All posts by stephani9

Rant #1,475+/- International Airline Travel

Have I said this before? Probably. But so many of the long-standing security rules in international travel are simply absurd! Especially for flights to the US. Moreover, the rules aren’t even universal. They’re country by country. The European Union has its own requirements. And now the UK does also – having fully “brexited” now. Its citizens have been learning the folly of their leap backward this summer as they wait in long lines everywhere just to get OFF their island.

I have a knee replacement. Had it for 13 years. And for 13 years I’ve had to experience the same insane, insulting indignities. Even in airports which use body scanning, millimeter wave viewers as well as metal detectors. AND I have TSA Pre!! Meaning I went through a security background check and paid a fee to get faster, less invasive airport screening. Which includes keeping my shoes on.

Every time I fly I do the same thing. Right off – before I even walk through the metal detector, I tell a TSA officer or their overseas equivalent, “I have a knee replacement.” I point to it. We nod pleasantly to each other. I walk through the metal detector. And then it begins.

Now typically I very purposely wear very form flitting clothes. Slim jeans or jean-tights. A torso-hugging, no-room-for-even-a-Kleenex top. A basic, minimal bra with no wires or padding. Plus anklets and running shoes. But nooooo – I still could have something strapped to my 5’ 1” tall, 103 pound body SOMEWHERE. So first there’s a wanding. The metal in my right knee is evident. But on the way to Prague last month from JFK,  the wand was turned up so high it picked up the 2 tiny metal grommets on the perfectly flat front of my jean tights as well as the ones on the (also empty and perfectly flat) back pockets. Triggering the usual, jailhouse pat down. For which I have to wait for a female TSA officer. It’s become routine for me – with or without grommets.

On the EU-bound trip I noticed a lot of older people (like me) – the ones more likely to have knee or hip replacements – being put through the same indignities. Also not unusual. Also totally absurd and insulting.

But wait, there’s more. Not satisfied with finding nothing, I’m directed to remove my obviously well-worn running shoes. So they can be tested for nonexistent (and of course non-visible) explosives powder. Seriously. 21 years after the infamous Shoe Bomber. This typically entails another 5-20 minutes. Including the unlace-re-lace phase. Meanwhile – in the very crowded security area – my exposed laptop (thankfully still in its carrying case), backpack with EVERYTHING important in it, iPad and carry-on are left unattended at the end of the security area. 3 bins full. Instead of letting a well trained (key words “well trained”) security person use just a little bit of common sense.

Then- there’s the return flight. The one I’m on as I write this. The one and only direct flight from Prague to the NYC metro area. Your TSA Pre is useless outside the US. So EVERYTHING electronic has to come out of your suitcase and backpack. And out of their covers and carry cases. To be left in easy reach of someone’s super-quick hand while I go through another, senseless rerun of my outbound experience. This time they didn’t find the grommets. But the pat down – in typical EU style- is even MORE demeaning. Fingers of the agent slipped under and around the top of my jeans. Very hands-on. And on and on and on. It’s always that way in the EU when flying to the US. And this time AGAIN – merely because of that knee replacement – the shoes must go to the explosives’ powder detector. While all my irreplaceable electronic devices still sit – and sit – at the end of the security area. With not even a security guard to watch them.

In the EU, the security check usually comes at or near your flight’s gate. Now I am a US citizen. And at this point in the process I’ve already gone THREE TIMES through a passport control. And – along with my husband – already answered a bunch of questions asked by a very nice DELTA employee designed to show I’m mentally stabile and not planning to cause ANY kind of trouble. I’ve taken this DELTA flight for many years back and forth. And always some version of the questions. Including the old “did you pack your bag yourself?” And it’s equally aged sister questions.  I don’t recall such hackneyed grilling on the one stop United flights I take when the Delta flight is on its winter (or more recently COVID) hiatus.

Obviously there are some rules here which should be reconsidered in the electronic age. When I’m carrying my QR Coded boarding pass on the airline’s iPhone app. Meaning my passport and past flight history (a long one) were already digitally reviewed and approved when I checked in from home. And then that QR Coded boarding pass has already been electronically read by a scanner-gate before I even get to the official passport control in the country I’m leaving (in the case of flying INTO the US).

