Tag Archive: 2020


Plague diaries, Day 138

Wednesday night. Today was interesting: I spent the first half of the day talking to my contracted lawyers about my permanent residence application: apparently, one reason it’s taken them so long to prepare it is my ~16 addresses over the past 10 years. Heh. However, they did make several mistakes that I had to identify and call out. With luck, the whole thing will get submitted by the end of the week.

I spent the second half of the day at the commercial mine – the Quadeville Beryl Pit. For just $10 CAD, you get secret directions to an unmarked mine: after parking and then walking for about five minutes, you can pick all the fluorite, quartz, and amazonite your little heart desires! (Other minerals are also there, but not as evident.) It’s a bit on the nose that I, an Amazon employee, collected a bunch of amazonite. Might make a ring out of it… Heh. The actual ground floor of the mine had very high radiation readings (yay Geiger counter!), so I skedaddled the hell out of there. Still found some nice shiny rocks, though.

While I was out there, finally using the shovel I’d bought before my vacation, I overheard some locals: looks like the CN dump pile near Bancroft is a real thing, and you really can find some gems that glow under the UV light. The plan for tomorrow is to explore that town, hang out past sunset, and find some of those gems for myself. Alas, the famous mineral museum is shut down due to covid. Ditto for the annual gem convention, the Gemboree, which takes place here. On the upside, my AirBnB host told me about a local legend – the woman who makes the best donuts in the world. I’ll be driving by the Bancroft farmer’s market on Saturday morning, and will be able to buy some of her famous donuts then. I’m more than a little curious about the hype.

The host also uncorked some of the cider he’d made earlier this year: it’s sour and tastes pretty good, and it also seems to have way higher alcohol content than the usual stuff you’d find on sale. Life is good.

In covid news: congressman Louie Gohmert has tested positive for covid after deliberately avoiding masks or any other safety measures. He announced the news to his staffers in person – once again, without wearing a mask. It’s unclear how many people he’s managed to infect thus far… Like the saying goes, “play stupid games, win stupid prizes.” I have no sympathy for militant stupidity of this sort. I only wonder why the people of Texas kept re-electing someone like him. Is it the plain old “jocks vs nerds” issue where no one wants to vote for a boring brainiac? No hope for human race… (Or at least not the US part of it.)

Tuesday evening. I’ve just had to double-check what today this is – losing track of time is how you know your vacation is going well.

Today’s hike took me to an abandoned iron mine that apparently got gobbled up by a swamp at some point after the 2000 geological survey. Not the most productive three hours of my life, but hey – exercise. The other location I visited was more interesting, though. An old apatite mine didn’t have much to show in terms of fun rocks, but after I got up and turned around, I found an old rusty pickaxe just 2′ behind me. (See the pic below.)

It looks like it was made at some point after WW2 (rubber handle and all), but I can’t narrow it down more than that. Had it been lying there for a year? Had it been there since before I was born? Had it always been there, an immutable artifact imbued with strange magic, while the world grew around it? Or maybe it’s the symbolic rusted manifestation of a post-modern Arthurian legend, and by pulling it out I became the king of geologists? There’s simply no way to know for sure, so I’ll go with that last option. (Pixcalibur!)

I got to meet my AirBnB host last night. Cool guy. He’s in his 40s, and he’s spent most of his life working with troubled teens by taking them hiking and kayaking at a local summer camp. He’s a true outdoorsman while I’m a stereotypical geek, but we overlap a lot in our love of hiking, shiny gems, search&rescue (he used to be a wilderness EMT), and cider. This may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. That was also the first in-depth conversation with someone other than xgf that I’ve had since early March… Ye gods.

My company’s lawyers have prepared the final packet for my Canadian permanent residence application (I got invited to apply about seven weeks ago.) Now it’s time for one last round of reviews, crossing the i’s, dotting the t’s, that sort of thing – and then it’ll be just a matter of waiting for some kind government official to bestow upon me the permanent resident status. (I talk about waiting a lot, don’t I? That’s 2020 in a nutshell.)

In covid news… Canadians have another reason to be righteously angry with the US. American troops on a stopover in Newfoundland have been leaving their hotel and going out in blatant disregard of the 14-day quarantine rule. They claimed that the border agents had given them the green light. No one is really buying that – folks are trying to figure out what exactly the policy is – but either way, it’s a hot mess.

At an LCBO store earlier today, an employee wore his mask on his forehead.

