Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
I plan for this half-month set of entires to be the last pandemic diaries. After that, we will return to event entires, travel mostly, but family and friends events too. I know Covid is not really over, but we seem to be resuming normal social contacts and, of course, we plan to start the BWRT (Big Western Road Trip) in two-and-a-half weeks. Locally, in California and Fresno, cases are still trending down and, hopefully, vaccinations will push cases down everywhere in America. Nonetheless, I expect we will continue to avoid indoor groups and will continue wearing our masks around folks we do not know to have been "fully vaccinated".
Monday, April 12, Covid Day 395
We had a very normal start with breakfast at home and a plan to stay busy the whole day. Marianne caught up with Claudia for art studies and we needed to cooperate at doing a week's worth of laundry. I drove past Tom's garage and his LOVE sign on my way to the cleaners to drop off a half-dozen shirts from our trip. I wonder how we will handle cleaning and laundry on the BWRT? I think that is the reason travelers are always disheveled, and that's OK, but we need to get back to travel practices of being "clean enough". We'll see.
Marianne had two mid-day Kaiser activities: hearing aid service and physical therapy. Getting the aids to function at a level commensurate with their cost has required a series of trial-and-error service visits. Correcting hearing is much tougher than correcting vision. The physical therapy was still needed to reduce the effects of cancer surgery, another tough problem to put behind her. We trust we can ignore all this during the BWRT and subsequent travel periods. We'll see.
My next set of chores were all outside. The fun part was taking pictures of the rose garden. We came back to a rainbow of color and that's always special. Not so special is the return of bugs on our colorful flowers. Every year we face the question of spray-or-stay-organic and our decisions vary. We'll see.
After easy yard "work" I moved on to cutting back some of what has overgrown. My weekly goal is to cut away enough to fill our weekly green recycle bin, not hard at this time of the year. One bush's expansion has been particularly irritating. It has grown enough to darken the neighboring rooms. I may have gotten carried away, but I have faith that this particular plant will return within the year. We'll see.
By 5pm, it was time for gathering on a Cambridge Avenue porch. This is a social ritual that Marianne has avoided for the pandemic period, but we now feel comfortable joining our fully-vaccinated neighbors, outside for now. On our BWRT, we will have opportunities for gathering and chatting with strangers and I wonder the protocol for asking: Are you fully vaccinated? We'll see this too.
Tuesday, April 13, Covid Day 396
The big event of the day for me was getting new shoes for the Tesla. When we bought the "performance" version of the Model Y, the only wheel and tire option was for 21-inch wheels and summer tires. The combination looks racy, and probably would be good for a race track, but that's not on our bucket list.
At some expense, I opted for new 19-inch wheels from a small Colorado company called Martian Wheels, reputed to be more than strong enough for our heavy electric car. It is one of a small galaxy of Tesla after-market companies providing options Elon Musk chooses not to offer. For tires, I chose Nokian "all weather" tires because they will allow us to go into the Sierras with less worry. Nokian is a Finnish company and my European experience has been that Finns build tough gear, especially bad weather gear.
All the work was done at America's Tire, a large chain that also has an excellent reputation among the Tesla bunch. I'm no expert, and the proof will only be known many miles from now, but they seemed careful and efficient.
And that's more detail than anyone asked for.
The rest of the day was uneventful and, apparently, not picturesque. Marianne and I both worked on lists for things we need to do before leaving town for May and June. We plan to have a pair of Fresno State students as house-sitters and that requires some amount of planning, since our old house and yard have some fragilities. (Twenty years ago, when we embarked on a multi-month road trip, we simply locked the door of the Kyiv "condominium" and left the place in the hands of our real estate agent. Condos are easier than houses.)
Social activity was limited. I visited Vern in his sunny backyard and, once again, we failed to solve world problems. Maybe tomorrow. Our Tuesday Zoom Cocktails fell through as well, as both the other participants had last-minute conflicts. Somehow, that feels more "normal" than the open-calendars of pandemic lock-downs.
Wednesday, April 14, Covid Day 397
This was yet another day for getting prepared for the BWRT and up to two months away from home. Part of that is fixing things, such as a broken sprinkler that showed up a day ago. I will probably do irrigation maintenance up until the day we leave, important since plants die in Fresno without added water. Bavaria, where rain happened every few days, was easier.