With every airline desperately urging people to jump back into international travel, these agencies which apparently never talk to each other either in the US or abroad ought to take a good look at the pile of rules and regulations developed since hijacking and later the September 11th attacks changed air travel decades ago. Some should go or be modernized, some should be kept. But continually discriminating against people with joint replacements merely because we HAVE them – and that’s millions of us in every country – needs to be stopped. Use the metal detector. Use the body outline machines. Look at a person’s age and flight history (right there in the passport stamps). Most of all – JUST USE A LITTLE COMMON SENSE!

It’s not fair to the security workers and cabin crews, who already have enough to put up with, to get a grumpy, annoyed and deeply insulted group of older folks as well. Sounding off to the poor security workers who are only doing their jobs. Enough already. Stop. Desist. Just plain cut it out!  Having a  joint replacement is NOT a criminal activity!

OK. Rant over. Until my next flight.

The Concert at the Castle

Once upon a time– there was an empire centered in this city. The King and Queen lived at the castle with their family and a retinue of sycophants and servants. And sometimes – the Royal couple had a party for their servants. To thank them. They were a very nice, kind royal couple. And then one day- there were no more royals at the castle. The country became a republic. Twice. But the castle remained the seat of power with the President of the Republic living there. The President also had sycophants. Lots of them. Unlike the Royal Families of old, he had to pay his employees. And seldom if ever did the President hold a party at the Castle to thank anyone.

There were – and are many old European capitals to fit my parable but right now I happen to be in Prague – the ancient capital of what is now the Czech Republic. And as the seat of a kingdom or a Republic it has always been a city always full of music. Except for a dreadfully dismal detour into the gray-black world of communism and the Soviet Union. But since 1989’s Velvet Revolution, Prague has been its old self. With a new, modern overlay. And at least once a year there is still a party at the castle. For the people of the entire city – as many who wish to come, sit on the old courtyard cobblestones and lose themselves in the magic of the night.

Concert for the People

And so – for the third time – my husband and I were among those standing or sitting on the cobblestones recently on a perfect summer evening, at the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra’s traditional free concert ending its formal, concert hall season.

It was a huge crowd. Old, young, babies in carriages. Many drinking beer bought from the tiny pub on the edges of the square. Beer they held carefully as they picked their way through the rest of us to find a cobblestone or two of their own. There were a few relaxed guards at the castle gates. But not a police uniform or car to be seen. Most of us didn’t know each other. Or even speak the same language. But we all smiled. And smiled. At the music, each other, the little kids – and the dogs. As we all peacefully shared this party at the castle.

A Dog’s Life at the Castle

A few weeks later there was another “party” you might say. In the Old Town Square in the oldest part of the Old City of Prague. Which dates to the 14th century. Or even earlier. The Bohemia Jazz Fest – which – like the Czech Philharmonic concert at the castle – hadn’t been held for two COVID-restricted summers. And is also always free. As in pull up a cobblestone or two, maybe grab a beer – and just groove. 

Old Town Square, Prague

For Czechs – it’s normal. But for me – who lives most of the time in the too often violent US – it’s downright amazing!

Yes, there were probably some undercover police mixed among us. At both concerts. But if so – they weren’t needed. We were all there simply to enjoy the music. Free in an increasingly unaffordable world.

Maybe it’s the magic of gathering in a place that’s withstood so many wars – big and small – over the centuries. Not to mention the fires which plagued so many old cities.

Bohemia Jazz Fest 2022

You can feel the ages, almost physically wafting from the buildings, seeping up through the cobblestones. Even as the Jazz Fest employs the video, lighting and sound tricks used at most concerts now – in 2022. Incongruous yet perfectly normal. The old merging with the new. In a country with a difficult history – which includes the murderous Soviet Union and the deadening burden of Communism after World War 2 – a burden the Velvet Revolution threw off in 1989.

Whatever the reason – I cannot imagine such peace at ANY gathering in the United States. Czechs are allowed to own guns to defend their homes. They have their political differences and often don’t mix well with others’ cultures and histories. But there are no explosions of rage ending in massacres at these celebrations of life in what is now their own, free country.

So I groove to the music, and suck up the vibes. Two peaceful moments in a turbulent time. How perfectly lovely.

Student Loan Forgiveness

I never had a student loan. I think my mother would have fallen over dead at the thought of ANY kind of college loan. Instead – I knew as a high school student my mother had put every money gift I had ever received into a separate savings account. When it came time to apply to a college or two – that 17 years of savings was the determinator. Not me.

