Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
In 2021, I have started each of these half-month diary sets with my own assessment of where we stand with respect to "herd immunity". Here's my update as of March 31st.
What do I think this means? First, the level of protection (cases plus inoculation = ~40% of Americans) is running less than a half month behind my early January projection. Some of that is due to compensating errors on my part, but it allows me some confidence in my non-professional understanding. Second, this last half-month did see a rise in cases, the threat of "a fourth wave". Third, however, is my current thought that such a wave will, in fact, not amount to much because, with 40% current protection and new first inoculations at 50 to 60 million per month, disease spread must slow down in the next weeks and essentially stop in two to three months. I realize that is more optimistic than pronouncements by real experts, but we should be able to judge in as little as one more half-month. When I do this picture again on April 16, there should have been significantly less than the one million new cases seen in the last half of March. Inoculations matter.
Thursday, April 1, Covid Day 384
We start the new month with a new road trip - no April Fool's! We charged the car to 90% and headed to Monte Sereno for the start of almost two weeks on the road. The initial part of the drive was a repeat of the drive we have done before, twice in the Tesla and a zillion times in other cars over the last 30 years (for me, Marianne has a far longer history on the Fresno through Los Banos to Los Gatos route.)
Along the way, we experimented some more with "self driving" for the Model Y. I am not comfortable with Carla self-driving in construction zones nor in really twisty highway sections, but long boring sections of the highway were just fine. When I think about our pending drives in rural California and, especially, in Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon, I think Carla will get more drive-time than either I or Marianne.
At Gabby's home, we greeted everyone with hugs and squeezes. It was nice of Dr. Fauchi to give us permission to hug grandkids. Soon, Gabby ran off on her pre-trip errands and left Marianne and Ava chatting away the whole afternoon. Sam was off at school, tutoring, and orthodontist - as busy as mom.
By 4:30, Sam was home , changed into baseball gear, and munching on a Gigi-prepared snack. Then it was off to practice. In pre-pandemic time, we would have hung around and I would have taken all kinds of action shots, but in COVID times, spectators were not allowed. Not even Opa photographers.
Instead, we headed off to our own snacks of pretzels, beer, wine, salads, and a meat and cheese plate from Hapa's Brewing Company. Snacks turned into dinner.
When we got back to the practice field, Ava experimented with some of the games on the Tesla screen while we violated pandemic protocol and watched Sam and his cousin Reef practice. It has been a season or two since we had seen the boys play and they are far more skilled than when we last watched.
The only thing left was a quick run to Safeway. Unfortunately, pulling out of the parking space I managed to give Carla's right front wheel a bad case of curb rash. My excuse is that the big wheels and thin tires make damage difficult to avoid, but what's done is done. The new car is no longer scratch free.
(This day in our history: 2000, Istanbul )
Friday, April 2, Covid Day 385
Bright and early, the little family was packed and ready to head out on their Spring Break. Everybody was pretty excited. The kids could forget about Zoom, Mamal would not need 12-hour work days, and Gabby could simplify her multi-tasking. And, Gigi and I could settle into our main job: watching the house and Charli.
One of the first parts of dog watching was dog walking. Charli and I headed out into the neighborhood initially with her leash pulling pretty hard. It seemed like there wasn't a single bush or shrub or grass patch that didn't need sniffing. I was just along for the ride. After a half hour, I think we were both getting tired and were glad to get back home to chill, at least she got to chill.
I moved from the neighborhood walk to a Peloton ride. The Rahimi Resort has one of the exercise bikes and the Internet-connected system just transfers my home preferences, including new programs by Coach Wu, my favorite trainer. It was more exercise than walking Charli.
Then it was time to refill the Tesla battery. At 18%, the "gas gauge" was as low as it had ever been, leaving us just 56 miles of driving left. I have noticed that more experienced Tesla drivers have no problem running down to 10% or even lower, but we still have range anxiety at much below 30%. I drove to the Los Gatos Supercharger, one of the very first Tesla filling stations and, I suspect, one of the busiest. The dozen "power pumps" saw a continuous parade of cars during my 45-minute visit, including several commuters who looked like they did this daily. For under $10, Carla went from 18% to 90%. Not bad.
