May 16, 2020
I want to document a little bit of what it’s been like for me during the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic. Day-to-day life in America has changed pretty rapidly, and we’ve already adapted to most of it. So it’s not really news. But it’s different enough from the way things were before that I want to write it down. And maybe you’ve been curious what’s happening in my life. It’s a long post, so be prepared.
When I first heard about COVID-19, the news was reporting it as a big deal in some other countries, China in particular. But I didn’t think it was going to have a big impact on my own life. That was in February 2020. My work life was continuing on as it had been for the past year.
In particular, I was working on a project to develop (and test, in my case) a new online training platform. Some of us on the team were putting in lots of overtime. This job was a completely remote work environment. The team was distributed literally from coast to coast. Our boss was in Virginia, and our product manager was in California, and us chickens were everywhere in-between. So we were all very used to working from home, and did it reasonably well.
In early March, we had the first confirmed COVID-19 infections in Colorado, and then Governor Polis declared a state of emergency on March 10. That’s when I knew shit was getting real. Within a week, all ski areas, restaurants, bars, gyms, casinos, and movie theaters were ordered to close. Most school districts closed their schools, and we had our first deaths from the disease. People who had office type jobs started working from home en masse.
Other states responded similarly, and work got a bit weird. My coworkers who were used to working from their home offices now had kids at home, out of school or day care. I remember my boss trying to have Zoom video meetings with us, and his young son literally crawling all over him and yelling at the top of his lungs. Some coworkers just went offline most of the time during the day, and then would try to catch up on work after their children went to sleep at night. Our team definitely wasn’t operating at 100% anymore, and it was right during the time that management wanted us to be in “crunch mode” to finish the initial release of this new product.
For me personally, the biggest changes were that I could no longer go to restaurants or movies, the two things I most liked to do for entertainment. The city, state, and federal governments all encouraged us to start social distancing, though it wasn’t mandatory yet. My girlfriend Brooke and I got some cotton masks to wear in public, and started walking together a lot more. This was because the fitness studios where we both went were now closed. We still needed exercise, and didn’t want to just become more sedentary.
Doctors said to try to keep 6 feet separation from other people. I don’t know why 6 and not 5 or 7. I guess probably because the real guidance was for 2 meters, and they had to convert to feet for Americans who don’t know a meter from a soufflé (thanks, Reagan). Figuring out how to do social distancing while out walking in the neighborhood was a challenge for us and for everyone else. Our sidewalks are 2.5 to 4 feet wide, and many pedestrians on the sidewalks are walking (aka pooping) their dogs. So we had to learn the discipline to either cross the street or at least walk in the street when coming up on another pedestrian on the sidewalk. At first, this was strange, but we got used to it.
Within hours of the emergency declarations, there were runs on the grocery stores. People bought up all the toilet paper, cleaning products, hand sanitizer, paper towels, and most of the non-perishable foods. I don’t know why anyone thought they suddenly needed 100 rolls of toilet paper. Maybe they thought the virus was going to kill all the people in the paper mills. Or maybe they thought they were somehow going to stay in their homes for months without venturing out and they would do lots of pooping. Eventually, stores started enforcing limits on how many of these products you could buy, to eliminate hoarding. And the government declared that all hand sanitizer would be sold only to health care agencies, not the general public.
Then, a week later, mandatory “stay at home” rules went into effect. This didn’t impact me much, because I had already been taking these precautions. Some Americans felt like it was an assault on their liberty, though, and there were a few protests in Denver. A lot of people totally missed the point that social distancing wasn’t meant to protect you personally from the virus, but to protect others from getting the virus from you if you were an asymptomatic carrier. Some people understood that, and still felt like it was still an unfair imposition. But in my neighborhood, most people generally obeyed the rules, and a month later the Colorado wide results showed that we did “flatten the curve” as we had hoped. So it paid off, at least for that first wave of infections.
With so many people out of work or working from home, traffic on city streets was way down. And people needed to get out more. So the city shut down a few streets to car traffic and turned them into pedestrian streets. That way, people could walk (or run or bike) for exercise, and have an easier time maintaining distance from other pedestrians. One of these people-oriented streets was just two blocks from home, and led all the way east to Cheesman Park, so it was perfect for me.
In the second half of March, things were weird, between the hoarding behavior and general fear of the virus. But I was working so much that most of this didn’t affect me. I started cooking more, since I couldn’t go to restaurants. And I started ordering food to be delivered more. I signed up for GrubHub’s membership plan where you pay a flat annual fee and they waive individual order delivery fees. I figured this is going to last a while, and it’ll pay off, especially if I use GrubHub a lot.
