Week 17: Another car?

July 23, 2020

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

How many cars does one household need?

For the last four years, we’ve been an outlier among our friends. In 2015, we added a third driver. In 2018, we added a fourth. At some point, our 16-year-old will get in the last of her driving lessons and take the test and we’ll add a fifth driver.

We still have two cars.

The only reason this is possible is that my husband, Bill, likes to ride his bicycle to work. He’s spent entire summers, when one or both boys were at home, barely getting behind the wheel. These days, all five of us are home, and there have been weeks, when the bike path was closed, when Bill had to drive every day. That was fine, though. The rest of us had nowhere to go anyway.

But even though cases are going through the proverbial roof in L.A., we’re also moving around more these days. Part of that is we’re stir-crazy. But it’s also true that we don’t know anyone who is sick with the virus. We did back in March.

I think I had it, but I tested negative for the virus and for antibodies, and so my “illness” is a source of fierce debate around this house. But leaving me aside, we knew quite a few other people who fell ill with odd respiratory symptoms, and some of them did test positive. The germs felt pervasive, and universal.

Today? There’s no sign of it except in the news. This makes me feel bad, because I suspect that’s a sign of affluence. My husband and my physician friends tell me COVID is rampaging through poor households, and that the hospitals are filled with Latino patients. I heard a story today of one such household — a nuclear family of a mother, asthmatic father and three little kids; a grandma and a grandpa with a lung condition; and two uncles, all sharing a four bedroom apartment. The mother and the asthmatic father and the grandmother all have tested positive for COVID, and the mom, dad and three kids have spent the last two weeks in one room together, trying to shelter from the others.

Same city as me. Different world altogether.

This is not fair. Of course not. None of this is fair. Not only can I afford a third car when many Angelenos can’t even afford one. But now, it turns out, my family and I can afford to not know anyone who is ill. Our privilege surrounds us like a vast ocean, lapping away from us all the way to the horizon.

Some days, I feel like the very fact of this virus will crush me. But that’s me being fragile. Imaginative. Too drenched in the news. The truth is, I have time and space to worry about possible exposure at a time when there are so many cases, L.A. is running out of tests.

Meanwhile, I’ve got three kids who try very hard to stay safe. They wear masks. They socially distance. They keep their friend circles small and somewhat exclusive. But they’ve also been cooped up here for months, and the last thing I want is three depressed young adults on my hands. So at the moment, their lives are — how shall I put this — not exactly isolated.

One of these days, Sarah will drive, too. I suspect it may be time to break down and get that third car, if just to avoid the ear-splitting arguments when everyone’s back home in December and there aren’t nearly enough wheels to go around.

We have one hybrid already, a Ford Fusion. Liam, who studies environmental economics, insists our third car be green as well. I don’t want to lavish a lot of money on this thing and anyway, our insurance tells me if I get them a car that’s new or new-ish, my insurance bill will leap by 5K annually once Sarah gets her license. But if I get them a seven or eight year old car, it’ll inch up by $600. At the moment, I have my eye on a 2012 Lincoln hybrid sedan. Not too sexy (sorry, guys) but not too thirsty, either, and what a deal, because who else would want it?

I’m not sure I do, either. But life is getting busy, and soon there will be five of us vying for the driver’s seat.

Week 15: Social?

June 30, 2020

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I woke up this morning to a text from my 16-year-old daughter. She sent it at 2:15 a.m., which is not itself remarkable: since quarantine began, she regularly goes to sleep at 4 o’clock in the morning, rising for the day around lunchtime.

But she’s usually giggling with her friends in the wee hours. Instead, Sarah was thinking about her week ahead: the picnic lunch she’d planned at the park today with a friend from school, the surprise picnic/birthday party she’s supposed to attend tomorrow, at a different park, for a different friend, and the salon visit to get her hair dyed blonde on Friday. Both picnics involve masks when possible, social distancing at all times. The salon is a single room, vigorously disinfected between clients by the hairstylist, with masks worn by client and stylist.

It’s a great week. But my daughter was panicking. “I just want to do the right thing and I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I also want to be good to myself,” she wrote. Should she cancel one of the events? Two? All three? Sure, she has a Pinterest board devoted solely to different shades of blonde dye jobs (some more yellow, some more ashen, some with roots showing, some without), but maybe she should just skip it?

Ah, coronavirus, you nasty, insidious thing. We are so ready to be done with you, and yet you won’t go. Not only that — you flourish.