Our main meal of the day was special. Almost a year and a half ago, we had gotten a gift card for Zona Rosa, one of our favorite Los Gatos restaurants. The pandemic hit before we had an opportunity to visit and enjoy their imaginative, Mexico-inspired, food. We were not disappointed from the opening cocktails through ceviche, scallops, and carne asada, everything had been carefully prepared and far different from "authentic-Mexican" food we can find on almost every corner in Fresno. The meal was worth full photo coverage:
Back home we rested to recover from our extravagant meal and to prepare for an evening session of Friday Game Night, via Zoom from Maryland and Colorado. As usual, it was fun and a good opportunity to catch up on family activities. Richard's college selection is inching along and he assures his folks that he will pick his Colorado school by the May 1 deadline. Brian and Rich are now eligible for Covid shots and Geoff has his scheduled in a couple of weeks. Inoculations matter.
The rest of the evening was very quiet, too quiet compared to when the normal occupants are here.
(This day in our history: 2002, A Slow Train to Kyiv)
Saturday, April 3, Covid Day 386
From our new temporary home at the south end of San Francisco Bay we headed north to The City itself. We were headed to my cousin Tim's place in the Outer Sunset, near Golden Gate Park and the Pacific Ocean. I don't know when either Marianne or I had last been in the area, but it has to have been many, many years. Originally a blue collar neighborhood with low cost, cheek-by-jowl homes and bad weather, it is no longer quite the bargain it used to be. Nothing in San Francisco is.
Cousin Tim has lived here forever, or almost so. He may have moved to the Bay Area at about the time my folks moved away and we never made the family connections that are now being reestablished a half-century later, in part due to the pandemic. Who'd a thought? I only wish we would have reconnected in time to meet his wife Barbara, before her premature passing a few years ago.
Tim and Barbara's son Reed and his girlfriend Ana were visiting from their pandemic home in Portland. Normally, they are residents of New York City, both working in the theater business, but that business disappeared overnight when Covid swept through New York just over a year ago.
Although all four of us had been double-shot and cooked, we still settled in at distance on the backyard patio. That caution has just been baked in over the last 13 months and, besides, it was a pleasant spring day, not always the case in this seaside neighborhood. Tim served mimosas, Ana had prepared a delicious souffle, and Marianne and I provided cupcakes for dessert. All of it was health food.
From when we arrived just before noon, until we left hours later, it was a delightful getting-to-know-you conversation. Of course I was taken by any audience that would listen to me ramble along about our own stories, but we also caught up a bit on Tim and Barbara's life raising son Reed in San Francisco. I'll let him tell you the stories when you visit him in Portugal, when he makes good on plans to move outside of Lisbon. (I know we will.)
The most novel entertainment was hearing from our youngest conversationalists, our Broadway delegates Reed Campbell and Ana Marcu. (Yeah, they have real professional names and internet presence.) They are each clearly passionate about their chosen profession and plan to rejoin the New York theater business in a few months. We hope that business welcomes them and all their friends back on stage ASAP.
So, after lots of stories, we posed for pictures and promised to be in touch more frequently, more frequently than hardly ever is a good goal.
The drive back south was largely uneventful, once we found our way out of the Sunset District and on to Interstate 280, the commuting backbone of the SF Peninsula. I was very glad it was a Saturday and not a commuting work day, although I'm not sure those exist any more!
(This day in our history: 2004, Easter Eggs and Blue Grass)
Easter Sunday, April 4, Covid Day 387
While Marianne slept in, I started Easter with errands. I picked up a New York Times and a San Jose Mercury, so we could stay up on the latest. Writing this a day later, I can't remember a thing I read and maybe that's a good sign. Carla also needed a charge and, at 5:30 in the morning, I had the whole station to myself; no commuters on Easter, I guess. Once Safeway was open, I picked up some missing ingredients for our special meal and, last but not least, I stopped by Starbucks for my box breakfast and Marianne's egg bites. Very travel-ish for us.
Back at the B&B, we read over breakfast and continued a slow day. We took a neighborhood walk for our exercise. Charli got her exercise, we saw the Easter Bunny coming back from his rounds, and a calling hawk got our attention way up in the trees.
And I took too many flower pictures, again, but it's Easter, and one should have Spring color. Lots of Spring color.
All that was left of our day was a holiday meal: ham steak, yams, and an asparagus salad, washed down with white wine and topped off with an impromptu recipe for fried bananas. I loved it all, even the salad. I'm not looking forward to getting on the scales next week.
(This day in our history: 2004, Spring Break)
Monday, April 5, Covid Day 388
This was an uneventful day. Such days are hard to still remember to record.
We started by leaving the house to the cleaning crew, like on our cleaner-Saturdays back in Fresno. Then we went to our standard coffee and breakfast, the dry cleaners, and the hardware store. Very normal.
