September 25, 2021

Fall at the Seattle Arboretum Japanese Tea Garden

I’m starting to surface for air after a couple of days of torpor following the protracted trip back home from Spain. The flights were uneventful, just a lot of hurry up and wait as one usually gets these days with air travel. Air traffic appears to be picking back up. It’s nowhere as crazy as it was pre-Covid but both the Madrid and the Atlanta airports were more full than they were on the outbound journey not quite three weeks ago. No episodes of air rage or bad behavior on my flights. It may becoming more frequent as mental health in general deteriorates as the pandemic grinds on but if the airlines start sharing their no fly lists with each other and people start to find themselves barred from all air travel if they don’t act like adults rather than toddlers in a snit, that particular issue of modern life is likely to take care of itself. The only hitch in the return trip was the complete dearth of ground transportation when I landed in Birmingham. Attendees at the Furnace Fest music festival apparently commandeered every taxi, Uber, and Lyft in the metro area on Thursday. Fortunately, I have phone a friend capabilities.

The weather has broken and the humidity is gone and the tang of fall is in the air. We’re getting into my favorite time of year. I’ve always been an autumn person. Fall to me means new beginnings and gearing up for new possibilities as I have been tied to the American academic calendar since age 5. Growing up, fall also meant the glorious Indian Summer days of a Seattle September, sunny without being warm, leaves beginning to change, and a prolonged magic hour in the late afternoon with a golden light from the setting sun so thick, you can almost cut it with a knife. I’ve never seen anything quite like it anywhere else I have lived. Must have something to do with the latitude. It also means a chill in the air at night so I’ve flipped the HVAC from cool to heat. The cats, who went into hiding for the first twelve hours or so after arrival, have decided I’m me and have reemerged and are going about their usual routines. I’ve done the laundry, the grocery shopping, unpacked, and in general started the process of going back to usual life.

The number of Covid inpatients at UAB has been steadily declining. Hopefully, that means that the worst of the Delta surge locally is over and things will calm down a bit and let everyone take a breather. However, the death rate is skyrocketing (as it does about four to six weeks after a surge begins). Alabama’s death rate per population is currently the highest in the country, about double that of every other state. We had 123 deaths yesterday and our seven day average is 125 deaths a day. In comparison, Spain, where I just was, had 44 deaths yesterday with a seven day average of 64. When you consider that Spain has three and a half to four times the population of Alabama, which place is doing a better job keeping its population out of harms way.

It’s been a bit of an adjustment coming back and seeing people serenely waltz in and out of buildings without masks, hearing about local schools lifting mask mandates due to their ‘conservative values’, seeing various snake oil cures (some of which are downright dangerous like nebulizing hydrogen peroxide) being touted as appropriate protocols by people without medical training, and having prominent politicians bragging to the media about how they have spent the last eighteen months listening to professional public health advice and then doing the opposite. Just a few weeks in a society that understood and accepted basic mitigation measures as necessary for the common good and which did them without complaint or fuss and who got their vaccinations without a major blowback movement seems to have spoiled me. The State Department still has Portugal and Spain as Level 4 travel advisories (do not travel there without urgent need due to Covid risk). They’ve been listed like that since July. It’s ridiculous. I feel much more endangered here than I ever did there. If they are Level 4, we should make Alabama level 5 (and Florida level 6).

The book is continuing to sell slowly, but steadily. A big thank you to those of you who have purchased it. I have a major ask to those of you who have read and liked it. Please, please, please go to Amazon or Good Reads or any of these places and write a short review and rate it. ‘I liked it’ is perfectly acceptable. This has to do with the way the modern publishing/book world works. Automatic algorithms will start doing their thing, but only if they are prompted by people supplying them with data. A couple of other things that you can do if you are so inclined. Tell people about it (social media or in person) if you think they might enjoy it and ask your local independent bookstore to order it for you or others and to stock it. They can easily order it from Ingram Book Distributors. Book marketing on a zero budget is a guerilla affair and I need some help from shock troops.

I’m trying to decide what the last few weeks of away time and decompression has meant. Was it just a chance to get away and see a part of the world I had not yet been to? Was it a time to contrast and compare a society that has done public health basics in a non-political way with our own craziness that seems bound and determined to push the death toll ever higher? Was it a way to get my head in a different space so I know where and how to point myself next? (If it was that last one, it was pretty much a flop – I still haven’t figured out what the next chapter of life holds so I’ll more or less return to old patterns until I do). One thing I did figure out is I’d like to find a travel companion(s) for my next major jaunt. If you think you’re that person, give me a call and we’ll discuss. I don’t have my big 2022 trip set yet. It’s going to depend on Covid and work and theater and books and all the rest of the things that collide on my calendar. I do have a companion set for my trip to London at New Year’s so I’ll be able to do some compare and contrasting with how that works.

Another decision I’m trying to make. What next with the writing? A second volume of The Accidental Plague Diaries? (there will be enough material by the end of the year). Just expand the book as is with new material? Move on and try something completely new? (I do have a couple of ideas rocketing around my brain for novels and plays). Go back to my original book idea about the impact of the aging Baby Boom on the health system? Just keep writing these pieces and let them go where they go? Turn the diaries into a performance piece/monologue? (Anyone want to help me give that a go – would need a genius director…) White, a blank page or canvas. So many possibilities…

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