collision (airbags and all), as well as a few very close calls that involved drivers playing chicken with a semi truck, a driver who almost flattened two bicyclists, and a man who ran into traffic because he simply had to blow some mowed grass off the side of the curb. (A lawn to die for?) I can’t tell if this is all because a) everyone forgot what it’s like to share the road in a major city, b) folks forgot how to drive, c) people are too aggressive because of the long lockdown, or d) all of the above.

So far, xgf and I have been rather lucky with how little the pandemic has affected us. Let’s see if that pattern holds.

Friday night. Every trip is a potential trap. There were more masks at Walmart today – around 70%, I’d say. Most people aren’t following the 6′ rule anymore, but everyone tries to be very fast and apologetic. …a young woman standing a few meters away from me had a bad coughing fit. One of the loss prevention people near the exit coughed a little before I approached. Nerves or covid? And who knows how many more were asymptomatic… It’s not like I had a lot of trust in humanity even before the plague; now my “what if” thinking is partially justified, and that makes it worse.

In the world news, the Minnesota riots escalated to the point of burning down an entire police department. (I must admit, that’s kind of impressive and unprecedented). A 70-year-old man in India beheaded a 52-year-old man to offer human sacrifice to the goddess that had revealed herself to him (she promised to stop the pandemic). Also in India, a lab assistant screwed up in the worst imaginable way, and several monkeys with samples of covid have escaped into the city. (Do you want to get “28 days later”? Because that’s how you get “28 days later.”) Oh, and a black CNN reporter got arrested while broadcasting live and complying with all the police instructions – and that happened before the murderous cop got placed under arrest.

In other words, it’s business as usual here in the weirdest timeline. I’ve said this many times before, but I will never tire of saying it: I’m so glad I moved from the US to Canada…

I think I already mentioned that as the designated old fart at work (>10 years and all), I get more vacation time than I know what to do with. (That’s what I refer to as a “Grigory problem.”) Before things get too hectic, I’ve booked two more weeks of vacation for the second half of July. Since international travel is a really bad idea right now, I’ll head in the opposite direction and explore northern Ontario. Thunder Bay sounds like a fascinating city, and I hear they’ve got sapphires… Here is hoping this vacation will be marginally less stressful than the one in April.

Thursday night. It really is alarming how much the old routine is reasserting itself… This doesn’t feel like four whole workdays have passed: the routine is back, and it’s gobbling up my time, with every evening more or less the same.

The world was mad, and now it’s getting madder: several days ago, four white cops in Minnesota killed George Floyd, a black man, with impunity and knowing they were being filmed. They got fired, but that wasn’t nearly enough. Now the city of Minneapolis is on fire: a Target store was looted, a McDonald’s was set on fire, there are bricks flying through police department windows… The brazen nature of this particular extrajudicial execution is far worse than any of the ones that had come before: Freddie Gray, Michael Brown Jr., Philando Castile, and far too many others.

Earlier today on Twitter, some were musing out loud that since all the wealthy folks have fled major cities, their houses are just sitting there, filled with goodies… Even using the official unemployment metric (which typically excludes freelancers, gig workers, etc), there are now over 40 million unemployed Americans. There will be much more looting, and riots, and unrest. I’ll be glad to be wrong on this particular prediction.

One thing I didn’t see coming at all is the permanent closure of museums. The Living Computer Museum in Seattle, founded by Paul Allen, said they’ll be shutting down until further notice. Others will follow, I’m sure. It’s a bit sad: I’d spent 3.5 years of my life in Seattle, and I never once visited that place. Here is hoping that they (and others) will reopen: as billionaires go, Paul Allen was almost as benign as one can get, and that particular museum was mighty unique.

Wednesday night. I’m an idiot: I completely forgot that you can deposit a check just by taking its picture with the bank app. On the upside, I got a lot of anti-covid vitamin D during my 2-hour walk yesterday, so it’s not all bad. …I guess I never got used to the concept of doing stuff with apps, being an elder Millennial and all. (I didn’t see my first iPhone till I was 21.) I’m officially old. Heh. I wonder, if anybody is reading this in the post-plague future, will anyone come up with a better term than “videotaping” to describe recording a video? It’s quite an anachronistic term (just like depositing checks in ATMs), but nobody can come up with a better one.