I wanted to get as far away from home (and Boston) as humanly possible. My dream school was UCLA. Northwestern a close second. I wanted to major in journalism or communications or TV production. Maybe all of them. And also get discovered by some talent agent. Maybe sitting – Lana Turner-like – at some coffee shop counter. It didn’t matter that I wore thick glasses and couldn’t sing, dance or act. Or had seen too many old Hollywood films.

And then my mother told me how much money was in the cookie jar – so to speak. Enough for Boston University tuition if I lived at home. Or Syracuse University in upstate New York. If I lived with my irascible aunt and her stamp-collecting husband. Either way, I would have to keep working to pay for my books, transit fares and lunches. Despite my inflated opinion of myself – I didn’t qualify for an educational scholarship to a top tier school. And that was the only kind of non-loan financial help available then.

Dreams. Dashed.

So I sucked it up and went to Boston University. Since I already knew my way around the broadcast world in Boston and had a great part time job. I’m not sure exactly what I learned at BU – except to question everything. Maybe the most valuable knowledge anyone can take away from any advanced education. I developed the only live jazz show in Boston on the then BU-owned FM station. DJ’d a jazz show on a rival college FM station as well. And when I graduated and got a job in New York City and then a studio apartment with a friend – I owed NOTHING. To NO one. Who needed UCLA? Or even Harvard across the Charles River – which we downscale BU students so loved to hate. And after that first job – no one ever cared WHERE I had gone to college. Just that I could do the job – and was more than willing to give it 200 percent.

So now it’s 2022 and a raft of college graduates with varying degrees and job skills owe an eye-popping $1.75 TRILLION for their education, according to the latest Federal Reserve data. The average college grad owes $36, 510. Private school debt averages $54,921. For which many graduates are not-so-humbly demanding forgiveness. For ALL of it.

The Education Department is already poised to cancel $5.8 Billion in debt for about 560,000 students who enrolled in the for-profit Corinthian Colleges. The largest loan-forgiveness ever by the Federal department. Corinthian folded in 2015 after a Federal investigation. And there is great pressure on President Biden from his own party’s self-named Progressives to forgive at least the $10,000 per graduate now being actively discussed in the White House.

So here comes the rant. ARE YOU KIDDING? Didn’t any of these former students or their parents or grandparents or aunts and uncles KNOW what taking out a 4 or 6 or 8 year college loan meant? Has anyone ever had their home mortgage loan just “forgiven”? How about that car loan? And consider the amount of credit card debt almost all of us carry. If you know a bank that’s willing to pretend it never existed — could you please tell the rest of us? And particularly all those former students who have – dutifully – done what they knowingly signed up to do. Pay off their student loans.

Now it’s one thing to knowingly take out a loan for a specified amount of money. And it’s quite something else to have to pay off twice or three times the actual loan — because of the often usurious interest charged for all student loans. At least I think it’s usurious. And it’s something no one ever seems to talk about. Cancel the loan? No way. Cancel the interest? Totally.

And let’s say you take out a loan when you go to college at what even I might think is a reasonable interest rate. Next year it probably won’t be quite so reasonable. Because Congress sets new rates for the loans every year. And if banks are raising rates — you can be sure the Feds will raise them also. Which is how many people end up paying off their original loan 2 or 3 times.

So here’s my proposal. Keep the loans. Cancel the interest. Yes, ALL of it. Why should anyone have to pay INTEREST to be educated? But those who took out the original loans should still have to pay them off. Like all the rest of us have to pay off OUR loans of any kind. And while we’re at it – let’s limit the amount of loans allowed for attending private, for-profit colleges and universities. Some of the best universities in the US are state or even city-run. And before states started cutting the money they put in their budgets for education – tuitions to those really good state schools were actually affordable. Especially for those who actually lived in the state.

And while we’re at it – how about limiting at least some loans for graduate school as well – to cut down on the education mission creep that contributes nothing to most jobs except, perhaps, slightly inflated salaries. You don’t need a graduate degree, for example, to be a good journalist. A careful review of primary school spelling and grammar might be good, however. I’m sure the kids in summer school would love to help you.

Dear Elon!

So for days I’ve been listening to all the analyst dissection of your $44 billion plan to buy (or not to buy) Twitter. And reading your tweets about counting bots and creating open source algorithms and having “fun” by opening the platform to just about anyone no matter the lies or misinformation or disinformation. Like reinstating President Trump. And his buddies. All of whom were banned for life after the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol.