An even bigger mess is “Doctor” Stella Immanuel. It was only a matter of time before Trump found a doctor who was sufficiently unhinged to back him up all the way. Immanuel got her medical degree in Nigeria, then became a practitioner in Texas, and claims her Nigerian experience allows her to prescribe hydroxychloroquine to everyone. (What is it about Republicans and hydroxychloroquine? Did they buy a huge stockpile they’re trying to get rid of? Did they all pitch in with their retirement money?) If that wasn’t bad enough, Immanuel also claims that doctors make vaccines using alien DNA (space aliens, to be precise) and that there are sexy demons who invade your dreams and suck out your life force. (To be fair, I’m not 100% sure about that last thing – I had to stop reading to protect my poor brain cells.)

So… yeah. The rest of the world is slowly reopening after going all in on science and empirical evidence. The US has a literal witch doctor advising the president and being retweeted by him. Many people have said this before, but it bears repeating again and again: if you were to write this all up as a novel at any point before 2020, any self-respecting editor would’ve had you committed out of general principle. (Or at the very least thrown out of the building, with a restraining order to follow.) Life will forever be stranger than fiction, if only because it can be far more absurd – and not subject to the editorial process.

Monday evening. It took 27 hours in my rental car (of which ~16 were spent driving), but I made it from Thunder Bay to my AirBnB near Palmer Rapids. It’s beautiful here. One hour east of Bancroft, two hours west of Ottawa, smack in the middle of the forest, where even GPS gets confused and turned around. The house is huge and gorgeous, but the wifi sucks. Equivalent exchange, eh?

During my big long drive, I saw a town called Hornepayne; a habitat for polar bears (likely shut down, like everything else); a small abandoned settlement with crushed decrepit wooden buildings; statues of a yeti, a polar bear, and a T-Rex; a city that was one giant construction zone with far too many stoplights; a Tim Hortons that almost ran out of bacon – a surefire sign of the apocalypse if there ever was one.

Spent the night at a Tilden Lake rest stop. Strange thing about Canadian rest stops: they exist, but if you don’t react to the sign posted just before the turnoff, you’ll miss them and have to drive another 40 minutes or so before you get lucky. (Or you can make a U-turn in the middle of the highway, though that’s a bit less ideal.) It was pitch-black when I pulled over at midnight, with strange beasts hooting in the distance. It was amazingly quiet and lovely when I woke up. A cute little lake right by the road, reeds and all.

I feel almost bad about my quiet and enjoyable vacation: xgf has run out of options for housing, and justifiably thinks that Toronto is too dangerous, covid-wise. In September, she’ll be moving back with her parents in a small town near Toronto. She’s one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. Her father thinks the pandemic is a Jewish conspiracy to depopulate the world. That’ll be a very bad arrangement…

In covid news: Germans have trained dogs to sniff out people who have covid. They have a 94% success rate, which is far better than most tests on the market. It’s a remarkably low-tech solution – I’m kind of surprised no one had tried it earlier. (High-tech hubris?) I ran out of podcasts during my drive: on the radio, Canadians were outraged (but in a polite and diplomatic way) about a weekend party in Brampton that was attended by over 200 people. (Brampton is one of Toronto’s suburbs.) Folks are understanding because no one is actually enjoying this lockdown, but also furious because this is not helping anyone. There were only eight constables on duty in the entire city, so the party guests skedaddled without being stopped or having their names recorded. (Contact-tracing will be complicated.) The house owners, though, might face a giant fine. I can’t help thinking if the same event would’ve provoked the same reaction in the US…

The town of Niagara Falls (on the Canadian side of the border) is slowly reopening: casinos will stay closed, while indoor dining will be resumed. That may lead to more clusters, as everyone will drive down there. (It’s just a couple of hours east of Toronto.) Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien has tested positive for covid. He’s part of Trump’s inner circle, so an awful lot people must be shitting giant-sized bricks right about now. And Herman Cain, who got diagnosed a few weeks ago, is allegedly “receiving oxygen,” which could mean anything at all. Worst case, this means he’s in an induced coma, fighting for his life. He’s 74… Even if you take just the official, low-level death counts, the US has crossed 150,000 deaths. That kind of number can’t be visualized or comprehended, and there is no end in sight…

And with this, I’m off to enjoy an evening of reading to engage in some much-needed escapism. Stay safe out there, folks.

Sunday morning. I’m sloooowly packing up and getting ready to leave this weird little basement apartment while my new neighbours’ kids wreak havoc upstairs. This might just be the strangest AirBnB I’ve ever stayed in (there are no smoke detectors…) but also one of the most picturesque locations. (Nothing can really beat Niagara Falls.)

