Tag Archive: diary

Tuesday night.

It’s literally illegal for me to go outside – the quarantine doesn’t even allow for general-purpose walks. Instead, I’m diving deep into the infinite worlds of No Man’s Sky. It’s so beautiful… Not only the endless variation of randomly generated worlds, plants, and animals, but also the little things like the writing itself, or little hidden jokes (repurposing an organic fertilizer factory to make a gourmet pellet factory for the race of aliens you hate), but especially the weather… Each world is different: some are placid, some are stormy, some are dead wastelands. Somehow, some way, I keep ending up on worlds where it rains. It reminds me ever so much of Seattle…

I moved there in August 2015: drove all the way from Tampa, which was a great roadtrip marred only by the fact that my relocation payout had been taken away at the very last moment. (I know, my accountant couldn’t believe that either.) On the upside, my friends along the way had comfy couches, and Georgia had roadside rest stops with some nice amenities. Seattle itself, though… The work was hell. I was a business analyst in a small, crowded, windowless office, supporting a Finance person on the other side of the country. She kept sending me endless demands, sometimes while driving to work, three or four in a row, and mutually contradicting. The only consolation for those late, late nights was the fact that I was so low in the corporate hierarchy that I was still paid by the hour. Those 60- (and sometimes 70-) hour workweeks resulted in some nice overtime, which was the sole consolation. I was renting a room in West Seattle, the area usually skipped by the C-route bus. I don’t remember much from my first six months in the city (just stress, so much stress), but I recall the sensation, over and over, of walking through the city late at night, catching that midnight bus home, through a strange city where it never stopped raining, where high-rise buildings were like neon-silhouetted obelisks lighting up the gloom like the generic backdrop of yet another cyberpunk novel.

I remember the first time I found a nearby restaurant that stayed open 24/7. On Friday nights, at 11pm, 13 Coins had live music. I don’t remember anything from the second half of 2020 but I do remember coming in just as the music was about to start, munching on an expensive but delicious smoked cheddar burger while sipping on my coke (I was so innocent) and listening as the band began to play. I was so miserable: I kept asking myself whether I’d made a mistake, whether I could quit this job with this company I’d been with for almost six years and find something comparable in Seattle, with my virtually nonexistent tech skills. That burger, that diner, that music amidst the rain and gloom were my sole sanity anchor in all that madness. And then… The following spring, I treated myself to a dirt-cheap three-week hostel vacation in Costa Rica, and saw that there was beauty in this world, and got the idea for my five-year plan I launched later that year. It’s been about five years now… How quickly things can change.

Aaaanyway… I’ve tried, and tried, and failed to find a way to read an old-fashioned bulky paper book. Sorry, old textbook dude, I’ll read you sometime in the future when there’s more space and fewer distractions, eh. New book (an e-book on my phone, of course) – Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire by David Remnick. What an excellent writer. What an interesting topic. I was a child then, so there were many things I saw and experienced but probably never understood. I wonder how much of that will resurface and make sense as I flip those little virtual pages.

In covid news, there are debates over vaccine passports as the world is trying to decide what the future will look like. In the US, for a variety of political and logistical reasons, the nationwide vaccine passport won’t work, so they won’t even try. They do have those nifty little CDC vaccination cards, though… England and the EU are both (but separately) working on vaccine certificates. Israel is taking a more interesting approach: their “Green Pass” for the vaccinated and/or recovered folks allows access to all the nice things in life (hotels, theaters, etc) based on the vaccination status. That’s a damn fine way to get the anti-vaxx folks to give up their oh-so-strong philosophical objections and get vaccinated if they want to get back to normal. I doubt a lot of countries will adopt this approach, but hey, you never know.

To round this up, here is a pic of yours truly on the 387th day of this covid journey. It’s been 354 days since I got a haircut (all the way back on day 33), I still have 11 days of quarantine locked up at home, and my work no longer uses webcams – so it’s bathrobe time, y’all! This pic has it all, including my trusty old instapot (I would’ve starved without it), a souvenir from Costa Rica, my wild feral hair, and some clutter and disarray in the background. Heh.

Good night, y’all.

Monday night.

I had two pretty funny reactions earlier today when I learned that Yahoo Answers is finally getting put out of its misery:

  1. Oh no, not Yahoo Answers!
  2. Wait, Yahoo Answers is still alive?

It seems like it got surpassed and then completely overshadowed by Reddit’s r/AskReddit many years ago. I think the last time I used Yahoo Answers was around 2012. It’s definitely part of Internet’s history but wow, it’s so old and decrepit. This reminds me of the shutdown of GeoCities (also owned by Yahoo), with all its adorably clunky ancient personal sites and guestbooks. I wonder if Zoomers would believe it if we told them that once upon a time, your site’s visitors could sign a guestbook. Heh.