So Elon (I hope you don’t mind my using your first name – kind of what to expect when you restore that old soapbox to Twitter). Anyhow – Elon – you say you want to take a public social media platform private. But I’m not sure you really understand about Twitter. You really CAN’T own it. Nor -actually – can the current shareholders. Nor the board members who represent them and whom I’ve been told never actually use the platform.

Seriously Elon. WE own Twitter. Really. All of us who use it. That, of course, includes you – but no more or no less than each of us. And have you actually looked at who “us” are? Well there’s me of course but I really don’t count. And all the yahoos who think they’re being really cool by being snippy and snarky and just plain stupid. You know – like a lot of them who tweet back at you. No – I’m talking about literally every leader in the modern world – except perhaps those who have banned Twitter in their countries because it IS owned by the rest of us. In fact I would call Twitter the newsfeed for the world. Presidents and Prime Ministers and Kings and Queens make their official policy announcements on Twitter. Movie stars and rap stars and universities and companies — and on and on — tell their Twitter followers first. With all the rest of us watching.

Twitter is too important to belong to one somewhat erratic, imperious but brilliant entrepreneur Elon. It’s not Facebook or Instagram or Telegram or any other social media app. It’s too important to the world to be judged on Wall Street’s standards of new monthly users or total advertising dollars. Maybe it started that way but it’s morphed into something very different now. Something quite unique. Something which is the center of official and unofficial world information.

So – Elon – you really can’t have it. It’s not your plaything. Give it back to us. To everyone who thinks or writes or governs or sings or has a winning tennis swing. Just go back to getting us to Mars . It’s really more interesting and needs your genius. Twitter doesn’t. It just needs everyone who matters in the World – including you – to keep tweeting. So those of us who don’t matter quite so much can continue to feel a part of something really, really BIG.

Spring, Ukraine and Me

Photo credit: Bilozerska.info

If somehow you haven’t noticed – it’s finally spring. Even up here in the Northeast. The forsythia and early daffodils are finally giving way to the flowering fruit trees and even a tulip or two. The lawns of suburialand are that perfect, spring green. Not quite kelly green. But that crisper green that eventually gives way to the deeper, summer green. If you walk around the neighborhood without your AirPods – and really look – you’ll see it.

So yes – it’s spring. But far away from my greening landscape is another one. It’s spring there also. We can tell from the live shots. The trees leafing out around the horribly gray, bombed and shelled-out buildings. Spring in the land Russia’s Vladimir Putin is trying to obliterate in the name of recreating the Czarist Russian empire he alone yearns for. Spring in the destroyed land where so many Ukrainians have already died, where so many lives have been unalterably changed, where so many futures have been destroyed. Where the bombs and shells just keep falling.

Does anyone else here in our comfortable America feel as guilty as I do? Walking every day in the warming beauty of Spring, hearing the birds singing and calling to each other to mate and produce the next generation? There will be no bombs to frighten them away or pulverize them in their nests. As always, spring will just slowly turn to summer here – with its more mature beauty. Yes there will be storms and localized floods – even tornados and later, hurricanes. But they will be random – with no pre-programmed, evil intent to destroy an entire people and its country.

How can I immerse myself joyfully in the annual ritual of spring when on the TV each morning and evening, or streaming from my phone or tablet are those searing images from Ukraine?

How can I smell the young grass and the blossoming trees and rejoice in their colors after the drab gray winter when I see the still gray, pulverized city of Mariupol? When I think of the people who used to live there, in a then modern city quite similar to ours here? And who are now dead or gravely wounded or forever traumatized by Putin’s marauding, undisciplined army of unschooled Russian conscripts?

And so for me at least – this is a very different spring. One in which I constantly ask myself and anyone else who will listen – how can so-called human beings, the ones who power our Western world, have allowed all this to happen? How could they have been unable or unwilling to stop Putin’s medieval siege and blockade of Mariupol and its last holdouts in the steel factory on its outskirts? For Ukraine it’s far too late now to even care about the answers of course. Mariupol is finished and – tragically – the last-ditch defenders left in the steel factory nearly so. But still – I care. I need to know. Because even if spring still comes every year – one year it may be OUR cities demolished, OUR citizens killed. By some undisciplined army, led by some other megalomaniac. Drunk on ancient visions of glory. Green shoots in front of OUR pulverized buildings.

Remember – almost no one thought it could happen to Ukraine either.

