Taking Up Space

I state for the record: I am thrilled that Illinois, and other US states, are reopening after 15 harrowing, soul-sucking months.

But it can be a little weird, right?

Black Friday Shopping GIF by NBC

For starters, I suddenly feel awash with… humanity. Has my expectation of personal space expanded to six feet on every side, and now everyone is just TOO DAMN CLOSE?

Since June 11, Chicagoland has felt a bit like (I imagine) Black Friday at BestBuy. It’s as if I’m surrounded by punch drunk shoppers who pulled an all-nighter waiting for doors to open, and they KEEP BUMPING INTO ME as they race around, shoving stuff into their carts.

Or am I bumping into them? It’s possible, my core strength and balance aren’t what they were pre-pandemic…

Bubble Boy Lol GIF by America's Funniest Home Videos

Maybe we’re all like the Bubble Boy, without his bubble. The CDC is no longer dictating the distance we must keep, so perhaps we just have to re-learn what “normal” boundaries feel like. I hope we figure it out soon. At the moment, it takes two hours of post-traumatic cocooning for me to recover from one crowded outing.

While I’m glad to have restaurants, museums and movie theatres back in full operation, COVID restrictions brought some unexpected gifts I’m sad to give up.

Peace and quiet in the city: For most of 2020, every day in Chicago sounded like Sunday morning. I could hear birds singing and the breeze in the trees, instead of honking horns and car speakers thumping. Sadly, traffic is back. Road rage, too.

Live streaming entertainment: This was an option pre-pandemic, of course, but once I was homebound it became a true blessing.

I discovered Mysterious Chicago via Facebook Live. Its founder Adam Selzer got creative, leading his popular historical tours from his living room — with his cat Miles making regular cameo appearances.

Every Thursday night, I’d pour a glass of wine, slip under a fuzzy blanket, and tune in to Adam via my smart TV (an early pandemic splurge). It could be disorienting, because I’d sometimes forget that I could see Adam… but he couldn’t see me. Once or twice I dozed off while he was talking, and felt guilty about it.

Solstice celebrations at Stonehenge — courtesy of a charity called English Heritage — were another Facebook Live highlight.

Stonehenge has been closed due to the pandemic, and completely deserted – no cell phones with flash, selfie sticks blocking your view or diesel tour buses rumbling by. Tonight I’ll again enjoy the peaceful English summer solstice sunrise at about 10 p.m. Next year, even if it’s streamed, there’ll be crowds at Stonehenge… so it won’t be the same.

It’s a complicated feeling: nostalgia for aspects of lockdown, despite hoping we never experience a global pandemic ever again.

To borrow from Dr. Seuss… I’m glad it’s over and sorry it happened. Except for the drop in traffic noise. I’ll never be sorry about that.


Feeling Free…ish

Masks are set on fire during an event sponsored by the San Angelo Republican Women held at the VFW on Wednesday, March 10, 2021.

Chicago entered Phase 5 reopening on June 11 – a grand way of saying we shrugged off most COVID-19 limitations for the “vaccinated”.

We were the first major US city to take the plunge. 

I’m at once overjoyed to face fewer restrictions, and deeply concerned because — as of today — just 47% of Chicago’s population has all its jabs, and mass vaccination centers in the area are pulling up stakes at a fast clip.

Other Chicagoans clearly share my unease. While local grocery stores no longer require masks, I estimate 75% of shoppers still wear them voluntarily. Meanwhile on public transportation – where a mask mandate is still in place – the percentage seems about the same. 

person in a hazmat suit

The latter is so crazy to me. I often joke I’ll be the last person in Chicago riding the “L” in a mask. I’d wear a hazmat suit, if I had one.

I try to be rational but like most vaccinated urbanites, I can do basic math. If I’m in line to order at Shake Shack, there’s a good chance the person ahead of/behind me is not fully vaccinated. Depending on your news source, vaccine efficacy against the new Delta variant could be less than 80% — not terrible, but low enough to give me pause. Should I just keep my mask on?

Luckily, it’s summer so I’m spending as much time as possible outdoors. And while I’ve returned to the office one or two days per week, it’s a massive space that allows easy social distancing.

I keep reminding myself that I got vaccinated for a reason: to protect myself and others, and to live a freer life. For now, I’ll continue to mask-up when shopping, commuting and enjoying any in-your-face pampering I’ve been denied since 2020 (e.g. eye exams, brow waxing etc.) And of course, I’ll wear a mask whenever asked to by someone still at high risk.

But I’ll ditch masks in the one place I find them truly horrible – the gym. They give me splitting headaches, and adult acne.

In fact, I’d pay extra to join a gym or yoga studio that requires proof of vaccination. Surely some entrepreneur in my city of 2.7 million has had this brilliant idea already?