Strange day at work today: on the one hand, I definitely aced the high-level presentation I’ve been working on for the last three months. On the other hand, 90 minutes later I learned about a major reorg on my team. My job is safe, but that’s one weird rollercoaster.

Xgf is doing fine in her self-imposed basement isolation: today she baked brownies for her neighbours from upstairs. She and I still talk on the phone, and might hang out in a socially-isolated manner on Saturday. She mentioned that I sound much different now that I’m alone and with just my work to keep my company. The social “yes man” mask stays on even after the workday is over. It takes quite an effort to take it off…

In covid news, Nevada’s governor said casinos and other public places can reopen next Thursday, eight days from now. I suppose that’s one way to see who the most desperate gamblers are. There’ll be some wild pictures from casinos that try (and fail) to implement anti-covid measures like plexiglass barriers and gloves for players. Not sure how they aim to do that with card games and dice: literally burn the deck after each use and dunk the dice in ammonia after each player, I suppose. I miss Vegas dearly (having spent 10 years of my life in Nevada), but I don’t think I’ll be going anywhere until the vaccine is out. (Every country seems to be developing their own; it’ll be interesting to see who gets it done first.)

There are some reports that the states that reopened are seeing a huge spike in covid cases. Like the twitter joke goes, you can’t have the second wave if you never really finish the first wave. Being a hermit has its advantages…

Tuesday evening. It really is amazing how quickly things fall back into the old routine. This almost felt like any other pre-plague workday, aside from the fact that I kept working from home and didn’t go to my warehouse. I stopped by there very briefly yesterday to drop off my office key. (Since I’ll be out for the foreseeable future, they may as well use it for the folks who are still there.) I’ve been gone for 10 weeks and things have definitely changed… I didn’t recognize the place, even from my vantage point near the entrance. I wonder how much more will change the longer this goes on.

I tried to take a short walk to the local RBC ATM right after work: the weather is sunny and I could use more exercise. (Lost some weight and haven’t been to the gym since before this diary started.) The ATM 20 minutes away from me wouldn’t accept any deposits at all. The ATM 20 more minutes down the road took my cash deposit (cash is heavily frowned upon these days), but refused to take my check, spitting it out three times in a row. The funny part here is that the check (cheque?) is from the Canadian government itself – an income tax refund. It’s even funnier because RBC stands for “Royal Bank of Canada.” Heh. Gonna have to actually drive to the damn place tomorrow on my lunch break.

Speaking of surviving pandemics with a sardonic attitudes, behold – a real-life “please don’t loot us” sign I found at a nearby electronics store. It was right next to another store that covered all the windows with wood paneling and shut down indefinitely. Strange times…

Monday evening. The first day back in the GTA (Mississauga, specifically), the first day by myself…

Before we departed on this 10-week AirBnB adventure, I’d lived in this rental room for just six weeks. I lived in three different places since then. It was indescribably bizarre to turn the handle, walk into the room – undisturbed, just as I’d left it – and turn on the light switch to find that nothing at all had changed. My stacks of books, my gaming PC’s screen still blinking in the power-saving mode, my art collection… It’s as if nothing ever happened, as if I merely stepped out and had a remarkably vivid hallucination, as if the world didn’t forever change.