Gonna spend most of today and half of tomorrow driving to a town near Bancroft, the mining center of Ontario. Who knows what I’ll find there. My snacks are ready, my water bottles have been refilled, and my USB drive is loaded up with more podcasts to help the 15-hour drive go by. I miss the cadence and comfort of long conversations… Podcasts help, if only a little.

Onward, to a new adventure.

Saturday night. Today was my last full day in Thunder Bay. I tried to make the most of it: slept in (of course), went to my secret spot to get more beautiful quartz crystals, then bought some local cherries ($3.99 CAD/lb – not the best deal, but not the worst either), and munched on them while reading my favourite author’s new book on a park bench overlooking Lake Superior and the Sleeping Giant. ’twas a good day.

I don’t relish the thought of waking up before 11am tomorrow, but sacrifices must be made, eh? I’m currently watching a pot full of uneaten eggs boil (maybe that’s why it won’t boil) while eating the last of my frozen burritos and drinking the last of my cider. I’m very self-sacrificial like that. I thought of turning on the gas-powered fireplace to fully maximize the low-key hedonism of my last night here, but it’s gas-powered, my sense of smell has never been too good, and it’s been emanating strange levels of heat… I figure I’ll skip the fireplace part. With my luck, I’ll just blow the whole place up, and that would be bad for my AirBnB rating.

In covid news… Look, you’ll just have to take my word for it that it gets crazier every single day. If we ever have a trend reversal that lasts, say, a week, I’ll be sure to mention it. The Sinclair Broadcasting Group is a giant media empire that controls hundreds of local TV news stations, among other things. They control the information consumption of millions of Americans. Someone leaked their plan to air a weekend program accusing Dr.Fauci of creating covid-19 for his own nefarious purposes. (I don’t read right-wing online conspiracies, but apparently they call it “plandemic” now.) There was a lot of outcry, and Sinclair backtracked and said they wouldn’t air the program. Good news: cockroaches still run if you shine a light on them. Bad news: it’s out in the mainstream (or almost mainstream) now, and who knows what crazy folks with guns will do…

A couple of nights ago, someone burned down the Democratic HQ in Phoenix – a bit of an escalation, considering that in the past they’d never gone beyond bricks through windows or petty vandalism. Things are getting heated up… Arizona, in particular, has had more covid deaths recently than the entire European Union. Considering that the EU has 60 times more people, that’s actually kind of remarkable – in a horrifying, unbelievable, nightmarish sort of way.

I’ll spend all day tomorrow driving toward Bancroft, where I’ll spend my second half of the vacation. Should be fun. I wonder what percentage of Ontarians have explored as much of their province as I have? I enjoy gamifying things, and it’d amuse me greatly if I were in the top 30%. Heh.

Plague diaries, Day 133

Friday evening, and life is good. After sleeping in (again) today, I went out and found an abandoned mine, with a classic 1950s car hanging out upside down in a small stream nearby. Looks like decades ago, someone lost control on the country road a few meters above… I hope they made it.

At a second place I visited, I found quartz. Lots and lots of quartz. Huge amounts of quartz, to be precise. Several hours later, I am now a proud owner of more than a bucket of quartz, big and small. I shall henceforth be known as an eccentric guy who gives a small amethyst or quartz crystal to everyone he meets. Heh. This is so unbelievably different from just wasting away indoors, sitting behind a computer… I’ll go back to that life soon enough (just seven full days remaining till I return to Toronto), but damn, what an amazing experience…

In covid news, things are still getting worse. One poor rural county in south Texas is instituting a triage system, where a committee would send home those who appear to be too sick to be helped. This isn’t very different from what they’d done in Italy a few months ago, but it’ll be a huge shock to the system for Americans.

Meanwhile, schools across the US are set to reopen next week-ish. I’m never sure about their exact start and end dates, since there are no kids either at work or in my adjacent personal life. (My landlords’ 16-year-old son is the youngest person I know.) Anyhow, there’s a great big push to send kids back to school. That will not end well… Some say that was political calculus gone horribly wrong: an attempt by the White House to appeal to suburban voters, followed by doubling down and refusing to change their position when it clearly backfired. Quite a few states are adamant that they’ll go with online learning only: it’s far from perfect, but it’ll keep their communities from developing new clusters. It’s a hot mess… I suppose in a way the timing was mildly fortuitous: had covid appeared in June instead of December, the US would’ve been dealing with the worst of it during the school year. Silver linings, eh?

Tomorrow is my last full day in Thunder Bay. Gonna have to make it count. Good night, friends.

Thursday evening, and I am loving this vacation. Spent an hour last night to map out the easiest-to-get-to locations. That still resulted in a 90-minute roadtrip, but it was super-easy to find what I was looking for: remnants of a 150-year-old mine. Not much was left of the actual mine, but I picked up some shiny (if small) amethysts.