In a bit of personal news, my low-key efforts to start looking for interesting people online have paid off. A very interesting person who unfortunately lives on the opposite coast will be in Toronto to see her family in the second half of May… It’s interesting that she’s a Canadian-American to my American-Canadian. Yet another thing to look forward to after this whole mess is over. (Over for me, subjectively. Objectively, it’ll go on for quite some time.)

Business idea: post-pandemic physical therapy to get us couch potatoes in some sort of passably fine physical shape. Like one of those yuppie bootcamps, but more user-friendly.

In covid news, the entire province of Ontario will probably get hit with a stay-at-home order – a lot of medical officials, including Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa, publicly called for it earlier today, citing horrific case numbers. This will likely happen: on social media, a wide variety of local doctors are talking about having zero available ICU beds, even for those who don’t have covid. Systems have momentum… The people who will be in those ICUs a week from now are only now getting sick. Even a total lockdown here and now won’t stop the momentum for a solid week or so. Online, people are not taking that well… Everyone used to joke how it’s been a year since we were asked to self-isolate “for just two weeks.” Those jokes are gone now: folks are just angry or sad, or some mixture thereof.

The many, many municipalities that make up the Greater Toronto Area are all doing something different with their vaccine eligibility. Some are opening it up for everyone 50 and over; others are still 55+ or 60+. Some are opening it up for folks with high BMI. Some are allowing people with mental health issues, diagnosed or not. Some are opening it up for those who identify as Indigenous people. You don’t have to be Indigenous, you just have to say that you identify that way. No proof is asked (Canada is, after all, a very polite society), and none is given. It’s a logical outcome of a broken system that didn’t plan the rollout properly, and that routinely has medics standing by with no one to vaccinate because the province is dead-set on luring all the oldest citizens to downtown Toronto (not a very accessible place) before letting anyone else have any vaccines. The system is broken, and as a logical outcome, there’s a real rush as people keep calling the hospitals that might have leftover vaccines, or claim to belong to groups they’re not in (and then gleefully admit as much on social media), etc. In the end, everyone will get vaccinated, but the fact that it’s turned so many of us into liars… Yeesh. And yes, I’m well aware of the irony that I myself had pretended to be from Ohio to get my shot. Same old story: the system is broken. (How can a small and peaceful country like Canada force a country like the US to end the export ban? There’s zero leverage, aside from stopping our maple syrup exports. Heh.)

Good night, y’all.

Sunday night.

I’ve checked the paperwork to verify my dark suspicion, and yep – if you’re quarantined after crossing the border, you’re not supposed to go outside at all, even for exercise. For the next 12 days, my Studio of Solitude will remain my 24/7 home, without so much as a walk in the sun. Meh, still worth it.

Today was spent doing absolutely nothing productive, but a lot of fun nonetheless: my little alien dude in No Man’s Sky has built up a scrappy but functional planetary base, bought a cheap space freighter after defending it from space pirates, and started building his own space business empire. (Everything is better with space in it.) There is an interesting colonial aspect to the whole game… You’re a very nearly omniscient alien invading different planets, strip-mining them for resources (in the game, all the devices have zero emissions to avoid the awkward environmental questions), slaughter local animals (even when they’re described as self-aware or capable of love), and generally make a mess of things before moving on to the next planet. To all those planets and their inhabitants, you’re essentially an evil alien, though the game never delves into that. That was part of why the original Star Trek series was so great: they actually debated whether it was right to interfere, whether their actions would make them villains. If you’ve never seen it before, check out The City on the Edge of Forever – probably one of the most famous, beautiful, and haunting Star Trek episodes ever made. That’s some good stuff, eh.

…yes, I know, I have many opinions.

If you’ve been reading this for a while now, I’d just like to point out that I’m not some tragic deadend case that spends all his life playing games in a basement. (My apartment is on the third floor, please and thank you.) Before the pandemic, before everything, I had a fairly active social life, with outings, and dates, and meet-ups, and parties. (Though to be fair, there were also weekends dedicated exclusively to recharging my introvert battery.) We find ourselves now in this strange predicament where staying inside, and doing anything you can to keep your sanity while staying inside, is heroic – or at the very least responsible and patriotic. I would love nothing more than go bar-hopping, or invade karaoke bars, or audit every bar on Toronto’s lakefront to sample their selection of cider (it’s usually not that great), but here we are…

In covid news, it really is uncanny how often people ignore the news or the increasingly dangerous trend until it finally affects some celebrity. The Vancouver Canucks (a beloved NHL team) got hit with the Brazilian P.1 variant. More than 20 players are sick, and some can’t even get out of bed. That happened despite all of their testing and precautions. It somehow made it out of Brazil, to someone local, and then to them. If even the NHL itself can’t keep its players safe, the odds are bad for average Canadians. There are reports of this variant in Alberta, and it’s likely circulating in other provinces, but since it’s not hitting celebrities, no one cares – at least thus far. Canada and the US are setting new vaccination records every single day (to be fair, the US records are quite a bit higher) but if this variant spreads faster than we can vaccinate people… This will not be pretty. We should find out soon, I guess: for now, there’s a critical shortage of ICU beds in the entire GTA (Greater Toronto Area) region.