I am spending more time than I should on planning for the electric car charging during the first weeks of our trip. This is a variation on the "range anxiety" that new EV drivers have, but the more I plan the less worrisome traveling promises to be. I wonder if we will just wing it by end of weeks and weeks on the road. Probably.
We also need to do routine maintenance on the driving crew - me and Marianne. She normally has a continuous flow of doctor and medical visits, but she does need an extra couple months of prescriptions. For me, I scheduled an "annual" check-up, my first medical visit during the pandemic. Everything was fine. Hopefully, that's it for us through June or, better yet, for even longer!
To celebrate, we stopped by the Farmer's Market for coffee and pastries. (And veggies for later.) This was not as special as our Bavarian Cafe und Kuchen afternoon breaks used to be, but OK enough. Since Covid precautions have eliminated the market's tables and chairs, we ended up eating in the car. Again. I'm afraid this will be common during the BWRT.
Back on Cambridge Avenue, we stopped by for some chatting on the Selland's porch. Folks were not really as grumpy as this picture implies. Honest.
The main attraction was a pair of little pets. The young white one is a bundle of energy, but the graying black guy normally just shuffles from place to place. But, when they get together, there's lots of both running and chatting, if puppies chat.
By the time we got back home, it was chilly enough to fire up the gas fireplace. How did we get along without it?
We enjoyed the nice ambiance to have a drink or two as well. We have gotten out of the habit of evening drinks and that may be the better course for weight, health, and other complications. What will be our practice in the BWRT?
Thursday, April 15, Covid Day 398
Again I made the mistake of trying to write a daily record more than one day later. It's Saturday morning, and my recollection of Thursday is blank, except for some pictures as reminders. Brain fog. semi-isolation brain fog.
One picture was of a shiny car, so I must have washed it. We still like our Tesla enough to hand wash it to keep it shiny. I also spent some time Thursday planning our Model Y's upcoming Big Trip. For the first chunk, from here to Death Valley, the plan has two or three charging stops, with plenty of range between each. That's the good news. The bad news is that some of these charging stations get so busy that there can be a wait just to hook up. Range anxiety rears its ugly head.
The next picture was dinner, a German Spring dinner, with chicken schnitzel, roasted brussel sprouts, and white asparagus with lemon cream sauce. I am not fond of brussel sprouts, but these were OK, OK-enough. As for white asparagus, it was improved with memories of the German post-winter ritual, when arrival of asparagus meant better weather was just around the corner. For us, it was also the precursor to road trip season, so I guess it's all part of a theme.
The last picture I could find was of the weekly Zoom Game night with Brian, Jen, and Geoff. We had moved from Friday due to a conflict in our schedule, something that is very rare in these days of almost always open calendars. As always, we caught up on family happenings, including news that Geoff had just gotten his first Covid shot, after chasing an appointment all around Maryland. In Colorado, Brian and Richard are scheduled for Saturday. That would complete the shots for our family members, except for the very youngest two who are still below the eligible age. It will be better when even that happens.
So, that was all I have of Thursday memories, but I do have the twice-monthly update of my projection of "herd immunity".
American protection from infection and inoculation remains about a half-month behind my January projection. Not bad. In the US, because of difficulties with the Johnson and Johnson and Astra-Zeneca products and because of Republican anti-vaxers, I am afraid the progress we have been making will slow down in the coming months. Elsewhere in the world, the situation is worse, with less vaccine coverage and, in many places, even more vaccination reluctance. It's a problem.
Friday, April 16, Covid Day 399
The day started with one more car-related expense: grinding down a protruding lip in the driveway. When we bought it, the Tesla cleared this lip by less than an inch, but when we shifted tires, that inch shrunk to almost nothing. Damaging the bottom of an electric car is a very bad idea, because that's where the battery pack is, the most expensive part of the car, so we contracted to have concrete ground away. Now we are back to about an inch of clearance, not a lot, but enough that we don't have to worry.
While that was happening, friend and swimming coach Jeanne came over to talk about having two of her swimmers house-sit while we are on the Big Western Road Trip. She reassured us the two 18-year olds are very reliable and "even dull". This later was to convince us that 904 E. Cambridge would not become a party house in our absence. In fact, there will be all sorts of house supervision, between the swimmers, their coach, and the Cambridge Avenue neighbors. The question is whether our almost-90-year-old house will behave without any maintenance. Hopefully.