…this is the first time in quite a while that I’ve actually been able to dream. I guess my brain hadn’t fully believed me the first few times I slept without an alarm clock. Sorry, little buddy.

I suppose this is somewhat covid-related: my xgf, who started to exercise during his basement lockdown, didn’t just injure her leg. It now appears that she tore not one but two muscles, and will have to be mostly immobile (and in a sad lonely basement) for two months. Just one of the billions of stories this pandemic is made of… Her friends are keeping her company, and this probably would’ve happened even without the pandemic, but then she probably would’ve stayed at her old place, with all the filthy roommates. It’s all just one giant tradeoff.

In more covid news, Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis is lying like there’s no tomorrow, claiming that covid is seasonal, that the overrun ICUs are fake news, and that everything is a-okay. In a way, I can kind of sort of understand where he’s coming from: most of Florida’s revenue comes from tourism, and if you shut that down, the entire state will starve. And yet… Had he done what every other country on earth had done (well, except maybe Brazil and the UK), Florida would’ve recovered after a few lean months. Then again, when you’re surrounded by other states that can send their infected to you, this all becomes a very bad version of the prisoner’s dilemma. I hope the footage of all those science-denying, tourism-promoting governors survives forevermore: someone, somewhere will have to remember the idiocy that had been committed in the name of shortsighted profits.

And on that happy note, I’m off to binge-watch some TV and try to distract myself from that toxic mess, as well as the fact it’s been over four months since I’ve had an in-depth conversation with anyone aside from my ex…

Wednesday evening. I slept in late again, then went hiking… I could get used to this. Technically speaking, I didn’t succeed: the directions were vague and the 20-year-old trails they mentioned got overgrown. I did find a couple of cool-looking (though not shiny) rocks, followed by a perfect place to lie down and read: gorgeous boulders next to the picturesque Silver Harbour. The sun, the sounds of water, occasional fun human noises in the background. It was lovely for about an hour, until someone started coughing in the background. The cough was deep and long and dry… I cut my outing short.

I took my work laptop on vacation with me – partly to spy on my team while they do their own thing, partly to stay in touch with my work friends from the US. The battery failed somehow, so I used a $1 eyeglasses repair kit I’d bought years ago to remove the cover and replace the battery. I knew that thing would be useful someday! (I’m not a hoarder, just a forward thinker.)

In covid news, my all-time favourite diner is shutting down. There was a hole-in-the-wall casino in downtown Reno – the Little Nugget. It had no table games, just slot machines, and there was a really sketchy little diner in the very back. They accepted cash only, cashiers generally didn’t last more than two weeks, there was cigarette smoke in the air, and about 20% of the time you’d have to run to the nearest bathroom after you ate there. But goddamn it, their food was delicious. The Awful-Awful burger was “awful cheap and awful good.” Back in my college days, the 1/2 lb burger with a giant side of fries cost just $6. Or you could order pancakes for $2.50. Or a hangover omelet for just $8: five-egg omelet, salsa, hashbrowns, and a free Bloody Mary on the side. (Gotta tip the bartender, of course.)

My best friend and I were both broke as a joke for many years, but we’d make a point of going out to the Little Nugget once a week, every week. We’d sit and munch and talk about everything… Sometimes, we’d see something highly improbable – such as a homeless man getting in a shouting match with the bouncer (due to taking the casino’s basket when a patron gave him leftover fries), then returning five minutes later, and throwing a carrot at the bouncer’s head. We never did figure out where he found a carrot in downtown Reno (nothing but souvenir stores) at midnight. Fun times…

It’s more than a little insensitive to wax poetic about the death of a diner when at least 620,000 people (and likely far more) have died of covid. I’m well aware of that. I just can’t stop thinking about the world we’ll end up living in. The service industry will be unrecognizable. Most restaurants and diners not backed up by giant conglomerates will disappear forever. Some new ones may rise from the ashes and carry on the torch, but for the most part it’ll probably be just more of the same old chain restaurants. I guess more folks will have learned how to cook, thanks to the lockdown. Heh.

Off to watch some TV, plot out tomorrow’s hike, and catch some zzz’s. (In Canada, they’re pronounced “zeds.”) Here is a pic of the coziest reading perch I’ve ever found thus far in Canada. Give Thunder Bay a shot if you ever aim to visit Canada – it’s beautiful up here…

Tuesday evening. I just had to double-check what day this was. Gotta love the vacation life!