Back home, it was time to walk Charli. The walk part was absolutely regular, although I am not normally accompanied by a guard dog. While I walked, Marianne biked on the Peloton machine, under the direction of her normal trainer. Then I washed the car, just like at home and the combination of the dog walk and the car wash made me less excited about a Peloton session. This happens at home too.
For lunch-dinner, we wanted to try out empanada restaurants that had been reviewed in the Sunday Mercury News, so we drove our clean car over to an unremarkable shopping center in San Jose, only to discover the place was closed on Mondays, something we had researched, but forgotten. A regular senior moment.
Our second choice was Best Artensanal Empanadas ("bae") in another nondescript strip mall in neighboring Campbell. I could not help but notice that these simple shop collections were both similar and different from Fresno neighborhoods. Here, in prosperous Silicon Valley, even a simple collection of a half-dozen shops and restaurants seems polished somehow. It may be in comparing the normalcy of places that the difference is most striking.
Our lunches were very good. We each had a steak and raisin meat pie and salad, with scones for dessert. Virtually none of this is on the South Beach program and I despair at keeping off the weight I worked to lose. Oh well, maybe tomorrow I will do extra exercise on the high-tech stationary bike. Or not.
After lunch, we settled back at home to more of our normal activities: Netflix movies for Marianne, newspapers and YouTube for me. I finished off the regular day with basketball, not the Warriors like normal, but the NCAA men's championship, where Baylor beat Gonzaga. I had grown up in Spokane, Washington, in the neighborhood around Gonzaga, so that was not the result I wanted. Oh well, there's always next year. Like normal.
(This day in our history: 2009, A slow drive to Offenbach)
Tuesday, April 6, Covid Day 389
Another quiet house- and dog-sitting day. Charli and I headed out on an early walk in the very quiet neighborhood. The streets, where we walk, hardly ever have many people out other than one or two dog walkers and the small army of gardeners, pool servicers, and remodeling craftsmen. Hardly ever any kids.
Back at the resort, Marianne was getting her exercise with a bike ride through the Italian Dolomite Mountains. A month from now, we will be in American mountains and she needs training. I went straight from dog walking to Peloton training too, since walking just isn't enough to keep us ready for hikes we hope to do on our Big Western Road Trip.
In fact, we will do relatively little hiking, at least compared to the opportunities. It's just not our thing, but we do appreciate whatever views we get from the road - or from the helicopter and bi-plane.
The rest of the day was quietly social. Marianne had lunch with Zohreh, Gabby's mother-in-law. The two exchanged stories and concerns about everyone in their spheres, as moms do when they get together. It's a shame the pandemic has interrupted so many of these conversations.
Tuesday is also time for the 5pm Tuesday Zoom Cocktails, but this time Adrienne and Tony showed up in person at our B&B. Everyone has had shots, but outside meeting still seemed the right thing to do, especially in California weather. Rita was unable to join by screen, so it became a pretty normal in-person gab fest among friends. Here too, it felt like forever since we'd been able to do that.
(This day in our history: 2004, Sarlat, France)
Wednesday, April 7, Covid Day 390
Writing this on Friday, I am falling behind and note that my non-written memory fades pretty quickly! Wednesday? Long ago.
I started off with a Tesla charge and errands at Safeway and Ace Hardware. The Los Gatos Tesla Supercharger has off-hour rates that are about half of our home electricity rates. It's too bad the same isn't true of other stations. The Safeway errand was for fixings for a batch of brownies nephew Spencer was promised for his birthday party this weekend. Ace Hardware was for parts to fix the drink holder on Gabby's Peloton. I can't leave her house without fixing something, or I'd lose my Mr. Fixit badge.
At home, I walked with Charli and took flower pictures. Nothing remarkable (that I remember, anyway.)
While I was goofing off, Marianne went to Deb, her hairdresser of almost 40 years - on and off. We have lived in this area only a fraction of those decades, but Marianne keeps going back to Deb to fix the work of whatever other hairdresser she had been forced to use. This time, it was to repair "natural", post-chemo hair. It looks great!
By 5:00, it was time for a replay of Tuesday Zoom Cocktails. without Zoom. Adrienne and Tony came by again and brought their friend Susan. We sipped wine or Margarita's and ate take-home food while talking for a few hours. With everyone inoculated, it was like a social evening from the Before Times.
(This day in our history: 2004, Beynac, France)
Thursday, April 8, Covid Day 391
We were up early to finish the chores needed to leave our B&B. We wanted to leave a good impression with the owners because we may be back!