In mid-morning I had an appointment with a Kaiser dermatologist, following indications I had noted for my GP earlier in the week. The skin doctor looked, hummed, and said he would need to biopsy three or four places and freeze a bunch of other "precancerous" spots. He was also going to prescribe a "field treatment" for my face and scalp that would remove spots too small to notice, although the two- to four-week chemical treatment itself makes skin bright red and so sun-sensative that he recommends it only be applied in Fall and Winter. Meanwhile we would see what the biopsies reveal.
I'll admit, the poking, cutting, freezing, pictures of "field treatment", and talk of skin cancer and "chemo", thoroughly upset me. The clean bill of health I had received a couple days earlier from my GP was replaced with a new prospect and my imagination ran wild. I have known lots of people with skin cancers that were simply treated and removed, but the only friend I could think of at this moment was a work colleague whose scalp-melanoma brought an early passing. He always said his problem stemmed from hours and hours on a tractor, plowing fields in the Georgia sun, and my memories went back to my hours and hours in sunny Spokane swimming pools. Imagination, bah humbug.
From Kaiser, I went home to commiserate with my partner, marveling once again at how strong she has been through 18 months of medical challenges. I do not think I have that strength, so I will depend on hope that the biopsies are negative or, if not, treatment is straight-forward. I just have to give hope an edge on imagination.
After home hugs, I went to Costco for shopping therapy.
In the evening, we skipped our normal Zoom Game Night with my boys (even in their 40's, they are still "boys"), and went out to Toca Madera winery to rearrange Marianne's art display for a weekend wine festival that was happening in local wineries. During the 400 days of the pandemic, this has been the only venue with her art showing and, while it has been commercially unsuccessful, a small refresh seemed appropriate. We added "Lady in the Window" and a half-dozen new, smaller abstracts. Phil, the winery event manager, particularly liked "Lady" and his comments have value. We hope his interest might get transferred to one of the wine festival's art-fan customers.
Saturday, April 17, Covid Day 400. Wow!
A yard sale, a meal out, and porch time.
Saturday started with another return-to-normal event: the Annual Cambridge Avenue Yard Sale. A year ago, the event was a victim of the pandemic lock-down, but with most of the street now inoculated, and folks generally wearing masks, the outdoor event seemed safe enough to proceed. We put out a few tables of things that had been cluttering our house and garage and so did three or four others on the block. We sold some, gave some away, and returned some to storage for next year. Overall it was a success because we pocketed a few dollars, we enjoyed the morning sunshine, and we chatted with neighbors.
Neighbor Craig offered me a tour of their under-construction kitchen and it brought back memories of our own past projects, particularly of our "jewel box" in Germany. Craig described a way-behind and over-budget remodel that has been driven by their insistence on historically accurate, top-quality craftsmanship and design. We remember and recognize his completely justified sense of pride. We all can't wait for their first house party.
The yard sale ended for us at about 10 am and, since we still had to stay out of the house cleaner's way, we left for lunch an hour north at Wild Fig Kitchen. The drive was easy, through Sierra foothills that are shifting from winter greens toward summer yellows and browns. And the restaurant is one of our favorites, a low-key place with plenty of outdoor seating and wonderfully imaginative breakfast and lunch. On this day, a neighboring table had brought a pair of whippets, and they distracted us with their mellow relaxing in the Spring sun.
On the way home, we stopped at a huge housing development to check out an open house. Why? I think "Why not?" was the answer I was given. The 1,900 square-foot house was like many others we have seen locally, OK, but not inspirational. (Asking price: $549,000.) I think I am over these houses with aircraft-carrier sized islands in central rooms that combine kitchen, dining, and living areas. It's efficient, I suppose, but not what I would look forward to every day.
From the open house it was home to ride the Peloton, because staying busy seemed like the right idea. While I was doing that, Marianne kept busy in the art hut. After cleanup, it was time to deliver the New York Times over to Vern. He was watering his back yard flower gardens, exercise he claimed made up for not doing his required walk-around-the-block. OK with me. At 92 years old, he gets to make his own decisions. Besides, the flowers were rewarding his attention.
After back yard farm chores, it was time for the daily gathering on the Selland's front porch. Regulars Steve and Coach Jeanne joined Vern, Joan and me with Marianne, having given up on art, joining us shortly. Craig and Ellen walked across from their kitchen construction zone and pulled up a bench. Joan commented on my facial decoration, and I said they were from skin biopsies. In a Joan-true gruff, but insightful, comment, she said she too had experienced facial skin cancer, had it cut out, and not looked back. It's just part of aging instead of dying.