My closet is full of grown-up clothes without elastic, that are desperate to make an appearance… just as soon as I can squeeze into them. So, I’m depending on it.

Proof Positive

A medical testing swab

Resurrecting my blog has been near the top of my “to do” list for a while. I recently accepted a full-time job offer, which frees up time I’ve been spending scouring LinkedIn, applying for roles and tracking down recruiters. (Good riddance.)

There’s also more time for blogging because I’m working remotely, with zero daily commute and few personal plans other than “a walk”.

Pre-pandemic, I got 10,000 steps in just by walking to/from public transportation, plus a few blocks at midday to pick up lunch — a perk of city living I took for granted. Now I schedule a daily constitutional to nowhere, or else my Apple watch will vibrate to confirm I’m at least conscious.

I wish I could say week one of employment ran smoothly but… no such luck. A few days into my new job, I was diagnosed with COVID-19. Several local colleagues had helped me onboard face-to-face (I-9 process, laptop set up etc.), and were rewarded with exposure to the virus. They were gracious, but also probably pretty annoyed. I pray they remain healthy.

I got lucky with testing. A nearby clinic had availability the same day I detected symptoms, and could provide results within 15 minutes. No waiting in limbo.

A mask-less clinician walked into my exam room with results, which I took as a hopeful sign… until he realized he was in the wrong place and backed out quickly.

I assumed the patient he was looking for had tested negative – so, no mask needed. If he came back later with his mask on, my test would be positive.

You can guess what happened next….


Riots in DC, a positive COVID diagnosis – 2021 is not exactly eating 2020 for breakfast. But last year taught me to find an upside amidst a lot of *blech*, and celebrate incremental progress.

So… I’m six days into a 10-day quarantine, extremely grateful to have mild symptoms AND an understanding employer. There’s a new President and First Lady waiting in the wings, and time to ponder blog topics for the future.

Watch this space!

A Girl Always Remembers Her First Pandemic

Not true, actually. I can’t remember my first at all. (I was two.) My last one, though, was the 2009 flu, when I was so cocky I didn’t even get a flu shot – and so lucky, I didn’t get sick.

I didn’t see the flu as a potential killer – just an inconvenience. Age-wise, I was nowhere near “high risk”. Fast forward 11 years, though, and that classification feels uncomfortably close.

I admit… COVID-19 has me a little freaked.

Cecily Strong Snl GIF by Saturday Night Live

As I continue my job search, I’m working part-time in retail in downtown Chicago. We keep industrial-size bottles of hand sanitizer next to every register, and customers covet them because there’s not a tube or moist towelette to be found at any Walgreens or CVS in Chicagoland. Even the useless alcohol-free lavender stuff is completely sold out at Whole Foods.

At first, I skipped the sanitizer. My skin is dry and chapped enough as it is. But last week I felt community pressure building, and began to follow every hand wash with a generous dollop.

That stinging feeling means it’s working, right?

Speaking of hand washing…. Anyone else feel their technique being critiqued in public restrooms? Maybe it’s because I’m an employee, who could be handing shoppers bags full of merchandise laced with coronavirus. I sense scrutiny all around me as I count, “1,2,3….20”.

I feel the urge to defend myself. “Look, I just washed my palms. Now I’m washing THE BACKS of my hands!”

On a trip to Trader Joe’s yesterday, I found 50% of the freezers empty. (I scored the last bag of Mandarin Orange Chicken, hazzah!) The aisles were clogged with carts and high-strung shoppers – one of whom accidentally bumped into me, and apologized profusely. It caught me off guard. Her wool coat had brushed against my wool coat. It’s not like she’d rubbed her hands all over my face.

This morning, I heard a rumor that Chicago is OUT OF TOILET PAPER. I took stock of my pantry: seven rolls, which would ordinarily be ample. But these are not ordinary times. Panic crept over me, and I headed to Mariano’s… where the paper goods shelves were empty. Ditto at Walgreens.

IMG_0836My last hope was a nearby bodega. Pay dirt: a stray 12-pack of Scott toilet tissue (double rolls!) for $10. I would have paid more. My FORO (Fear of Running Out) was overwhelming.

My email inbox overflows with news that Chicago is essentially closed for business. Schools are on hiatus. Museums are shut down for at least two weeks. Lectures, book signings and industry conferences are cancelled. Even the St. Patrick’s Day tradition of dyeing the Chicago river green has been “postponed”.

The impact of all this on hourly workers – ticket takers, waiters and waitresses, custodians and salespeople – could be catastrophic. Meanwhile, I have onsite job interviews still to be scheduled, but recruiters have gone silent.

Worrying about all of it makes my head hurt.

So for now, I’m controlling what I can. I’m sleeping enough, drinking loads of water and avoiding crowds when possible. And if the worst happens, I’m set for Mandarin Orange Chicken and toilet paper.

That’ll have to be enough, for now.