The family of scrub jays that live in our yard love peanuts so much that they’ll venture fairly close in order to grab some off the patio. I love how they hop in sideways, poised to flee at the tiniest hint of danger. Sometimes they won’t come close at all, but squawk at us to move away, only swooping in later when they feel safe.
It’s how I approach returning to my pre-pandemic activities too, edging sideways toward reintegration, adapting slowly, ready to change course when the risk isn’t worth it. It’s a continual weighing and considering the odds, the pros and cons.
Partly it’s to protect my unvaccinated grandkids (double vaxxed this week!), partly distrustful of an unpredictable public, partly preferring not to get sick, and partly some temporary (non-covid) health issues that kept us close to home in recent months. I haven’t been in large crowds at all – indoors or out. Thanksgiving dinner with 11 people felt like a big step, and we all did quick tests first. Frankly, and gratefully, I’m comfortable right where I am.
I recently ate inside a restaurant, nervous but happy. I’ve loved eating takeout (especially from Bamboo Sushi with their excellent food and sustainably caught fish ethic). But the trash bin full of unrecyclable plastic containers fills me with dread and guilt every time, even the supposedly compostable ones.
But the big step for me, which I’ve waited impatiently for, is live music. In Before Times we went out to a couple shows every month, we love it so. But these past 21 months we’ve been limited to streaming shows in our basement theater. The big screen with surround sound that came with the house is great for movies, and those livestreams made quarantine manageable. But it’s not the same.
Now the rest of the world seems to be getting out. Some of you are still washing your groceries, but some of you are in restaurants, going to live shows, and traveling abroad. It’s a continual nudge – do we expand our lives now? Later? How much? How far?
Last August I heard that Béla Fleck’s new project with an all-star band was coming to town, and couldn’t resist. December? Surely it would be safe by then! Surely crowds would be ok by then. We’ll be all vaxxed and protected. And the gorgeous Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, with great acoustics, bragged about their gold standard safety protocols. Supporting touring bands is important!
But now here it is December, and omicron is a shadowy phantom peering over the horizon, shaking her fist and screeching, “I’ll get you my pretty!” Or it’s not – we’re still figuring it out. But it’s fairly clear that Covid ain’t over, and some of us may not get out alive.
Our last concert was in March, 2020 at the Aladdin with Iris Dement. I wrote all about it here, and in retrospect, we had no clue. Audience members buzzed with guesses and conjecture and hand sanitizer, while Iris herself joked and wondered nervously. She canceled her tour after that night.
Finally, we adopted a friend’s Fuck Scale. On the scary side, you consider the really-tempting-but-not-sure-if-it’s-safe thing while moaning, “Ohhhh fffuuuucccckkk” like you’re jumping off a cliff. But once decided, and you’re knee deep, you just have to shrug and say flippantly, “Ah fuckit” – do the thing, no more second guessing.
Intellectually I knew that being triple vaxxed inside that cleaner-than-thou venue with vaccine and mask requirements would be ok. But my laissez faire attitude is a bit rusty. And. You never know.
But fuckit, we entered the concert hall. We were there. It’s still strange to see crowds of half faces, reading eyes without the benefit of seeing a mouth. The couple next to us were also there for their first show, looking a tad uncomfortable. The pre-show baritone announcer requested that we help make sure live concerts continue, so please wear masks “unless actively eating or drinking.” I missed the old “no cell phones” announcement when the woman next to me texted continually during the show. Annoying, I thought, but better texting than coughing.
The show was stupendous, all we’d hoped for, with no time to think or worry. (Here’s a clip from another recent performance.) As we elbowed our way out through the crowd I overheard a man say to his friend, “It’s a calculated risk, a calculated risk,” and I knew exactly the rest of their conversation. Fuckit.
I’m hoping my pandemic will be bookended by Iris and Béla, hoping this marks a return to business, if not as usual, then cautious and continual movement toward reentry. I know it’s already that way for many of you. I’m holding tickets for 2022 – surely it will be over then? Ha. I know better now. I woke the morning after the concert to headlines about rising hospitalizations in several states. Guess I’ll keep acting like a scrub jay, and edge my way in.