Sunday, April 18, More Than 400 Days Under Covid Restrictions
Themes and such.
Big Western Road Trip preparation:
We gave a house tour to two young women-athletes who will be house sitting while we are gone on the BWRT. They came highly recommended by their coach, almost-neighbor Jeanne, and seem all we could ask for: serious and enthusiastic. We found ourselves warning for potential difficulties due to the age of our home, but the place also comes with a whole neighborhood of folks to turn to.
Coach Jeanne, stopping by as her swimmers were just leaving, gave us our first basket of Fresno strawberries. California produces a large fraction of the strawberries for America almost year around, but the local variety are different, sweeter and more flavorful, and only available in the Spring. Once we heard they were at the local farmer's market, we ran out and got even more.
Part of transition to the BWRT and regular life in general is feeling comfortable with people. We started with family and are moving on to neighbors. On Sunday, we joined Annie and Debbie on their front porch for the first time since the Before Times. (Besides, we all knew each of us had well-aged Covid shots.) They have been among the most conservative in the neighborhood when it comes to Covid care, so I think this was a fun breakthrough for everyone. It is still difficult to imagine when we will be comfortable socializing indoors with strangers. Not yet.
Photos of wildlife and landscapes
At various times, I took pictures of what was in front of me, generally that amounted to plants, flowers, birds, and bugs. This is muscle-memory practice for better subjects on the BWRT.
Monday, April 19, more than 400 Pandemic days
A quiet day. A very quiet day, so quiet neither Marianne nor I have memories of the day just 24-hours later. On one iPhone camera I found three pictures, but all other cameras spent the day un-clicked.
Two-thirds of the photos were in neighbor Vern's back yard. I caught him puttering with plants, enjoying the Spring weather and feeling useful. I wonder if he has more memories of Monday than I do.
Later in the day, we quietly visited another neighbor, but one who is not fond of records of such activities, and that's OK. Sometimes I believe Marianne and I have gotten so used to this public record that we think it's normal, but it's not. It's simply a choice that has worked for us.
Did anything else happen? A meal must have happened, because the third iPhone picture was of a strawberry shortcake, made with real Bisquick biscuits.
Maybe that is the core of any of our plain pandemic days: a little time with friends and some good food. Everything else has been optional.
Tuesday, April 20, more than 400 days
I tried to keep a better record, but you can judge if the remembered happenings are really record-worthy events.
First up, so to speak, was the Model Y. I returned to America's Tire to have the black lug nuts installed, the final detail on the extra effort to have tires that will be tough enough for a big trip and, some time from now, for winter in the Sierras. I have also ordered a couple of electrical gadgets to allow charging from the types of 220 volt connections one can find at RV parks, "just in case." Honestly, I can not tell if all this is increasing or decreasing my battery-car range and durability anxiety, but I think I have stopped adding what-ifs. Maybe.
Marianne's morning was taken up with joining neighbor Geri on a trip to the local thrift store, the one that takes leftovers from last weekend's Cambridge Avenue yard sale. I cautioned them both about not shopping for more than they were leaving behind, although I think Marianne did manage to give more to Geri than the reverse. Reportedly, they laughed throughout the trip, including some time at a local right-leaning coffee shop. They kept their liberal voices low.
While they were shopping and sipping, I went out for a neighborhood walk. Flowers are definitely making their annual come-back and Fresno High School was celebrating a come-back of its own: in-person students. It was nice to see kids in the streets and on the campus again. Our neighborhood needs the activity of students and we also wonder when the other local school, Fresno Community College, will repopulate their campus. Soon? Summer? Fall? Gradually, everyone needs to transition.
Almost-neighbor Tom had crafted a Purple Rain garage sign, presumably to memorialize singer-songwriter Prince's untimely death in Minnesota exactly five years ago. I ended my walk with a visit to another neighbor, Vern, and we watched other news from Minnesota: the conviction of George Floyd's killer. Somehow, the twin records of death in the Twin Cities are of a piece. We all hope the country will experience a transition to a better space, where memories of songs will rise above news of brutal racism.
Marianne and I ended the day with Tuesday Zoom Cocktails and both our regulars, Adrienne and Rita, were there. The conversation ran from memories of "the girls" 50 years ago to the news of the Chauvin conviction. I forgot to get a screenshot picture, but it would have shown all the participants smiling at the weekly opportunity to talk over one another. We promised to try to keep up the practice, even when we are on the Road Trip.