I wasn’t the only one. Restaurant workers, especially front-of-house employees like servers, were out of work in droves. Some restaurants closed completely, and some quickly converted their businesses to work better with takeout and delivery. Argonaut Liquor, the large liquor store in my neighborhood, responded by starting their own liquor delivery service. For a flat fee of $10 you could get any size order delivered in the neighborhood. I only needed one thing, but decided I might as well stock up a little since the delivery cost would be the same. Maybe that’s why they had a flat fee in the first place. Smart move, Argonaut.
Then, on April 2, I got furloughed from my job. I had been laid off before, way back in 2001, but never furloughed. In this case, it meant that I would still be an employee and the company would pay for my benefits, most importantly my health insurance. But I would not receive a paycheck. Basically, the way they left it was that they may ask me to come back and resume work at some point, or they may not. No promises. And if I take a job somewhere else, I’m supposed to let them know and return my equipment. So I boxed up my work laptop and peripherals, put them in the closet, and filed for unemployment.
Things have been much better financially than I expected. The state immediately approved my unemployment claim. By being furloughed, I was eligible to collect a weekly check from Colorado. Plus, the US Congress had passed the CARES Acts which added $600 per week on top of my unemployment check. Plus, my medical expenses were getting paid for! That added up to enough to cover my monthly mortgage payments, insurance, and HOA fees. So housing has been covered, and I’ve “only” had to dip into my savings for food, entertainment, utilities, and other expenses.
Since I had been getting burned out on work, I had already been fantasizing a little about quitting and taking a vacation to go camping and hiking in the canyon country of western Colorado and eastern Utah (and maybe northern New Mexico). The camping and hiking were not going to be possible now, due to the “stay at home” orders. But I looked forward to having some time to mentally decompress and catch up on some long-outstanding projects from my personal “to do” list. So I told myself I was going to ignore recruiters and not do anything resembling a job search for 6 weeks. Then, I’d start looking around, if my company hadn’t called me back before that.
April I tackled that huge backlog of tasks. I got my estate plan sorted out, I caught up on a deep stack of magazines, and I dusted off the Recycled Restaurants photo-essay project that I had started but never finished in 2016.
I also decided I might as well finally get the front bumper of my car fixed from that time over a year ago that I ran into the back of another car on the iciest street I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t a very big problem, so I delayed the repairs a long time. But since I wasn’t working and was supposed to be staying at home due to the pandemic, it seemed like I wouldn’t be needing my car much for the next week or two. So I might as well get it fixed.
I’ve been out of work for long periods of time before, usually by choice. So I knew that it takes me a while to mentally switch from work mode to self-actualization mode. That’s what happened in April.
My Pilates studio started doing online classes, which I signed up for. Everyone and their brother started putting more forms of live remote entertainment online – small music concerts, role playing game shows, Geeks Who Drink trivia contests, etc. So I have never had a chance to get bored.
The days from mid-April to mid-May sort of all blended together. Without a job to separate weekdays from weekends, my routine for both was a blur. Most of the time there was no routine. A few days a week I’d have online Pilates mat classes, and a couple days a week I’d plan long walks. I signed up for online Meetups on work-related topics, though I found my enthusiasm for them was low, since I had no idea when or even if I’d be able to put the ideas to practice in my work.
Through this whole time, I was doing Weight Watchers, which meant cutting way back on the amount of delicious food, and modifying my cooking a lot. Also, ordering meal deliveries is way more of a challenge when trying to eat extra healthy. With the pandemic, it was already tough to find restaurants that would deliver something I was in the mood for, with good quality. Add a restricted diet on top of that and it makes it extra hard. But it’s paid off, and I’ve lost about 30 pounds since February.
In the last couple weeks, some of the restrictions have started to be lifted. My massage therapist was able to start taking clients again, so I scheduled a massage. In fact, I was the first customer she contacted to get on the schedule. Why? Maybe she likes me. Maybe she sensed my back has been hurting. Maybe she appreciated that I continued to pay her for the two months she was not able to work on me. Or maybe all three.
Last Sunday, on May 10, I decided to drive over to Brooke’s place to stay the night. I wanted a change of scenery and also wanted to be gone while my housekeeper came to clean on Monday for the first time in two months. On the way, only about 5 blocks from home, I got in a car wreck. It was pretty low speed, and neither driver was hurt. I think the other driver ran a red light, and she thinks I ran a red light. Regardless, the end result was that the front end of my car got smashed again! In the month since I got the front bumper fixed from the accident last year, I literally only drove it 60 miles. And now it’s back in the shop.
This past Thursday was the 6 week anniversary of getting furloughed. I still haven’t heard a peep from my employer, so I started putting out feelers about jobs, as I told myself I’d do. The CARES Act money doesn’t run out until the end of July, and I’m not burning through my savings too fast, so I’m in no huge rush. I’d rather take the time to find something fun and rewarding, rather than just the first job that I’m qualified for. Check back in a few weeks and see how that goes. Thanks for reading this far.