Stay safe, folks.a

Saturday night.

Well, the shot is definitely making itself known. My left arm has moved from sore to actually painful when I move it, and I woke up with mild cold symptoms: stuffed nose and feeling lightheaded. (The latter never happens to me.) There’s always the outside chance that was caused by my long roadtrip yesterday: it was quite a shock to the system, and my diet wasn’t exactly healthy. Still, the achy arm shows the vaccine is doing its thing. I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to be in pain before.

Clarification for yesterday’s post, since quite a few people saw it without having read any others: I’m a US citizen. I wasn’t an amoral Canadian trying to sneak into the States to steal their vaccine under the cover of darkness. There are at least two ethically clear interpretations here: first, the vaccine was paid for (in part) with my tax dollars, since I still pay my US taxes – and since my elected officials never replied to my questions about vaccinating expats, this was me coming to the source to get my vaccine. Second, I’m also a Canadian, and Canada had ordered the Pfizer vaccine from the US plant in Michigan last year. All exports are blocked, so in a way, I was also a Canadian coming over to the US to get the vaccine my Canadian tax dollars paid for. Heh. When you start to stack up different legal jurisdictions you belong to, life gets a lot more interesting…

There’s also a pretty disturbing philosophical conclusion here: as the US is starting to vaccinate absolutely everyone (even 16-year-olds) while keeping the export ban in place (the one-time donation of AstraZeneca hardly counts), that implies they consider the life of a single American teenager to be more valuable than that of a Canadian elder who might not get their Pfizer vaccine in time. I get the “America first!” defense, I really do, but how big does your stockpile have to get before you finally start exporting as per existing business contracts?..

In less depressing news, I’ve gone ahead and paused my zombie game in favour of No Man’s Sky – a giant, infinite, mostly peaceful exploration game where you fix up your spaceship, explore new solar systems, marvel at randomly generated plants and animals, and do whatever the hell you want. You can be a space pirate, a botanist, an architect, a courier, a friend of the three alien races, etc… There’s also some sort of overarching plot, too, but I never bothered with it. The game was half-baked when it originally came out in 2016, but they’ve done wonders with it: I highly, highly recommend it.

Of course, it doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to see the shift: instead of wasting all my time in a hostile game where everything (zombies, dogs, birdies) tries to kill you, I’ve switched to exploring the galaxy and building up a peaceful little world. I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I got my first Pfizer shot, that I’m already protected against covid – and will get even more protected when I get the second shot in 20 days. It’s hard to digest after all this time. I do feel much better, mentally speaking. Although I can’t even leave my studio (you never know when they might stop by to check up on me), I know that there’s a finite amount of time left. For the first time in what feels like forever, this longest lockdown feels like a miniature vacation – an inconvenience at worst – just like it always should have.

In covid news, the CDC has another minor self-inflicted PR disaster. The new CDC director, Dr.Rochelle Walensky, made a very strange statement during a cable news interview earlier this week: she claimed that vaccinated people “do not carry the virus, don’t get sick, and that it’s not just in the clinical trials but it’s also in real world data.” That was one of those bizarre “am I really right while she’s wrong?” moments where the words of the CDC director seemed really wrong, yet I doubted myself because, well, I’m a nobody compared to her. That was also why I never mentioned that on my blog. I guess I wasn’t the only one: a CDC spokesman admitted that Walensky “spoke broadly” and didn’t mean it. That does not inspire confidence, and that’ll be yet another thing anti-vaxxers will be able to justifiably quote. (“See, even the CDC doctors don’t know what they’re talking about!”) I work in Finance: we’re always extremely careful about the way we phrase our communications to business partners. (Up to and including saying “correct” when we get a potentially ambiguous yes-or-no question.) I want the kind of CDC director who would stare at the camera for a solid minute before uttering a single perfect sentence in reply. I get that Walensky is new on this job, and that she’s definitely better than her predecessor (Redfield recently claimed, against all evidence, that covid was China’s bioweapon), but when the CDC director engages in free-flowing improv or word association on national television, that does not inspire confidence… This is quite minor compared to the CDC’s utter failure last year, but still – this isn’t helping the remains of their reputation.

Good night, y’all.

Friday night.

I did it. I really, really did it. Everything went exactly as I planned, without so much as a hitch. (Though I did have a brief scare when I couldn’t find my passport in Ohio – it’d fallen between the seat and the door.)

Typing it up while all the memories are still fresh…

I snoozed my phone alarm a few times too many, and woke up at 4:35am instead of my planned 4am. Still, managed to leave on time, at 5:05am, after grabbing an envelope with all my documents and a backpack with my work laptop, just in case Canada decided not to let me in.

