2020 year in review
or, how I learned to dodge the ‘rona and love the laundry room
The year began like any other. Played some Wii, gave the dog a taste of champagne at midnight, went to bed at 12:05AM, had ham, black eyes, cabbage and cornbread on the 1st and got on with the business at hand. Which, at that point, was probably wondering what I’m doing with my one wild and precious life. You know. The usual.
I took a couple of business trips just as we were hearing rumblings about a bad flu in China. First to Florida, then Texas. I worked a visit with my family into the equation, which ended up being more important as the year wore on. This was the last time I was packed into buffet lines and conference rooms with hundreds of unmasked people. Can’t say I miss it.
We didn’t know it at the time, but our last meal inside a restaurant was on March 14 at Nepenthe in Big Sur. We sat at the bar and had burgers while “joking” about washing our hands. Because in the beginning, it was all about the hand washing. Sing happy birthday to yourself, scrub until your skin is raw, etc. On St. Patrick’s Day, California ordered non-essential workers to shelter in place. The original order was through April 8. Today is December 18. We’re still home. And I have an eye twitch.
I turned 50 at the end of March. Instead of our planned trip out of town, we went hiking and got food to go. I received toilet paper as a gift. That ridiculous, Barbie-looking slice of cake was not part of my celebration, which is sad because I’m obsessed with it. I’m not much of a cake fan, but somehow this unattainable item spotted in a random Instagram post around my birthday has become symbolic of a year of missed opportunities. When things are back to “normal,” I’m going to drive a couple of hours south, sit in a pink naugahyde booth at the Madonna Inn and have a piece of this goddamn cake. And get diabetes.
Zoom-a-zoom-zoom. It’s not a 2020 cliche, it’s a reality. In addition to regular Zooms with my homies at work, a constant this year has been a weekly Zoom with old friends from the Alley. I grab a screenshot every few calls, and it’s interesting to see the changes in our faces as we move through the pandemic and political/social upheaval of the year. We looked startled. Then a little freaked out. Then bored. Then normal. Then freaked out again.
By the end of the month, I finally moved my writing operation from the dining table to a makeshift office set up in our laundry room. My desk is nestled between my bike, James’ Grateful Dead tapes and the washer and dryer. Somehow appropriate.
Reality set in at this point. We saw our first spike in cases. Dates of return to the office came and went. I was leaving the house only to get groceries, go hiking and peruse the selection at the little free library down the street. (Best haul was Jeffers Country, featuring excerpts of Robinson Jeffers’ poetry with black and white images of the places mentioned in the text.) My friend Alex asked if I’d perform the ceremony for her sister’s scaled-down nuptials. I became an ordained minister via the Universal Life Church through a rigorous process of entering my name and email address into an online form.
JUNE – JULY
Not much to report here. I worked and went hiking, mostly in Garland Ranch. Coolest hike was up to the fire tower you can see from most points in Carmel Valley.
2020 hiking stats
- 300 miles hiked
- 45,000 feet in elevation gained
- 1 tick absent-mindedly detached, leaving the head inside my leg
AUGUST – SEPTEMBER
You know what this pandemic needs? A little more apocalypse.
Middle of August around 3AM, I think it was a Sunday, I woke to a noise rarely heard in coastal California–thunder. The kind of voluminous thunder that in Texas would make you worry about a tornado. There was so much lightning, it was like a hundred flashbulbs were going off outside our bedroom window. But there was no rain, which was eerie. Just strike after strike. A dry lightning storm is the oddest weather phenomenon I’ve ever experienced, and this one sparked 650 fires in northern California, including the River Fire about 10 miles away. The River Fire was soon joined by the Carmel Fire, which was much closer to home. Together, they caused orange skies, showers of ash, hazardous air quality and sore respiratory systems for weeks. Helicopters and planes that dump water and fire-killing chemicals flew overhead when it was “clear” enough to do so–many times, the smoke was just too thick. We were lucky, only having to evacuate for three nights. Many others weren’t. I have much more respect for both fire season and fire fighters.
For months, we’d been trying to figure out how to go home safely without getting or sharing the ‘rona. We looked into renting an RV for the drive to Texas so we could be in our own little bubble. Everyone else had the same idea, and RVs were hard to come by. We could rent a minivan as usual, but there was no way I was going into truck stop bathrooms. Enter the camp toilet. It may look like a glorified waste basket, which technically it is, but it took a ton of stress out of our road trip. Once you get past that first van pee, it’s no big deal. We brought food to eat, and each night when we got to our hotel, we cleaned all surfaces, knobs and handles with Clorox wipes. We brought our own pillows and bedspread. And we stayed fully masked up, often in places where no one else was.
While hanging with my family, we were masked and socially distanced inside and unmasked but far apart outside. Rowan, my nephew, added a dinosaur costume, a lesser-known-but-super-effective ‘rona deterrent. We stayed in an airbnb in Round Top, and it came with a half-drunk bottle of sour apple schnapps and a scorpion in the bedroom. One was placed in a solo cup, the other remained in the fridge.
It was James’ turn to hit the 50 mark. Realizing the pandemic isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, we made a commitment to getting out of the house a bit more while still avoiding humanity. We started a Saturday evening ritual of happy hour in a turnout watching the sun set. Actually, that’s the only activity we added, but at least it’s something. We were happy to see Cheeto Mussolini voted out of office. Again and again. And we got a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. Like a lot of people, we were in the mood for some normalcy and cheer in a year lacking both.
Ripley has gotten used to the three of us being together 24 hours a day. Not sure what that means for the “after” time, assuming it ever gets here. For now, it still feels like Groundhog Day. Just like the beginning of the pandemic, the shelves are again bare on the toilet paper aisle. But at least there’s plenty of dog food and wine. And the only fire to be seen is in the trees. I’m grateful for the love and good humor of my family, for the old friends I’ve reconnected with, for living next to a park with miles of trails, for the crusty crew at work and for James and Ripley, my 24-hour companions.
I’m going to keep hiking and snarking my way through this. I hope you’re finding your own good way through as well. Happy holidays, and may 2020 fuck off.
This exercise in navel gazing was meant to be a personal record of 2020 in the little bubble I live in. This has been a profoundly unsettling year beyond the impacts of the pandemic. As we donned literal masks, the figurative mask was ripped off America’s face, and what we found underneath is ugly. We have a lot of hard work ahead, and I in no way mean to minimize that aspect of the past year.
Also, I was just about to hit publish on this post when my phone screeched with an alert. An appropriate conclusion.