Today, I slept in and then forced myself to go outside and visit a local mining landmark. As it turned out, that was a fine investment of time and energy. The shortest path was closed for vehicles, so I drove a bit away, and then spent 75 minutes fighting the shrubbery before I finally found the place. The mine has been abandoned since the 19th century, so there was just a hole in the ground, mostly covered by age and debris. I did, however, find a ton of calcite samples. Not sure if any of them are museum quality per se, but they’ll make for a fine paperweight.

The walk back was on the highway shoulder, without fighting the branches and the topography, but a wee bit longer. All in all, I spent four hours hiking around with my heavy backpack (I might have overprepared), and I think I’ll be mighty sore tomorrow. Still worth it, though.

The local radio has some interesting, purely Canadian sort of news: a guy went blackberry-picking and got eaten by a black bear. Another guy broke the local speeding record with 144 km/hour. That’s just 89 miles an hour, which is actually slower than some of the posted speed limits in the Nevada desert, along the loneliest highway between Reno and Las Vegas… It’s strange to have to limit myself to 90 km (56 miles) per hour on local highways. It definitely beats walking, but it’s sooo sloooow.

I’ve only really been vacationing for just two days now, but it’s such a refreshing change of pace from, say, sitting at home playing my MMORPG for 48 hours. (Sorry, ESO, you know I love you.) My facebook friends and family are living vicariously through my updates. I hope they also find something to distract themselves with. Even with everything that’s happening, 2020 need not be a total loss.

In covid news… The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control is recommending using glory holes to prevent face-to-face contract. They stole that from New York’s advisory a few months ago but decided to clarify. (The NY version merely mentioned using walls as barriers. They’re subtle that way.) This story has been making rounds for a few days now: Russian hackers tried to steal the data on vaccine development from just about everyone. This cuckoo approach (steal, don’t develop) kind of sort of worked for them in the past: after all, the Soviet Union stole the nuclear bomb secrets instead of doing their own research. Dishonourable but effective.

And with that, I’ll lie down, get some well-deserved rest, and read more Dresden Files – or watch more of the strange German TV show where actors look entirely too much alike. Cheers, y’all.

Monday night, and I’m not working for the first time in about two years. (Tried being a workaholic in 2019; didn’t work out. The three-week vacation in March was tainted by having to prepare for a giant presentation.) It feels goooood.

I spent most of the day at a local amethyst mine, collecting the shiny purple preciouses for the low, low price of just $25 CAD (~$18 USD) for an entire bucket. The elderly hostess gave me some dating advice (“Women love shiny things!”), showed me what to look for, and sent me on my way. Everything was covered in mud, so there was a lot of guesswork involved, both visual and tactile. I had no clue what I was doing, but I had fun doing it. (Feel free to use that as my epitaph. (More like epic-taph, amirite?)) When I returned to my AirBnB and washed my loot in the bathtub, I found that the big rocks were mostly mildly interesting disappointments, but the smaller ones were amazing. I managed to find a few red amethysts (the secret ingredient is hematite!), which are only found in this part of the world.

It was so peaceful and tranquil… Just sitting, digging, hammering, sorting – for hours and hours on end. It got a bit less peaceful and tranquil when other people arrived with their kids, but that gave mosquitoes more targets. Strategy, strategy. Heh.

That alone was well worth the long drive, and there’s a lot more interesting stuff to explore, which I’ll do tomorrow. On the way back to my rental basement apartment, I stopped by the Terry Fox monument, which was pretty damn inspiring. I’m amazed I’ve never heard of him before, and I wonder if he was used as an inspiration for Forrest Gump’s jog across America.

In covid news: xgf is feeling fine now, so that was either a very strange food poisoning due to a broken fridge, or an extremely mild form of the virus. We’ll likely never know. Just a few hours ago, Trump tweeted that wearing masks is patriotic. He’s a few months too late to the party… Chances are, the tweet was sent by his PR team, and he’ll continue to either badmouth masks or waffle on the topic in his future public appearances. It’ll be hilarious to watch his supporters pivot from “masks are tyranny!” to “we’ve always supported masks! Wooo!” Heh. And finally, there’s some optimistic news from the Oxford vaccine trial. So far, it’s showing very promising results with antibodies. Right now, there are 23 vaccines in advanced testing stages around the world. Maybe one or more of them will actually work – and if we’re lucky, convey lasting immunity. I wonder if it’d be possible to score one of each vaccine, just for the fun of it. (I’m convinced some billionaires out there have the same idea.)

Off to watch a Netflix show about time-traveling Germans (must they all look so similar?) and prepare for a lot of hiking tomorrow. Sleep well, fellow survivors.