Driving Ontario’s highways before the sunrise, and on a statutory holidays, it’s almost as empty and eerie as when the first lockdown happened a year ago. So empty that it may as well be post-apocalyptic.

The Fort Erie crossing in Buffalo, NY, had just one lonely guard who waved me through after just a couple of perfunctory questions. When he asked why I was going to the US, I honestly replied that I was driving to Ohio for a vaccine. He had no comment, so either he was one of those rare laid-back security people, or I was far from the first to engage in some vaccine tourism. Likely both.

The stop at a walk-in testing clinic in Brunswick went smoothly and quickly: fortunately, the used a nostril swab method (and not the brain-poking one) to run a rapid PCR test. I had a minor scare when the waiting room’s door opened and I saw a lab-technician-looking dude who wore significantly more PPE than his previous colleague. Did I accidentally score positive on the covid test? Was that why I’ve been having that mild shortness of breath? Would I have to camp out in the States for a week or two? But nah, a few seconds later he confirmed that all was well, and that my test was negative. Total cost: 20 minutes and $170 USD. It was a bit disconcerting to hear heavy coughing from the lobby as others waited to get tested for whatever ailed them… All wore masks, for what it’s worth.

This was my first time in the US since a work conference in Nashville in January 2020. I forgot how many commonplace little horror stories there are… A Burger King I stopped at wouldn’t hand my food through a drivethrough window. (Weird business practice, but I always try to respect quaint local rituals.) While I waited inside, an unattended-looking little girl (around six or so) struck up a conversation and told me how much she loves school and how her little sister (in a nearby booth; no older than three) was a great tickler. I was getting worried as to location of their parents when the girl turned to the cashier and yelled “Mom!” …she had to use her fast food joint as an impromptu daycare for her little kids. That was tragic and desperate is such a low-key yet impactful way – and I’m sure there are many more like her.

…I never did get to explore the town of Ashland, Ohio, since there was a long line stretching around the vaccination center. The appointment times were more like suggestions: they functioned on the first-in/first-out basis. After finally finding my passport, it took just a bit over an hour to go through the process. It wasn’t FEMA-like efficiency, but still mighty impressive for such a small town. I roleplayed as a local (with a random address I’d googled in advance) without an insurance card. All they really needed was a piece of ID with my name and date of birth – the rest was irrelevant. Even so, I made sure to give them my US passport instead of the Canadian driver license. That would’ve been a social faux pas, I bet: only my exotic area code and the license plate gave me away as a vaccine tourist. I didn’t spot any other Canadian license plates, but there were a few from Michigan and New York.

I don’t know how exactly they decided who gets which vaccine (it seemed random), but I was assigned to get Pfizer while my neighbours in line got Moderna. I’m a bit more partial to Pfizer myself, so that felt like winning the lottery. The injection itself was fast and almost painless. When exactly did they start rolling out those round bandaids you can inject through? That seems so intuitive yet so futuristic all at once. After spending 20 minutes in the waiting area and convincing everyone involved I would not drop dead, I headed out. I received a retro-looking CDC vaccination card with my name, date of birth, vaccination date, type of vaccine (yay Pfizer!), and the vaccine lot number. The printout of a calendar they gave me suggested coming back in four weeks. Pfizer’s doses can be given three weeks apart vs four for Moderna. When I asked for a clarification, they admitted that setting four-week intervals is just easier for them, since it prevents potential Pfizer/Moderna timeline mix-ups. I’m being greedy here, I know, but waiting even one extra week would be too much. My next visit will be in three weeks. They admitted there’s nothing stopping me from seeking out an open appointment for April 23rd but warned that not all vaccines might be available that day. Oh well, I’m not above sleeping in my car while hunting for literally any open vaccine slot in Ohio for the following day. (It me, vicious vaccine hunter.)

The drive back was mostly uneventful, except that how much of a low-life do you have to be to have your mugshot on a billboard at a Native American reservation, with a “you shall not pass (again)”-type message? There were three mugshots and names. I wonder if that serves as a deterrent or an encouragement for others who seek cheap glory.

The drive would’ve been a whole lot more boring without podcasts… I drove for 12 hours and 700 miles (with four more hours spent in line or stretching my legs at gas stations), and finally managed to catch up on Welcome to Night Vale, listened to an awesome 90-minute discussion on the concept of time by Sean Carroll (the famous physicist) and Dean Buonomano (equally famous neuroscientist), and made it through the first five hours of Dan Carlin’s (you know, the Hardcore History guy) 25-hour podcast on Japan’s involvement in World War II. I minored in Asian Studies in college but still learned some new (and very gory) stuff today. This roadtrip was good for both my mind and my immune system, eh.