Stress

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a reporter who loved stress. She called it “good stress”. And it was mostly about making deadlines and finishing marathons. Interviewing, writing, live shots, telling people’s stories – that all got better under the good stress.  Knowing there wasn’t an option NOT to train for a marathon got her out the door those cold snowy mornings. Before work. And after just four hours sleep.

Ahhhhh good stress. How I miss it.

Stress now is mostly about the endless pandemic. Covid-19. And variant after variant. Almost 2 years of fear, grief, lockdowns, masks, travel bans and Zoom.  Families in mourning. Families divided. Friends not speaking. Children in hospitals.  Vaccine passports. Vaccine mandates. Tests to fly to a foreign country. Tests to get back home. Rules changing overnight. Anti-vaxxers clogging up hospital systems through rounds of different variants. Jobs lost. Or maybe – The Great Resignation. Live events – theater, concerts, clubs – cancelled or restricted.

Only big league sports escaped the shut downs. Even before vaccines. Perhaps because there was so much money at stake. But then this month – as the omicron variant flared – the money suddenly stopped talking.  As the ultimate bad boy story unfolded. Tennis star Novak Djokovic – adamantly unvaccinated – got tossed out of Australia before he could defend his title. For lying on his visa. More or less.

Inflation is soaring, the supply chain has been broken for months and months, The Federal Reserve still seems paralyzed, the withdrawal from Afghanistan was and still is a tragic disaster and President Joe Biden – elected to fix what his predecessor had broken – seems – along with his dysfunctional party – unable to walk and chew gum. Meanwhile the democracy most Americans have cherished for hundreds of years looks ready to collapse under the weight of social media-driven misinformation and Trump-world QAnon lies and conspiracy theories.

You want to talk about stress?

A few months ago I read in a health report that collectively – Americans’ blood pressure has risen markedly since COVID-19 enveloped us.  I know mine has. I’m angry all the time now. So is everyone I know and seemingly, everyone I DON’T know. It’s an inchoate anger.  At everything that keeps going wrong. At a rickety health system where doctors, nurses and other hospital staffs worked until they collapsed and yet somehow loved ones and friends died. It’s an anger that more than a year after vaccines started going into arms – the now militantly UNvaccinated have made it almost a Trumpian religion to stay that way. Even as Trump himself has finally begun touting the virtues of getting the vaccine his administration actually produced. It’s an anger that keeps building because once again the hospitals are full, health workers are exhausted and at least 80% of those on respirators now are unvaccinated. Many of the rest just didn’t bother to get their boosters.

There have always been lots of things which stress us out. They’ve usually varied – person to person. Often in the past, money – or rather the lack of money – has been the biggest stressor. Now – it’s all tied up in COVID. Somehow, in some continually frustrating way, the virus is at the heart of everything. Sometimes it seems we’re not just wobbling under this burden of stress. We’ve all gone down that rabbit hole in some way. Descending into a fragmenting world where everyone seems not just stressed but after almost two pandemic years – almost mentally ill.  Every week it seems we hear of someone pushed onto the subway tracks. Or knocked over from behind on a busy city street. Or shot for literally no reason at all.

Meanwhile the confusing rhetoric from health officials continues. About the omicron variant and masks and maybe a fourth vaccine shot when so few have even gotten the third…..and on and on and on and on.

I yell all the time. At my husband (who yells back at me). At the poor cats. In my car. As everyone else in THEIR cars seems to be doing the same thing.

When will this end? HOW will it end? Where are the psychologists on cable TV or even on Twitter who can explain us to ourselves.  Tie it all together and tell us how to make it stop?

There is seemingly nothing in this world right now (except perhaps Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aberrant dream of recreating the Soviet Union) that is not based on or caused by or related to the COVID-19 pandemic. And the way our officials handled or didn’t handle it. And the way we in the free world are reacting to losing the personal freedom we all once believed could never be ripped away.

Irish Brown Bread

Those who know me know. I. Don’t. Cook. I haven’t joined the national mania for baking bread. I tend to live on open face cheese sandwiches on toasted Indian NAN or flatbread. Or on whatever my husband cooks – something he has learned to do really well during the pandemic. As he says, protectively. To stay alive.

My local supermarket is part of a chain owned by Ahold Delhaize – the huge European company which owns so many supermarket chains. And in my small suburb – my Ahold outpost has a UK section. A bunch of shelves with all kinds of wonderful  (to an American) everyday British and Scottish and Irish foods. Including I discovered – an Irish Brown Bread mix to which you only add water, knead a bit and bake.  Actually it’s a soda bread but close enough.  I grabbed it.