On the way out of town, we needed to stop by the cleaners to retrieve a shirt I had somehow gotten too dirty to wear. For our Big Western Road Trip, I need to avoid this, because most stops will be without laundry services. Decades ago, on another multi-month road trip, we discovered the magic of folding worn clothes neatly and forgetting about them in the trunk of the car for a week or so. Unless visibly soiled, they come out "clean" and usable for few more days. And then folded and stored and clean again.
We also stopped at Nothing Bundt Cakes to pick up a dozen cupcakes for the Saturday birthday party in Monterey. This shop has become the go-to bakery for birthdays and other parties. I'm glad we don't have one in Fresno.
Then we hit the road, Highway 17 specifically. This twisty highway is one of my least favorite drives, generally filled with a mix of zippy commuters and lumbering freight trucks. The new car seemed to handle the curves well and the remarkable acceleration was useful for getting past the slow pokes and back out of the way of the commuters. Highway 1 along the coast was easier, but still crowded.
In Seaside, close to Monterey, we detoured to look at a new housing development. In our dreams, we would move back to the Monterey area, so it made sense to look at the new places. The houses were cute enough, small and squeezed together, but something worth looking at. At least that was true until we saw a price sheet showing all of them at $1.1 million or more. Moving will remain a dream.
Back to the highway, we stopped at REI for Marianne to buy some road-trip clothes. From past experience, she knows that one or two silk undershirts take up virtually no space and yet proved the flexibility needed for travel. That was the good news. The bad was that, when checking out, she discovered her credit card was gone, apparently left behind at Nothing Bundt Cakes. Three hours later, we had retrieved the card, retraced our steps, recharged the car, and returned to Monterey on roads clogged with accidents. Those who never err, might have complained, but I am not one of those.
It was still too early to check in, so we went out to Carmel for lunch at Rio Grill, an old-time spot in a shopping center by the road out to Carmel Valley. At 3pm, we had the place to ourselves and the food and service were just fine. However, driving back was not so quiet and agreeable. Highway 1, "over the hill" from Carmel to Monterey, was jammed with traffic, a situation we understand to be completely normal. Our GPS told us to get off Highway 1 and drive through the streets of Carmel, but so did many other cars' guidance systems. At least we got to slowly drive past lots of homes to peek in and wonder who lives there.
After the formalities of hotel check-in, and transfer of our assorted bags to the room, we went out for a walk down Alvarado Street. We passed all kinds of shops and restaurants, some of which Marianne remembered from her youth, many years ago. We ended at Old Fisherman's Wharf, but did not dive into the tourist crowds. I think we are too Covid-cautious for that yet. Across the street, was the Old Customs House, where, in 1846, the American flag was first raised in California. Judging by the lack of crowds around the old building, history is less popular than food and trinkets.
(This day in our history: 2007, Family Easter)
Friday, April 9, Covid Day 392
Our morning walk had a purpose: breakfast. But no specific destination. From the hotel, we headed over to Alvarado Street, since that's where there are plenty of restaurants to inspire us. As it turned out, we were only inspired when we reached the end, at Crepes of Brittany. We'd been there before, in a quiet, pre-pandemic time and chatted with Daniel, one of the owners, about how he learned cooking from his grandmother in summer trips from his home in Monterey to hers in Brittany. After working locally in the building trades, he invested everything in a new adventure. Of course, we wondered if he made it through the Covid confusion and were encouraged that, in fact, he had. He said the the Spring Break rush had been more business than in any prior year. And my crepe was as authentic and good as I had remembered.
Walking back, I had to get dessert at Red's Donuts, a tiny hole-in-the-wall that has been dishing out donuts for over 71 years. Marianne says they were the go-to sweet treat for her Catalina schoolmates. Red's, too, had made it through the pandemic, even with a limit of just two customers at a time. It was nice to see a landmark still standing and the donuts were tasty, although Marianne quibbled a little about whether they were as fine as she remembered from grade school.
Back at the hotel, I took some time to look around the Casa Munras Garden Hotel and Spa. Originally built by Don Esteban Munras as a walled hacienda in 1824, the property became a resort in 1941, when it was sold by the Munras family and converted to a stylish resort, reportedly a favorite of Hollywood types. We saw mostly pretty regular American families, but kept an eye out, just in case.
Monterey is a great town to just walk around, particularly since we were in the heart of the old city. We missed seeing galleries and museums, but could find worthy subjects on the sidewalk and, especially, in the Cooper Gardens. Flowers always work, even if the Cooper Molera Adobe is pandemic-closed.