Crossing the same bridge back into Canada took considerably longer. There were only four other cars, which is some seriously low amount of traffic. The border guard marveled at my permanent residence papers (I had to assure him I got them through my work permit, not because I married a Canadian with low standards) and tried to scare me with a two-week quarantine. (He seemed disappointed when I told him I knew about that and had stocked up on food and cider in advance. Heh.) Once he waved me through, there was one final step: even though I showed a clean bill of health from my rapid PCR test, the PPE-covered medics still had me do a nasal swab (once again, so glad it wasn’t a brain-poking test), sanitize everything around me, hand them the bag (also sanitized) with the sample, register on the Switch Health portal, and promise to do one more swab just like that one on the 14th day of my solo quarantine at home. (Someone would come and pick it up.)

I’m curious whether they’ll actually check up on me during these next two weeks… I’m going to be a good Canadian and spend the entire time indoors (especially since I interacted with a few maskless clerks during my big US adventure) but I wonder whether they’ll actually call me or send a local constable to knock on my door.

Altogether, the trip took 16 hours: I left before sunrise, at 5:05am, and got back after the sunset, at 9:04pm. Depending on how much all the tolls will end up costing, the grand total for the day (including the rapid test and gas) will probably be around $250-300 USD. I’ll do the same thing again in three weeks. A cycle of two trips… Sure beats the hundreds of nearly identical cycles of waking up, commuting to the desk two feet away, hammering on the keyboard for ~10 hours, and playing video games just to repeat it all anew the next day. At this point, I’d hike to Mexico and back if that meant getting my life back. A nice one-day-long roadtrip with podcasts is such a comparatively low price to pay. (I wonder, though, if someone will start a party bus business to just take American-Canadian folks to Ohio for a rapid test and a pre-scheduled shots. There’d be a lot of money in that.)

Aside from my arm being sore and aching a bit, I’m not feeling any side effects yet. (And sadly, no new superpowers.) Anecdotally, all the weird reactions happen after the second dose. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, in the US, yet another domestic terrorist tried to storm the Capitol: he rammed his car into a barrier (and two cops), and tried rushing the building with a knife before being gunned down. One of the cops also died. The only unusual thing here is that this time around the culprit was Black, not white. It hasn’t even been three months since the attempted coup… The US is really gonna have to hang a sign saying “we’ve gone this many days since the last attempt to assassinate congressmen.”

In covid news, Pfizer has revised their effectiveness numbers a bit based on the updated trial data. They lowered their vaccine’s effectiveness from 95.3% to 91.3%, which is still pretty damn amazing. The really great news here is that Pfizer seems to prevent the South African variant: all the test subjects who got that particular variant had received the placebo, not the real deal. This is excellent, excellent news. Now that I’m in the Pfizer tribe (sorry, Moderna neighbours), this sort of news makes me feel even happier. Hard to believe that I’ll be fully immunized in only three more weeks… (Plus two more to let the full effect kick in.)

Go get your shots if you can, if you haven’t already, eh.

Thursday night.

We ride at dawn. By “we” I mean myself, and by “dawn” I mean 5am, which will actually be two whole hours before the sun deigns to rise. But, you know, poetic license and stuff. With a six-hour drive and a 2:30pm vaccination appointment, this will give me 3.5 whole hours to hang out at the border, get stuck in traffic, and, um, wait in my car, I suppose. I tried and tried to find anything remotely interesting and not indoors about Ashland, but aside from an admittedly nice-looking park, there’s not a whole lot to see there. (And the park might not be a good idea in near-freezing temperature.) To be fair, they do have some cool-looking local stores and such, but those would include mingling with people. Hard pass.

Today was filled with preparation… Canada’s Border Services people told me over the phone that yes, they require a clean covid test to return, but no, it can’t be your basic rapid test: it must be a fancy PCR one. Good news: I found a network of walk-in clinics that can do a very special rapid PCR test for you. Bad news: it’s $170 USD. Ye gods… I was about to brand them highway robbers (despite reluctantly using their service) but one of my fellow Vaccine Hunters confirmed that any covid test in the US, rapid or not, costs around $150.

There are at least two interesting conclusions to draw here. First, people will really profiteer on absolutely anything. As far as I know, each shot of mRNA vaccines costs less than $20 when purchased in bulk. I am convinced that a PCR test (fast or slow) costs about the same, if not less. This is some truly impressive (and disgusting) margin of profit. Secondly, and awkwardly, this really does confirm that money can make your life infinitely easier. Someone who didn’t have a stable job like mine (not particularly well-paying but stable nonetheless) or savings (or a car) would not have been able to execute my plan. This whole adventure will be fairly pricey – especially since I’ll do it twice, three weeks apart. I am, not for the first time and not for the last, well aware of my privilege and how different my life could’ve been.

I’ll get my first vaccine shot in less than 17 hours… There’s still so much that can go wrong. Maybe the mechanics that changed my oil loosened some bolts and my car will literally fall apart during the long 12-hour roundtrip. Maybe I’ll get ambushed by a roaming gang of highwaymen. (You know things in the US are getting back to normal when they have 20 mass shootings in the past two weeks.) Maybe the rapid PCR test will come back positive, indicating that my recent shortness of breath was due to a low-key infection and not general anxiety and high humidity. A million maybe’s… To safeguard my chances somewhat, I’m packing my work laptop; if something really does go wrong, at least I’ll be able to continue my work from some random American motel, eh.