So. It was supposed to snow – again – the next day. A lot. Like maybe 30 inches. We’d already gotten the pre-storm call from the power company.  I know it by heart now. “We have you listed as a well water customer. A (fill in the type)storm is forecast for tomorrow.  You may lose power. Collect extra water in bottles. etc.” OK, fine. I’d better bake my brown bread tonight. Continue reading Irish Brown Bread

My Romance with Starbucks? History.

My email pitched me double stars today and reflexively I opened my Starbucks iPhone app and started looking at the specialty drinks menu. Then I remembered – for the umpteenth time this winter — the Starbucks I loved is gone. At least until we all get vaccinated. And probably forever. Where I live it’s just grab and go. Or sit like a jerk in the car for a half hour waiting for carloads of friends and family ahead of me to order in real time. 5 adults and 3 kids in a Chevy Suburban ordering Artisan drinks like a Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino with extra whipped cream and 5 pumps Frappuccino Roast and Mocha Drizzle and Caramel Brulee topping – oh – and a touch – just a touch of Cinnamon Powder. Apparently people in cars aren’t capable of ordering ahead – in app. Leading me to wonder how the average family can even AFFORD Starbucks with so many jobs lost. And worse – whether ANY of us should be so indulgent when a few miles away so many others – their lives destroyed by the decimated travel industry, closed restaurants and other bankrupt small businesses are lined up at food banks, desperate for a meal.

But the Starbucks habit can be hard to shake. The coffee is really good. And hot in these sub-freezing temperatures. And the zillion calorie grilled cheese sandwich, which the British coffee chain Costa calls a cheese toastie – much truer to form – is totally yummy.

But not in a cramped Mini Cooper – with the cheese dripping onto my coat and the coffee constantly in danger of spilling everywhere. Not now.  Maybe. Not. Ever. Again.

Starbucks used to be the closest thing you could find to a real Greenwich Village coffee house north of Houston Street. Each one was darkish, with big brown couches and easy chairs. The one on Columbus Avenue –  up on New York City’s West Side – was always full, the chairs and tables pulled wherever groups of friends wanted them.  The jazz playlist soothing,  Then Starbucks started opening stores on almost every city corner. They got smaller. Fewer places to sit and work if you were a lonely freelancer, longing just to look at other people. And maybe exchange a smile. Then came the suburbs. Suddenly my nice, darkish,  calming getaway turned corporate. Nothing old and comfortably rumpled. Just oblong, strip mall stores with plain tables and wooden chairs always lined up in rows. Always one big business meeting table. Stuffed into the ever smaller spaces. No charm. The lonely people with their laptops lined up along a wall. Starring out at the empty space.

And then – nearly a year ago now – COVID-19 invaded.  And Starbucks changed its image. Those stores on every corner in the city? Many closed forever, the rest grab and go. The few tables inside – taped off. The office workers who streamed into the cities and into Starbucks for morning coffee or a late lunch – gone. Working at home. Maybe permanently. Whether they want to or not. Stores closing in the suburbs as well. And in their place the ubiquitous drive throughs. MacDonald’s with better but much more expensive coffee. And no fries. You’ve heard about the COVID 15? Pounds, that is? Never getting out of your car hasn’t helped.

So. Double stars Starbucks? I don’t think so. Not today. Probably not tomorrow. Maybe – not ever.

shopping mall

The Apple Store

Recently I went to an Apple store. In a suburban mall in New Jersey. It was the week after Black Friday weekend and its deluge of online sales. I had hoped to exchange an iPhone case I also bought on line.

At midafternoon the mall was quiet as most malls are in a state where COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are once again leapfrogging themselves. But the Apple store was more than quiet. it was bare. No new iPhones or MacBooks on the tables. No iPhone or iPad cases on the shelves. Nothing. To. Buy.

It was one of the saddest things I’ve seen in a pandemic year of sad upon sadder things. A store which like all Apple stores has always been brimming with delighted energy – silent. Nearly deserted. 3 weeks before Christmas.

It was suddenly a metaphor for everything I’ve cried over as 2020’s increasing miseries and tragedies and deaths piled up. This Apple store looked like – well – death. Like a place where the lights were about to be snuffed out. As I said, a metaphor for all the human lights snuffed out needlessly this year and all the small business lights snuffed out because Congress couldn’t find enough decency to help them through this financially until the very end of the year. When it was way too late. Then there are all the grandparents who still can’t see their new grandkids and all the kids who still can’t go to real school in person and all the young people in their first or second jobs who still can’t drop by anyone’s desk to ask a newbie’s casual question.

