May 5, 2021

Dateline Seattle, Washington:

I have arrived. 2800 miles, twelve states and five hotel rooms later, I’m ensconced with my father in his senior living apartment near Northgate. The last leg of the journey was as uneventful as the previous. From the Boise river valley (where Boise, Nampa, and Caldwell appear to have all grown together in a single strip mall) into Eastern Oregon and Ammon Bundy country and then up over the Blue Mountains and into the Palouse. Crossed the Columbia River outside of Pendleton and then up through the Yakima valley and Washington wine country and over Snoqualmie pass and down to Puget Sound.

Now for a few days of family and Seattle time before having to undertake a similar journey in reverse. The unplugging from everyday life for the last few days has been good for me. Nobody has been asking me for more than I have to give and I’ve been responsible to no one but myself (and Hope, the red Prius). I’ve discovered I still enjoy long distance driving but it takes a little more out of me at nearly sixty than was true twenty or thirty years ago. My constant companion this trip has been the audio versions of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, modern fantasy of the blood and guts school. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Game of Thrones with its flawed and morally ambiguous set of heroes and the fantasy tropes of magic definitely playing second fiddle to the realistic human interactions and wars between various peoples. I’ve enjoyed them.

One thing I noticed during this trip was that I am very much a child of the West, even if I have lived in the Deep South for nearly a quarter century. There is something different about the feel of western mountain air on the skin, a crispness that’s altogether different from the languid feeling of the humid air of the south that makes me feel like I’m safe and home. Then there’s the vegetation – the look of evergreen forests on craggy mountains that are so different from the deciduous trees of the south and east. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had returned West after Steve’s death – or even after Tommy’s but I still think that the decisions I have made are the correct ones. When I retire, perhaps I can spend more time on the West coast even if I don’t relocate.

It was announced today that Broadway theater will be returning as of September 14th without capacity restrictions. I’m trying to decide what I think about this. Having been inside those theaters many times over many years, they are based on a business model of crowding as many people into as small a space as possible. While I am definitely feeling more comfortable about being out and about with widespread vaccine distribution, the idea of being crowded in with 1500 strangers for three hours in a building built in the 1920s prior to modern ventilation systems still gives me pause. I’m thinking the Broadway League is assuming they can just pick up where they left off in March of 2020 but I’m not so sure. Their core audience of older people with disposable income will be cautious. The industry and unions were not overly supportive leading to a lot of the talent leaving the city and working out life patterns. The world has moved on over the last fifteen months and will want to see artistic expression that incorporates that. Going back to old forms and tropes without thinking them through thoroughly is not going to be a recipe for innovation. Maybe it’s time for a fifteen block section of midtown Manhattan to stop being the sole arbiter of theatrical success.

And I remain concerned over the two tiered society that vaccines are creating. The vaccinated folk are wanting to return to normal but normal is going to create situations where unvaccinated folk (whether by choice or necessity) are going to be brought into danger by usual human behavior. I am afraid we’re going to continue to have localized epidemics in unvaccinated communities. In communities of choice, often rural and politically conservative, this is going to lead to healthy young people becoming seriously ill and potentially dying when they don’t have to. It’s also going to continue to put enormous strains on rural health care systems which are already under siege from low tax bases, and conservative state governments not wanting to spend on social services.

Some have suggested that a ‘vaccine passport’ is the easiest solution to all of this. I’m not so sure. The vaccines remain ‘experimental’ as they have not yet been given full approval by the FDA and remain under emergency use authorization and it would be unethical for any public agency to require vaccination with an unapproved medication. The current trend to monetize such things through private corporations and data systems is rife with issues. Creating systems that work primarily electronically via smart phones leaves out a huge section of the population that doesn’t understand or have access to the technology.

As things open up, I think we all have to keep up on the latest research and public health guidelines and then adjust our own risk management decisions to what makes sense for ourselves. I would not have made this trip a few months ago, but my vaccination status and the reduction in caseloads made me decide that, as long as I was prudent in behavior, that this would be an OK thing for me. I’ll continue to weigh all the evidence and, in the meantime, I’ll wear my mask indoors with people I don’t know, keep my hands washed and not get too close.

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