In other news, this is mildly embarrassing, but I forgot how to read books. E-books are easy: load them up on your phone and you’re good to go. An e-book is with you when you eat, when you go to the bathroom, when you’re falling asleep with the lights off, when you go on a walk, etc. A real, physical paper book, though? Especially one on the large side? Can’t do a whole lot with that, or at least not as easily and on the go. I’ve tried and tried, but haven’t been able to get through more than a couple of pages of that old textbook I mentioned. Well, on the drive tomorrow I’ll have to conserve my phone battery (just in case) and do something to kill time, so might as well get some science in me.

In covid news, Ontario really did declare another month-long lockdown – and to my surprise, it’ll actually take effect on Saturday, not Monday. There’s gonna be an awful lot of businesses getting a lot of desperate customers seeking to have their fun tomorrow. For all the restrictions, there’s still no paid sick leave policy, so if some frontline employees feel under the weather, they’re just as screwed. This lockdown might curb the number of new cases somewhat, but without paid sick leave, it’s only a bandaid. I’m curious to see how many public protests this will inspire. (Canadians aren’t very passionate protesters – sort of the opposite of the French.)

Pfizer has announced that it’s 100% effective in kids between 12-15, based on a trial of 2,260 kiddos. That’s pretty amazing.

And on a personal front, my entire family in the US is getting vaccinated soon. My mom already got both of her shots, my younger brother will get his first dose in a week, my Los Angeles sister will get her second dose within a few days, and my New York sister will get her first dose within a few days. We’ll all be 100% vaccinated by the end of April, and I cannot describe how good it feels to know that my family is safe, or as safe as modern science can make them. I might be able to visit all of them (and Vegas – sweet, sweet Vegas) a whole lot sooner than I’d anticipated.

And now, to sleep and dream of vaccinations…

Good night, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 381

Wednesday night.

My own personal V-Day grows closer. I went ahead and moved my vaccination appointment from Saturday to Friday after making sure my work won’t miss me. (Good Friday is a holiday in Canada, but not in the US, so it’s a weird business model here in Finance.) I had a minor scare when, right after I cancelled my Saturday vaccination, the one I’d found with an afternoon slot on Friday suddenly disappeared. A few rapid checks of the vaccination portal and voila – it’ll be in Ashland, Ohio. (Sorry it didn’t work out between us, Defiance, OH.)

If you’re reading this in the future, it might seem like sheer lunacy to embark on a 700-mile, 12-hour roadtrip just to get one vaccine shot. The fact that I’ll do that again three weeks later might seem just as bizarre. But if you didn’t live through this, or if you were too young to remember, or if you spent this whole pandemic with your friends and family… As the meme quote goes, “you wouldn’t get it.” It’ll likely take another 2.5-3 months for Ontario to distribute the first vaccine dose to every adult, and it’ll take just as long to get the second shot. After 381 days of this misery, every extra preventable month on top of this is like low-grade torture: not life-threatening but extremely unpleasant nonetheless.

Forty-eight hours from now, give or take, a different version of me will type up an excited recollection of day #383. That future me will have gotten his first shot, and his cells will be hard at work building up formidable defenses against covid. Friday should be fun, eh. If nothing else, I’ll get to catch up on all my podcasts during that long, long drive. I’m definitely not looking forward to getting my brain poked with all the follow-up tests, nor spending two weeks after my return quarantining in my little studio, but hey, that’s the price of admission for taking this crazy cross-border trip.

Tomorrow will be busy with digging out my US passport, the old US credit card I haven’t used since a work trip to Nashville over a year ago, and all my Canadian documents… It’ll be challenging to stock up on food to last me two whole weeks, when all I have is a dorm-sized fridge. Heh.

In covid news, 15 million doses of Johnson&Johnson vaccine got ruined because one of their subcontractors accidentally mixed ingredients of two different vaccines. As the meme goes, you had one job. Now several deadlines are in danger, and whomever was supposed to receive those 15 million doses (US? EU?) will have to wait longer. J&J is a single-dose vaccine – this is the equivalent of 30 million doses of Modern/Pfizer/AstraZeneca. Statistically speaking, at least a few deaths will be caused by this screw-up. How fragile all these systems are… Such massive scale, yet such vulnerable points of failure.

Here in Ontario, it’s official – there’ll be yet another month-long lockdown, this time for the entire province. This most likely means no more patios (takeout only), etc. It’s highly unlikely that the lockdown will begin immediately, right on Good Friday. Politicians love appeasing people’s love of holidays, so this three-day weekend will be a free-for-all – the last chance to get all your dining and partying and hair appointments done for at least a month. If we see a spike in cases about a week from today, it’ll be entirely due to Ford’s incompetence and reluctance to lock things down earlier.