An Apple store means many things to many people. But until now it has never meant lost jobs or food bank lines which stretch forever. Or loved ones who never saw the holiday gifts already bought for them. An Apple store. Deserted and like so much in 2020 and still in 2021- dead.

Musings on Re-opening Our World

So while you’ve been sitting at home munching chips and watching Netflix (its first quarter earnings report showed the streaming entertainment service added twice as many new subscriptions as Wall Streeters had expected), a lot of people have been strategizing how to restart the world. Or at least their small part of it. Among them a guy named Shelly Palmer who’s a well known digital marketing and technology consultant. Palmer sends daily newsletters which often contain provocative theses. And he often asks readers for their ideas and reactions.

So last night – when Shelly Palmer asked how each of his readers would re-open the United States – I opened my big mouth.  And offered my very subjective suggestions. As this is titled – just musings. About the things which matter most to me. In the order which matters most to me. 

Here goes.

Right at the top of the list  – on the first day – I want the larger, spacious gyms re-opened for those of us who desperately need them. And weekend bike and running races reinstated. I want ONLY small restaurants reopened. Where the owner can really be held accountable for sanitizing and distancing.  Oh – and Starbucks.  I said this would be subjective. I want all parks which are meant for vigorous activity reopened if they’ve been closed. And I and most everyone else want to be able to go back to work. Maybe half and half home and work if it’s that kind of job. I want hair salons and barbershops open because  we certainly can’t go back to work looking like we do now. Nail salons can wait. So can large venue concerts and sports stadiums. Sports themselves should be up to the athletes. I want some aspects of schools and colleges open. The situations educators think would be most valuable. Online teaching doesn’t work very well for student engagement. And parents can’t go back to work if their kids are still expected to learn at home.

Having said all this, I’m not crazy. Or stupid. I want it only with reasonable distancing between people at work. Plenty of wipes and chlorine spray to clean work surfaces and bathrooms constantly. Maybe employers can find them. I certainly can’t.  Extra general cleaning and sanitizing at work. The right of any worker who feels uncomfortable to stay home working or – if they must be physically present (warehouses, supermarkets, construction etc) – plenty of protection. Outdoor jobs kind of take care of themselves. It’s being trapped INDOORS with a possible asymptomatic person or with air conditioning which could possibly move that one person’s virus all over the building. I don’t really have an answer for that. I don’t think a temperature check at the door will winnow out enough people. Many people with asymptomatic COVID-19 don’t have a fever.  We each have to be responsible and aware of our own situations. Much as social distancing has become a buzz phrase, let’s make situational awareness one also.

I don’t think it’s realistic to think office workers are going to wear home made, uncomfortable masks all day at work. I don’t think they do much anyhow for the general public. On crowded mass transit – masks may have some protective value but at the least they make people feel safer. Which might convince the fearful to start moving around and going back to work.

We need tests. Especially accurate antibody tests. Even though at this point we don’t know if those people who have antibodies also have immunity. Or for how long. I guess we’ll find out. And – caveat- we may not have enough of these tests till September. But we should have enough to test representative subsections of people – what the pollsters do. And draw some conclusions based on THAT data.  The Czech Republic is doing it that way. So are other countries.

Many countries around the world are reopening. Many with 2 weeks between stages. We have to also and monitor it carefully. We need to dip our toes into flying again. Lower our border “gates”.  If other countries will open their borders again to us and others. Some countries in Europe are throwing around ideas like keeping borders mostly closed for a year or more. Satisfying the most xenophobic. Or perhaps the most nervous. But the airlines will have to step up as well – figuring out how to distance all of us from each other. And find better ways to queue up for boarding, baggage drops and the like. That means repurposing employees to police all those lines. All of this best done with global consultation and cooperation. If that is still possible in the fractured world Donald Trump, Brexit and Hungary’s Victor Orban have helped create.

These ideas reflect  only what I care about, what I see as most important. Others will have other priorities.  Wherever we start – It just has to be done carefully. A lot of people are very frightened. Especially those who have lost a loved one or know people who have died or gotten very ill from the virus. My husband and I will joyously go back to our favorite restaurants as soon as I can get my hair done.  IF we’re sure they’re sanitized and we are properly distanced.

I’m not sure what to do about the bar stools.