Thursday, April 21, > 400 days
This was a busier day, with exercise, out-of-the-house activities, and a little social contact. All while maintaining a transitioning amount of masking and distancing.
For exercise, I combined a workout with preparation for our Big Western Road Trip by choosing Utah National Parks from the Peloton menu. In a half-hour it was possible to zip along trails in Zion, Bryce, Capital Reef and Arches while still having five minutes for a trainer-led cool-down. Now, if I can just get some of these scenes in my own camera work next month.
There was also time to Facetime call friend Ted and get updated on his path as a long-term Covid survivor. He looked better and hinted that heart and breathing difficulties are improving ... slowly. Wife Nancy, a regular Covid survivor, is preparing for her 80th birthday and looks much better than Ted, but she always did.
Our own medical mission for the day was a visit to Kaiser for Cardiology to do a semi-annual check of Marianne's pacemaker. While she was inside, I walked the grounds and inspected the new gardens. Over the last 18 months, I have walked these paths while my partner was treated and tested and subjected to threats we'd like to forget - but can't, especially when reminded by a return to the imposing complex. Today, her chest-mounted monitor gave her a good report: virtually no heart misbehavior in the previous months.
We celebrated the good report with an impromptu dinner date at The Elbow Room, complete with martinis and gin-tonics. We think this was only our third real restaurant meal in Covid-time and it was served as close to "inside" as we tolerate, despite our own inoculation. It's all transition.
Back home, we returned to our normal activities, Marianne with a little art work and I with a little street socializing. Neighbor Vern and I chatted about their day-trip up to Shaver Lake and ours to The Elbow Room. He retold the history of the restaurant when it was located in our own neighborhood and had little more than good steaks and room for elbows. It's fun to connect with someone who has first-person Fresno experience from far earlier than our own.
On Cambridge Avenue, I also checked in with Craig and Ellen as they enjoyed their porch as a substitute to the being-renovated kitchen table. Next door, Jon was using his porch for a Zoom meeting. This is the way old-time porches are supposed to be used.
Thursday, April 22, >400 Days
This was yet another quiet morning and day. Marianne started with her Peloton duty and then went shopping for road trip clothes. I stayed home, mostly just bouncing around, having difficulty focusing on almost anything. While I make one diary entry for each day, not every day has a successful writing session. Thursday didn't.
For photography, the back yard flowers seemed worth recording, but only a few.
I knew that most of my inability to concentrate was due to last week's skin biopsies and the wait for results. It had been a week of trying to suppress imagination and we had not always been successful. The prospect of cancer, no matter how likely or treatable, has a horror for us. On this afternoon, we were out driving on a short errand when the phone rang and I answered on the car speaker phone. It was the dermatologist. All I heard was "good news", "precancerous", and "no urgent treatment". I found myself speechless, but Marianne took over and covered for me. We thanked the doctor, hung up, and blubbered that we can now go off on the BWRT as planned.
Later, we enjoyed a chicken dinner, a little neighbor visiting, and some BWRT preparation, all regular activities without the cloud of the previous week. We could get on to worrying about the fact that hotels in Moab, Utah, are expensive and not all that available. We are discovering that "very busy" may be a theme for our big trip. That's OK, because we have been reminded of YOLO* reality, so we will play with what we are dealt.
*YOLO = You Only Live Once
Friday, April 23, > 400 Days in Covid, 8 Days to the BWRT
The day started early with a Starbucks diary-writing session. At the door, I was greeted by Arlo, a Chocolate Lab that used to wait in that spot in the Before Times while his master sipped coffee with friends. He was back for the first time in a year and that signified that Starbucks was now allowing at least a few customers to sit inside. I would not be that comfortable inside yet, but I definitely considered it a good sign. (Seating is allowed because Fresno is making good progress on lowering Covid case numbers. Yeah!)
Back home, Marianne and I made progress on Big Western Road Trip planning. Our journey is ending up much more planned than we had originally wanted because places are already crowded. Summers have always been the busy time for Western National Parks and we have traditionally avoided that season in favor of Fall, Winter, or Spring. In post-pandemic 2021 it's worse, but we have resolved to just go with the flow.
Other home-work was our regular: while Marianne chatted with friend Connie, I rode the Peloton bike. We hope to stop by Connie's place in Bend Oregon toward the end of the BWRT, assuming we haven't gotten saturated with our car trip after 6 or 7 weeks. I expect that throwing in some friend-stops will be a nice incentive to keep going.