Also in Ontario, there are lots of media reports about vaccination centers staying empty and, well, not vaccinating anyone because the province can’t lure the oldest folks in, while also refusing to use its many, many waiting lists to call other at-risk groups. As a result, appointment slots go unfilled, there are pictures of empty lines at the ripe late hour of 5pm, and there are off-the-record interviews where employees say that yes, they just put the doses back in the fridge. They’re not allowing the same kind of vaccine scavenging that the US had implemented months ago, where anyone in the general vicinity can get those last few doses. The insistence on vaccinating just one high-risk group at a time while flipping off the rest of them will make for an excruciatingly long vaccination campaign… When the land border officially reopens and all Canadians (not just American-Canadians like me) can freely travel, I wonder how many more will follow in my footsteps.

And according to various vaccine trackers, there are over 500,000 doses sitting in fridges and freezers just here in Ontario, waiting to be distributed. That’s the equivalent of about three or four days of vaccines. It really does appear that their vaccination strategy consists of admiring how pretty those vaccines look sitting on that shelf. Ugh. Ugh, I say…

Stay safe, folks.

Plague diaries, Day 380

Tuesday night.

Well, I can finally reveal the big news I hinted at a few times before: I finally got promoted! I don’t view this as finally getting to a mid-level position (that of a Financial Analyst II) after 11.5 years – I view this as getting my fourth promotion in less than 12 years. Not bad, considering I started as a seasonal warehouse worker, packing boxes for 60 hours a week. Not bad at all, eh.

Between that, and my permanent residence getting approved, and being able to travel across the border to get my long-awaited vaccine shots… Everything’s coming up Milhouse!

An online buddy from the Vaccine Hunters group just described his Ohio experience: he said the vaccination center was huge and ran like a well-oiled machine. There’s no second appointment for three weeks out – they just told him to come on by when the time comes. Absolutely amazing, given how rare and precious these vaccines are here in Canada. He’ll be spending the entire three weeks with his relatives in Ohio. My own approach… I’m debating between doing something really crazy or being a wise and patient adult.

The really crazy approach would involve me crossing the border, driving up to some big city in Ohio (currently trying to get my vaccination a bit closer to the border: Toledo? Cleveland?), getting a same-day test to show at the border, getting my shot, and driving back. Assuming the test is instant (which it isn’t) and there’s no traffic at the border, I could potentially do the whole thing in about 12 hours – and I don’t mind staying awake longer than that. The wildcard here is the body’s reaction after the shot. My new online buddy says he started feeling the effects about five hours later. I’d still be driving when that happens, but I might not want to get too disoriented behind the wheel.

The wiser and more measured approach would be to rent an AirBnB room for that night (seeing as I’ll drive down on Saturday), sweat it out, and then drive back, calmly and leisurely, on Sunday. The only downside is that that would double the number of days I’ll spend in the States. The weird and antiquated US tax code states that the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) works only if you spend 330 or more days per year outside the country. If you spend more than 35 days in the US, you get taxed as if you were still a resident. (That would be bad.) Spending those extra two days in Ohio would seriously cut into my R&R time in Nevada afterwards. After more than a year of isolation and homecooked meals, even two extra days of hedonism would feel like paradise…

Looking at the map, Toledo is only one hour away from the border crossing, whereas Cleveland is three hours out. Well, if I start to develop a sudden and bad reaction while driving, it’ll be on the Canadian side, just off Toledo. YOLO, eh?

New book I’m munching on: Integrated Science, a general knowledge science textbook that covers a bit of everything. It was published in 2005, so it’s probably more than a little out of date in some areas by now. Still, the parts on chemistry or the nature of light should still be good It’s one of the many textbooks I’ve picked up on a whim at thrift stores over the years… It’s such a strange sensation to know that for just $5 you can buy a book containing condensed knowledge that, say, Newton would’ve killed to get his hands on. All that, for less than an hour of minimum wage. How weird is that?

In covid news, despite all the good updates about vaccines (unless you work at AstraZeneca), cases are still rising worldwide. That’s quite a departure from the downward trend in early February… Vaccines alone won’t stop this. The pandemic is still so far from being over. More locally, here in Ontario the numbers are even more alarming. There are more new cases and more hospitalizations now than at the beginning of the previous lockdown, and 67% of all cases are variants. This is so ugly… Premier Ford said he might call for another lockdown, but didn’t say when. He also advised people not to gather for Easter, but he said that just five days prior to the holiday. It’ll be just like Christmas again: waiting until after the holiday to institute new measures, just so people (who happen to be Christians and not, say, Muslims) get to celebrate together and drive another spike in covid cases… If Ford does announce a new lockdown, it’ll probably be early next week, even as his own epidemiologists are sounding the alarm. What a goddamn mess.

Stay safe, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 379

Monday night.