Being on vacation, we needed to work in a little shopping. Cha Ya is a favorite source for fine things local and Asian, from tea to jewelry to clothing to furniture and art. It's a small place, but all interesting. On this trip, we got away with just a pair of locally-crafted earrings, although a necklace by the same artist was most tempting. Maybe another day?
From shopping it was off to visit family, family resident in the 185-year-old San Carlos Cemetery. We had last been here for the interment of the ashes of Marianne's mom, Magdalena, just over a year ago. Remains of Marianne's father and step-father are also here and there are green grass spaces waiting for Marianne and me. We are OK with delaying any return in THAT role.
From family passed, to family feast, we drove over to the home Marianne grew up in and where her brother Chris was born and still lives, with Leisa and sons Adam and Spencer. It's always a fun visit and this was no exception. Chris is goofy. Leisa is welcoming. Adam and Spencer are teenagers who jumped from being cute kids to almost-there young men. We were joining them all for their Friday tradition of hamburgers. This was our first inside meal with more than two other people in almost 400 days. It felt like we'd never been away.
Chris also broke out a fine, old, dusty bottle of Clark and Telephone Pinot Noir from Belle Glos vineyard. Well above the stature of our normal red.
(This day in our history: 2013, On the Road Again)
Saturday, April 10, Covid Day 393
Saturday would be more of the same: food, shop, and family.
Our favorite local place for breakfast is the Red House Cafe in Pacific Grove, so that's where we headed, driving past several other restaurants along the way. We noticed that most breakfast places were pretty full and Red House was no exception. Although we have been "fully inoculated", we don't yet feel comfortable dining inside and, on an early spring morning, Pacific Grove is pretty chilly for sitting outdoors. Our solution was to-go orders and in-Tesla seating, down at Lover's Point. It all worked out; warm, comfy, and safer than we needed to be.
Driving back, Marianne suggested we needed to return to Cha Ya. Returning to a shop where we had liked the offerings the day before is always a sign of more purchases. This time, it was a necklace, a bracelet, and a blouse. All special. I was tempted with a Japanese door, of all things, but it would not fit in the car nor, probably, anywhere in our house. (In a past life, we did buy an old Chinese door before we had the house in which to install it!)
Fed and shopped out, we settled back into our space at Casa Munras. Marianne broke out a water-color sketch pad and I worked on diaries and photos. When we are on the road, these are typical of things that use much of our time and contribute to our slow travel pace. We'll see on our Big Western Road Trip how much we squeeze into a month or two.
Of course the big event for the weekend was the family gathering for Spencer's 16th birthday. Ten of us, and two dogs and two cats, gathered at the house where Marianne, Tom, and Chris had all grown up. Coming back here really is going home for the whole clan. It was time for lots of people pictures:
(This day in our history: 2016, Home, Heart, Family)
Sunday, April 11, Covid Day 394
I started the day early with a Tesla charge, Starbucks coffee, and Saturday's diary.
Next, we had to check out and head over to Colton Street for a family brunch. Tom and Kate had volunteered to take everyone out for a restaurant meal, but Monterey and Carmel are absolutely crowded on weekends and most of us are still more than a little crowd-averse. Besides, Colton has two outdoor spaces and we would use the older backyard for this gathering.
All ten of the clan showed up and quickly devoured the egg dish that Leisa, Kate, and Marianne had prepared the night before. In no time at all, we were hugging, chatting, eating, and playing with the dogs, in whichever order guests wanted.
I had volunteered Tesla rides, but only Chris took me up on it. Adam had run off to a tennis match and Spencer simply said he'd "ridden in a Tesla before". After a few demonstrations of electric car acceleration, Chris asked for a turn as driver. Next time he wins the Lotto, I know what he'll spend some of the money on!
Soon it was time to walk out the yard gate, under the old wisteria. The local climate is perfect for all sorts of plants and flowers and this old vine is proof.
By about noon, we were on the three-hour drive back to Fresno. Traffic was mixed on each highway we hit: CA-152, CA-101, CA-156, and my least favorite: CA-99. I do hope the roads we use for the Big Western Road Trip will be less congested because we will need to drive six to eight hours at a time. We'll see.
Back at home, our rose garden and back yard had prospered in the ten days we had been gone. Fresno spring is the best growing time because the sun is not yet scorching. After we return from the BWRT, we should think of leaving again for July and August. We'll see for that, too.
(This day in our history:2016 Home, Heart, Family)
Monday, April 12, Covid Day 395
I may start a new set of web-pages, as a shift from Covid diaries to our more traditional travel and event records. We'll see tomorrow.
This month should see Covid improvement in America, thanks to inoculations. We hope so anyway.
John and Marianne