By now, it was time for lunch-dinner. Marianne prepared spaghetti (whole-wheat to convince ourselves it was healthy) with a scallop and shrimp sauce. We will probably miss the home-cooked meals during our time around the national parks. Even in the best of times, the "family-friendly" offerings in parks can get repetitive and pandemic protection won't help. Today's dessert included fist-sized local strawberries, dramatic and tasty too.
Back yard activities included vine inspection and car washing. These Trumpet vines had not produced much in the past, but this year's heavy pruning seems to have convinced them that they need to be productive. There is a message in this.
My own productivity, washing the Model Y, was prompted by the prospect of a Tesla Club meeting on Saturday. It would just not be right to show up with dirt.
Early evening saw us back at the Zoom screen, this time for the weekly word-game session with Jen, Brian, and Geoff. As always, we used the time to verify that everyone was OK and healthy. Rich and his dad had gotten their Covid shots, so all the family is inoculated, if they can be. Still, we worry about the youngest, but this is when the "herd immunity" protects those who can not be vaccinated.
Saturday, April 24, >400 Days in pandemic. 7 days to BWRT
Saturday was sort of a practice run for the Big Western Road Trip (BWRT), except it was just John and the BWRT will be 15 to 20 times today's five-hour round trip of 200 miles. And, this trip was over California Highway 99, a road we have driven on many, many times. (Too many, in fact, as it is reportedly the most dangerous highway in America.)
The drive was occasioned by the Tesla Owners of San Joachin Valley. Apparently a friend (or a friend of a friend ) of a club member had a daughter celebrating her sixth birthday and little Annabelle's birthday wish was to have a drive-by parade of Teslas. Really. A dozen or so car owners agreed it would be a fun excuse to show off our cars.
We all assembled at the Merced Supercharger station. I filled up and noted the club-sponsored trash can. We all chatted, posed for pictures, and headed off for the 20-minute drive to the birthday party.
Then it was another two hours on Highway 99 for me.
Back home, nothing had changed. We enjoyed dinner on the patio again and admired the Springtime garden. Then we paid our regards to the neighbors on the Selland porch, completing a social day, or at least as social as they are during our transition.
Sunday, April 25, >400 Pandemic Days, 7 days to the BWRT
This was a quiet day and hence a record-short diary entry.
No pictures on any camera or iPhone. There was a little shopping, mostly for travel goods such as sandals, hats, and some camera spare parts. Dinner was Shish kebabs from Chase's Chop Shop, great for barbecue.
In the later afternoon, Marianne watched the Oscars and I watched the Warriors. We have different fan spaces.
Monday, April 26, > 400 Pandemic Days, 6 days to the BWRT
Monday held more little chores including that semi-annual favorite: de-bug the house, garage, and art hut. It seems like every spring and fall, we start seeing cockroaches in our people spaces. We don't like that, so "we" (=John) are required to conduct a spraying campaign. Step one is going to Fresno Ag (Ace Hardware) where I was able to get in on a special sale. I gather it's not just our house that has this phenomena. At home, we have to empty out the lower kitchen cupboards so I can spray the hidden corners. Then I go through almost two quarts of poison spraying inside the kitchen, garage, and art hut and outside along foundations of the three buildings. I hope this juice is not harmful to people.
Once the house was properly contaminated, we left for breakfast at Starbucks - eating in the car as is our pandemic pattern. When will we feel comfortable eating inside?
After dining, Marianne came home and did her cleaning and misc. chores, before leaving again for a little shopping. While she shopped, I went down to Selland's porch to join the core group of Joan, Vern, and Steve. It is rare that this trio is not sipping porch wine shortly after 5pm. Marianne and I join often, but we've broken the daily wine habit for both health and weight reasons. I do wonder if we will keep this discipline on our road trip.
In the evening, Marianne chatted with Claudia about the art lesson homework they have been avoiding. I think the summer travel plans will effectively sideline the lessons that have been part of their pandemic routines.
My evening was Tesla-oriented. First I downloaded the "dash camera" footage that had accumulated on our car and experimented with software for viewing the videos. The Tesla system combines security films that happen if the security system is armed and event-triggered.(such as someone touching the car). We probably need to use this capability on our trip.
In addition, there is a button on the screen that will trigger recording of the prior ten minutes of cameras: front, back, and on both sides. Here is a still from such a video in the birthday drive-by. We should experiment with this to document driving on the BWRT.