Here in California, we recently recorded an all-time, single-day high of 8,000 new cases. Our death count is now at 6,000. If any of us want to travel to the tri-state area (NY, NJ or CT) we have to quarantine for 14 days. The only consolation is we’re not alone. The numbers across this country are so eye-poppingly awful the European Union has banned almost all Americans. And now Dr. Fauci says the nation could see 100,000 new cases each day if we’re not careful.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Look at Europe. Look at Australia. Look at China, for heaven’s sake. But we all know the reasons we’ve gotten to this point, and screaming into the void won’t create leadership where none exists. So instead, I’m just here, trying to cope.

I interviewed a Beverly Hills psychologist last week, for my story about summer camps, who told me as an aside that she’s seeing new levels of anxiety in her clients these days. “Before, when the lock down happened, people were shocked, and there was a fear, and at least with everything being shut down, it was clarity,” she said. “Now that there are options – people are being bombarded with such conflicting messages, and the self doubt comes up. The second guessing is just … it can eat you up inside.”

I can’t tell you this woman’s last name, by the way (her first name is Rachel), because she and some friends are running a camp for their 8-year-olds out of their backyards, and she’s so conflicted about what she’s doing, and the appearance of what she’s doing, that she needs to retreat behind anonymity.

I get it. I totally do. I’ve been seeing my neighbors regularly, going for masked walks with our dogs — around the park, around the school, up and down the nearby streets, endless loops of same-old, same-old sidewalks. It’s the same walks we did before the lockdown. We discuss and analyze the same cast of characters — their families, my family. But this used to be part of my social life. Now there are whole weeks when these walks are my social life, at least the part that happens in person.

Meanwhile, I have another crew of friends from my temple who live a few miles away, and whom I now see mostly on Zoom. Wouldn’t it be totally zany and amazing, I thought, to get together in person? I sent out an email, inviting only the women to cut down on the numbers. I suggested we meet at Rancho Park near the temple, because it’s not my neighborhood park and these days that counts as exotic for me. I proposed we all bring our own picnic lunches and we space ourselves six feet apart. When one of the women said we could sit at the picnic tables, I nixed that for separate folding chairs, pointing out that picnic tables would bring us too close to each other.

At the last minute, two women cancelled. “Tough decision,” one of them texted me, fifteen minutes before we were supposed to meet. “Really want/miss seeing you all.” We ended up with a group of eight, in a circle so wide it could be hard to hear someone talking on the other end. Only a few of us actually ate. One woman wore a mask the entire time. I brought my lunch, then wondered if that somehow put me at greater risk. Of what, I’m not sure. Ingesting coronavirus that otherwise would have floated away?

Four days later and I feel fine. Bullet dodged, if there ever was any bullet at all. And yes, it was lovely to all be together, in person again. But then, here at our house, we barrel on to the next thing. Eli, the middle one, went to an outdoor movie night last night in a friend’s backyard. Tonight, there’s a pool party with a different crew. He swears he wears a mask at all times, and says he thinks he’ll stay out of the pool. “I know I need to cut back on my socializing,” he says, in the same tone he used to promise me in high school that he would work harder at his math homework, or dial down his marijuana consumption. Just like then, there’s always the option of my clamping down. All I’d have to do now is take away the car keys. But… really? I’m going to ground my kid, who spends his days diligently practicing jazz trombone, for spending evenings in sober, small hang outs with high school friends under the watchful eyes of their parents?

Liam, the oldest, is supposed to go to a Fourth of July BBQ in Agoura on Saturday, but with the numbers up, he’s calling the friend who’s hosting it, a list of questions in hand about social distancing.

And the hospital wants Bill back on the wards. The numbers are climbing and they need more doctors. He’ll do either the first or second full week of July.

These days, risk is the air we breathe. I can stand it, moment to moment. You know the drill: now I’m working on this assignment, now I’m talking with this child, now I’m making this dinner. Keep your head down, get through the day. But then I forget, and look up, and all I see on the horizon is more danger and more sheltering and more choices that I can’t make without regretting some part of them. And it feels impossible. Which is nuts, because it’s the only possible option I have.

One bright spot: Sarah got back from the picnic, a big smile on her face, looking forward to tomorrow’s party, ready to rock blonde locks. Some kind of blonde locks. Maybe some roots showing, but not too much roots, and possibly requiring some highlights….