I know this isn’t the most productive way to spend the following month, but I just can’t stop daydreaming of all the things I’d be able to do once I get both of my vaccine shots… It’ll be tricky: most of Canada will remain unvaccinated until about June, and if new cases pick up again, there’ll be more lockdowns, more restrictions, less things to do. And even without that, I’d need to wear a mask and try to be a responsible member of society, since I’d still be able to spread covid if I were to get it. In other words, no karaoke bars in the foreseeable future.

And yet… The first two things I’ll try would be actual dining at an actual restaurant, with an actual server, and a menu, and a crew of cooks making a meal for me – even if it’s just something as simple as a burger and fries. The second thing: an hour-long massage. Tons of them. Ye gods, that would feel great… It’s tempting to just book travel all over the US (Vegas, baby!) and visit all my family, but not until they get their shots as well. The last thing I’d want is to be a Typhoid Russian-American-Canadian. (It’s a very narrow niche, eh.)

I’m just about done reading A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling – and damn, what an excellent book. I originally found it through the “best of 2020” list on Goodreads: some of those were flops, some were just okay, but this single book redeems them all. The premise is simple: a bunch of libertarians take over the town of Grafton, New Hampshire, and as they deregulate everything, bears move in as well. The author’s carefully skilled narrative, though, goes layers deep, centuries back, and covers everything, starting with remarkably charismatic people on the fringes of the political spectrum and ending with bears themselves. His use of metaphors and carefully crafted phrasing is quite remarkable, and the book is filled with literal LOL moments. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

In covid news, more bad news for AstraZeneca. The NACI (National Advisory Committee on Immunization) folks reviewed more data on blood clots, determined that the risk is actually 1 in 100,000 – and advised not to use the AZ vaccine on people under 55. That leaves a very narrow, and probably increasingly unsettled, window of people between 55-65 who are still able to take this vaccine, should they choose to do so. This is just the latest in the long series of mishaps for AZ… At this point, even the staunch vaccine advocates like myself are highly suspicious of it – and those who weren’t very excited about vaccines to begin with… Well, for them this is just more fuel to light the fires of distrust. It sure would’ve gone better had the NACI not assured everyone AZ was perfectly safe. That shipment of 1.5 million doses from the US might not actually get distributed around Canada, simply due to lack of interest and overabundance of caution. What a mess.

Stay safe, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 378

Sunday night.

I could bore all y’all with yet another recitation of my zombie game adventures (finally acquired a bicycle!) or the fascinating details of my oil change appointment (they broke a mirror on a dude’s truck), but screw it all, because here is the news I’ve been expecting over a year now: I got my vaccine appointment, y’all!!!

Ohio went above and beyond with launching their online booking portal: it was supposed to go live on March 29th, but it actually happened a bit earlier than that. If not for my new BFFs on the Vaccine Hunters site, I never would’ve known. I’m in an interesting position in that I can’t really take a weekday off at work at this point. Ohio’s major vaccination sites are booking only one day in advance on the very reasonable assumption that people will want their shots ASAP and not, say, six days later.

It took some serious searching (well over an hour) and getting way too intimate with Ohio’s geography than I’d ever thought I’d get, but I I finally booked my vaccine appointment for next weekend! It’s in a tiny town called Wellston, and it’s a 500-mile, 8-hour drive from Toronto, so I’ll have to leave pretty goddamn early for my afternoon appointment. (I’m thinking 4am will be a safe choice. Why take chances?) …and then drive back. And then do it again three weeks later. But it’ll be so worth it, though. So very, very worth it. At this point, I’d walk all the way to Mexico through sleet and hail and desert just to get this all over with.

Here, in Toronto, they’re still trying to convince folks over 80 to get their vaccine shots, while slowly, ever so slowly opening up the appointments for mildly younger (but still over the hill) age groups. It will probably be at least two more months before young people can sign up for their shots here, and there is currently no guarantee that the second shot will come a few weeks later. (Despite the growing opposition, they’re still aiming for a gap of four months between the shots.) Yesterday, East Toronto opened up a sign-up form: if you promised you could get there within 30 minutes, they’d let you know if there were any leftover Pfizer vaccines at the end of the day. Over 60,000 people signed up in less than a day before they took down the form… There’ll be some very impatient drivers zooming through the streets of Toronto every evening from here on out, eh.

I still can’t believe I got my vaccine appointment. Less than a week from now, I’ll have a vaccine coursing through my system, starting the arduous process of building up the immunity against this damn virus. There might be some holdup at the border coming back to Canada, but between my still-valid work permit and my congratulatory permanent residence letter, it should be fine. I’m really – and quite rapidly – running out of fucks to give when it comes to bureaucracy. What are they gonna do, siphon the vaccine back out of me? Heh.

I’m not even able to process all the implications of becoming fully immune (or as close as it gets) just a few more weeks from now; of being able to enjoy life once again. I guess this blog series won’t reach 500 days after all.

Good night, y’all. I hope your vaccine appointment is just around the corner as well.