The "prior ten minutes" record is part of a continuous 60-minute record the car keeps. It is part of the emergency record and is discarded except after accident-indicating events, such as air-bag activation. Big brother.
My other Tesla distraction was a You Tube replay of the Tesla stockholder phone call for the first quarter of 2021. Hearing Elon Musk explain company activities was interesting. First, Mr. Musk does NOT speak well. He stumbles. He seems to have little logic in his sentences. One needs to pay very close attention to get the content.
However, the content was amazing. He says "full self driving" is proceeding well and will be more broadly available by this summer and it will be safer than human drivers. Tesla expects to grow volumes 50% a year for the foreseeable future. "The Model Y will be the single most-produced car in the world in 2022."
Production of the new batteries, the so-called 4680 batteries, is crucial to new trucks and cars and is very difficult to do at the scale that is required. (I now expect the Cybertruck I have on order will not be available until 2023, or later.)
Musk spent considerable time talking about solar power and the company's new requirement to connect battery backup in all Tesla solar applications. One commentator asked if the recent 50% increase in the price of Tesla Solar is hurting sales and the CEO said it was not. The limit is people needed to install the systems. He went on to say that integrated battery storage was the only way the country will be able to implement a fossil-free future for transport and heating. Elon noted that heating will require today's electric supply to double and transport would require doubling of that total.)
Is he crazy? Maybe, maybe not.
Tuesday, April 27, >400 Days Pandemic, 5 days to the BWRT
This was the start of the last work week before vacation, if either "work" or "vacation" have any meaning in retirement. We did last minute shopping, cleaning, and garden trimming. The lawn service will cut the green stuff that passes for grass, but all other yard work is normally done by us. Our house sitters will do some extra watering, but no trimming and cleaning. That will leave the yard and garden essentially untended for almost two months, so I wonder what we will find when we return. On Sunday, I will take "before" pictures.
Speaking of pictures, I went to one of my favorite photo venues for the first time since the Before Times: Sorensen's Studios. I did not know what I would find, or even if I would be let in the sprawling complex, but it would be worth a try.
As I was going in the gate, Evany Zirul, one of the long-standing artists at Sorensen's, was coming out. We chatted a bit and she noted that only a few artists have stayed active, many in the "industrial" metal-work section, but art remains in almost all the spaces. Chris Sorensen still shows up from time to time, but today his scooter and walker remained empty. It was re-assuring to know the 90-plus-year-old artist and landlord is still active
Out the far side of the rabbit warren of Chris's studios, I found Bob Kliss working on his glass pieces. The Klissglass studio may be my favorite in the complex and Bob is one of the most pleasant and approachable artists around, in addition to being amazingly talented. He said the studio will reopen for visitors in a few weeks, but in the meantime he is enjoying the lower stress of just working to build inventory. They expect the fourth quarter of the year to be busy as many galleries selling his work reopen.
Back out in the main exhibition hall, there were fanciful metal sculptures I had not seen before. Over in the welding shops, I introduced myself to Dan Walker, the owner-artist of Walker's Shop Creations and the maker of the new pieces. Dan too was chatty and took time to give me a tour of his fish "Nemo" and an unnamed monster next to it. His work is built up of old scrap, often from bicycles or tools, and features imaginative pointy teeth and other dangerous-looking elements. I think the orange spider belongs in our back yard. Don't you?
That was fun. A return to art photography and chatting in social environments.(Open spaces, everyone vaccinated, no crowds. A transition.)
Back home Marianne had prepared yet another great meal, this time lamb chops, mushy peas, couscous, and salad. I will miss the home cooking when we hit the road! I wonder if she will miss cooking? Probably.
Our last activity of the afternoon was Tuesday Zoom Cocktails, this time just with Adrienne. She was was with her mom in Carmel, a duty she splits with her sister and a caregiver. Rita was probably busy with her own care giving situation. In our age group, care for elders, spouses, children, or grandchildren seems to take more and more of our time. I suppose Marianne and I are lucky to be at a moment without such constraints. Knock wood.
Wednesday, April 28, >400 Covid Days, 4 days to the BWRT
This is being written on Friday, so what happened two days ago is not so clear. I'm sure it mostly dealt with getting ready for leaving on Sunday. I think we should have left less time for preparation, because all it's doing is making us nervous. Almost twenty years ago we left on a more ambitious road trip with far less preparation and that turned out wonderfully. We are older now, but why should that matter?