It’s a little bit funny: after three different AirBnB residences and more than 10 weeks away, I can’t recall where I’d kept my things. I’ll have to spend a few hours just to rediscover my own room and see what’s what, and where, and why. On the upside, I’ve discovered that I don’t really need art, or all that many books, or a gaming PC in order to relax, enjoy life, and make the most of it. That knowledge will be useful when I decide to start my lean-FIRE…

Yesterday was crazy but not chaotic. We’d packed on Saturday night. Sunday morning was spent double-checking everything, eating a quick breakfast, and packing the car. We reached xgf’s Toronto at 1pm, dropped off everything at xgf’s new basement apartment (to keep the car empty for moving the rest of her things), and went to her old house. Things have really gone to hell there. On a typical day, the house has between 6-10 roommates. Now it’s twice as many. They chose to disregard every social distancing guidelines and started inviting their partners, their partners’ roommates, random relatives, etc. In the five hours that xgf and I were there, packing and sorting through things, we saw at least a dozen people, and heard many more. The roommates are all genders, mostly in their 20s and 30s, though at least one is in his 40s. If even 20% of Canada’s population acts that way, this pandemic will take a long time to die down.

I bought xgf’s enough groceries to last a few weeks. We finished moving everything around 9pm. Her gal pal, the owner of the basement apartment, joined us for one last dinner in the backyard before I left for good. We ate some very basic thrown-together cuisine (think American cheese slices on toast, with some tomatoes on the side), we talked, we laughed, we talked some more. Afterwards, xgf and I had one last conversation before we parted ways and became very good friends instead of apocalypse survival partners… The conversation was deep, and touching, and lovely. It’s a shame we couldn’t make it work.

And so, back to the apocalypse, but this time by myself.

Sunday night. Much packing, lots of driving, a great deal of talking. It’s over between xgf and I, but it was beautiful while it lasted. More tomorrow…

Saturday night. This was our last full day together… It was eventful: one last drive to a park, a homecooked veggie&steak roast, a lot of packing for tomorrow, a laptop-lit bath (as one does in a cyber-age pandemic). We’re parting on very good terms: I’ve helped xgf improve her dating ad for her eventual return into the dating scene, we talked more about the things that didn’t work out, etc.

Big day tomorrow: driving 90 minutes back to Toronto, moving a lot of things to xgf’s new basement apartment from her old rental room, etc. I probably won’t make it back home to my own old rental till late in the evening. It will be so very strange to see my landlords again after more than 10 weeks away. (I’d only lived with them for six weeks before I departed on this covid odyssey.) It’ll be even stranger to find my room exactly as I found it – books, gaming PC, art-covered walls, and so on.

To quote Kurt Vonnegut, “So it goes…”

World news: the official guesstimate of the US deaths is about 100,000. New York Times published a long list of names, ages, and brief facts about the covid victims on their front page. A lot of people online are wondering why more of their fellow Americans aren’t taking the pandemic (and the incompetence-driven death toll) more seriously. The current consensus is that 100,000 is simply too large a number to visualize. Imagine 33 9/11’s… Not for the first time, I’m so extremely glad I moved to Canada.

Friday night. Ten full weeks since this adventure began. Hard to imagine that two days from now, I’ll be back in my giant rental room, back in the familiar surroundings but without the familiar presence near me…

Got an interesting proposition at work, but the timing was all wrong. My warehouse colleagues are wondering when I’ll return – the answer, of course, is when the official guidance calls for it. So far, the official line is that we can self-isolate through October. It’s been a bit of a reputation race between tech giants: Google, Facebook, and Amazon have been setting farther and farther dates for returning to work. (That process began in March.) Twitter threw down the gauntlet when they said their employees can work from home permanently if they’d like. Then Spotify followed the suit. A few days ago, Facebook said the same thing, but with an important caveat: the salary would be tied to the cost of living in the place where you’d actually reside. (Meaning their California employees wouldn’t keep their high salary if they worked remotely from rural Oregon.)

I’m curious to see what Amazon and Google will do. This whole mess is definitely affecting the way companies operate. My team has just onboarded five new hires, and they aren’t meeting any of us in person – it’s just a lot of remote training, making the process even tougher and stranger than it usually is.

…we spent our last Friday night together watching the sunset at a scenic overview, with the river fading into the darkness as we had yet another conversation about what would have been. Packed and strange day tomorrow as we’ll try to do a bit of everything and a whole lot of nothing.

World news: Brazil’s official death toll has crossed 20,000. The actual death toll won’t be known until much later, I’m sure. More insanity with the US politics, but what else is new?