The only picture we have for the day is from Marianne's trip to the car wash to make sure the old dust on her car gets removed before we park it for a couple of months. We have faith that it will be just fine in our absence, but I wonder if we need to have the house sitters take it for a spin weekly. Probably not, especially since one of them is Australian and she might forget which side of the road to use! (I need to stop worrying.)
On to Thursday.
Thursday, April 29, > 400 Covid Days, 3 Days to the BWRT
Thursday was not much more active than Wednesday. I spent considerable time getting technology ready, everything from backing up iPhones and computers to setting out all the gear we might need on the trip. That will include this laptop, three cameras, a tripod, specialty lenses and filters, two iPhones (also pretty decent cameras), extra batteries for everything, a pair of chargers for each camera, Tesla charging equipment (3 types of plugs), etc. Lots of etc.
My photo record of the day captured Vern as we went over the route for our Big Western Road Trip on his (paper) AAA road atlas. We looked at California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Montana, Idaho, and Oregon and shared stories of past visits to each state. I hope Joan will show him our diary as we describe the trip as it goes. Maybe.
Otherwise my day included yard trimming as I filled the green waste bin for the last time. It's ironic that we are leaving our yard just as it peaks in Spring re-growth. The flowers are at their best before the Fresno summer heat suppresses their exuberance. It works that way on people too.
Marianne's dinner was great, as usual. We talked about what we might expect to eat on our travels. At Death Valley, I'm sure we will eat up at The Inn, for the view if not for special cuisine. Thinking about it, that may be the theme for many of our meals: views better than food. That's OK.
I will finish the Covid Diary tomorrow and shift to the event-based record of trotter.ws as it has been most of the last 23 years.
Friday, April 30, Covid Diary 413, 2 Days to the Big Western Road Trip
Closing one chapter, transitioning to another.
It was an early start so I could write two days worth of not-much-of-anything diaries. The morning was warm enough that I could sit on Starbucks's patio and enjoy the sunrise view. OK, it's just a used car lot, but the hint of a red sky let me imagine more dramatic dawns in the coming weeks. We'll see.
Most of our day was spent setting out things to pack. I have gone over my technical gear a dozen times and have settled on a trunk-full of cameras and accessories. For the most part, these will stay in the "frunk" (front trunk), except when being used. That's the plan, anyway. Marianne has a similar challenge with art supplies, except I think she is ending up with a smaller volume. That can change at the last minute.
For clothes, we both have the difficulty of knowing what we will need. We start in Death Valley's 100F+ high temperatures. Later, we will spend considerable time in the Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming Rockies, where snow can arrive at any time in our May-June window. Our packing approach is to put out everything we MIGHT need, notice that there is no way we can carry all that, and pare down. I have faith that, in the end, we will pack things we don't use and have to re-purchase things we do, but left behind. Oh well, we will not be in the middle of the Serengeti.
Speaking of leaving behind, I needed to think about the Audi that will stay in the garage, unused, for up to two-months. Google guidance calls for a full tank of gas and a "battery minder" to keep the battery topped up. Easy enough. For longer stays, "experts" advise putting in fuel stabilizer, blocking the exhaust and intake from rodents, even putting the car up on blocks. Nah, too extreme for just two months. The proof will be in late May when the Q3 either starts and runs fine, or we call AAA.
Our last Friday distraction was Zoom Games Night with Jen, Brian, and Geoff. This is our weekly chance to learn about family developments and this week we learned that Rich had decided to go to Colorado State University and study Aerospace Engineering Good luck with that! We noted that we will try the next games from Utah, in the shadow of Zion National Park. We'll see on this too.
End of the Trotter Covid Diary
On this last day of April, 2021, we are finishing the daily record of our pandemic life. It has been 413 days since we started and, although the Covid invasion is far from over, our Big Western Road Trip presents an opportunity to make a regular life record along the lines we have maintained since 1998 when we left America for life in Europe, Eastern and Western.
Here is my current "path to herd immunity" graph:
America did not reach "herd immunity" yet and the reluctance of certain segments to get inoculated means we may not, at least not before new variants make the current shot formulations insufficiently effective. A Republican administration showed remarkable imagination with the Warp Speed development of the inoculations, but the same folks are now managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by their refusal to be jabbed. That president and his acolytes never passed up the opportunity to miss an opportunity.
John and Marianne