Ready to Come Out Yet?

Perhaps you remember the old George Carlin joke:

Think of how dumb the average person is. Then remember that half the population is stupider than that.

I was reminded of George’s comments when I read about the Covidiots who crowded into Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto on Saturday. There was no thought of social distancing whatsoever. No surprise that Toronto is a Petrie dish these days.

Sadly – as the Covid caseload declines a bit and a few things start to open up – the environment outside the home becomes a more dangerous place. Pardon my cynicism, but you just can’t trust people to do the right thing on a sunny May day. The police got the picture fast, and they had horse and bike patrols in the Park on Sunday. It’s a sad commentary on the human condition.

Personally, I don’t care if I can now go to a hardware store or garden center. I don’t trust my fellow human beings once they get the go-ahead to get out there and party.

There’s been some statistical modeling that shows that if we increase the person to person contact by 20%, the case rate will start to climb in Ontario. At 40% it’ll really take off. Do we want that to happen?

Maybe you are ready to come out of hibernation. But this old bear is not. Nor will I feel really comfortable until we get a vaccine. Not when you consider the lower 50% of the bell curve.

Guns or Butter

I remember hearing about the “Guns versus Butter” model when I first started learning about macroeconomics back in the Cold War era.

It’s a simple enough concept, really. Assume that a country can either spend its resources to make military hardware or consumer goods. Can’t maximize one without minimizing the other because resources and production capability are finite. Back in those days we assumed that the Soviets had a “Guns” economy whereas the US had a “Butter” economy. I suppose it never was that simple but you can learn a lot about macroeconomics from the little 2-D picture of choices between 2 items.

I believe in these rather dire economic times you can scale down to the household level and the model still applies. There are lots of cash-strapped households out there right now deciding whether to buy food or pay the rent. Can’t have it all.

We are most fortunate not to be in that sort of position, and I am grateful every day that we are OK financially. That said, our “Butter” item (a nice cruise vacation) was taken away from us without any warning by the COVID pandemic. Without a corresponding “Gun” item to spend our cash on, we just had lower expenses and a bit higher bank balance. No Jeff Bezos here, but we were keeping the wolf away from the door.

Well, the other day the “Gun” went off. Our 15-year-old dishwasher suddenly failed in the middle of a cycle – no lights, no power, zippo.

I suppose we could have switched off the breaker, closed the shut-off valve and just made do – but that doesn’t make a lot of sense when we are stuck at home and doing all the food prep here. So today we headed off to a little local appliance store and (wait for it) butcher shop in Pakenham. They had just what we needed. It’s a Frigidaire – for those of you who care about branding.

They’ll deliver next week and we should be good to go for a few more years. We even got a couple of T-bone steaks thrown into the deal.

The lady at the store was friendly and helpful, and it was quite a satisfactory experience. We had to wear those dam’ cloth masks but at least there was no lineup outside the shop.

Given the choice, I’d rather be out on the Atlantic, but at least we are able to fill up the dishwasher again.

If They Open It, Will They Come?

We were out for another food run today, and if anything shopping in the Valley is becoming even more aggravating. The nice weather is bringing more people out, and a number of different stores have opened up after the Victoria Day weekend.

All that’s done is make the store staff more paranoid. The grocery store had a lineup of grumpy seniors, everyone was wearing a mask inside except the store workers (go figure.) The garden centre on the way to Carleton Place has actually reduced its hours; there was a lineup of frustrated begoniacs outside the entrance and cars were jamming the parking lot and stopped on the shoulder of the highway. So much for social distancing.

There’s lots of talk about a second phase of opening but the case count is still rising in Ontario. Some local politicians are making noise about regional decisions on lifting the lockdown but I don’t see how that would be a good idea in Almonte – too many tourists come in at this time of year as it is.

My major concern is that if stores reopen will anyone show up if the experience is as nauseating as it is at a supermarket. Would you stand in line to buy a pair of socks or a computer hard drive when you can just order it at Amazon? The thrift store where Maria works wants to reopen soon, but what volunteer will serve as a sheepherder or store staff member inside. Most of them are ladies in their 70s and 80s – prime COVID fodder.

Many of the stores downtown in Almonte sell what we now know are non-essential items. Can they expect a return to normal browsing and sales anytime soon? And don’t even get me started about the pubs or restaurants – which will look more like a dental clinic than a pleasurable place to eat and drink.

Our experience today was more a grind-it-out run for essentials than anything happy. I expect most shopping trips will be that way until a vaccine or treatment for coronavirus is available. It will not be a swift trip back to the good old days of January 2020.

Life After the Pandemic

Well, I’m pretty old but even I don’t remember what life was like after the Influenza pandemic of 1918-19. I’m sure it changed a lot for the survivors – but they had just come through World War 1 so maybe they didn’t see the flu as that big of a game-changer.

Fast forward 100 years and it looks as if some things at least will be different after the pandemic eases up, or we get some sort of treatment or vaccine. I doubt that things will return to “normal” all that quickly.

So what has changed in our lives since we were locked down?

  • Travel – yeah, right. We canceled a couple of cruises, don’t plan on taking another one soon. No flights either. We can’t even drive to Ogdensburg NY right now – border’s closed. We only drive to the pharmacy or supermarket.
  • Shopping – it’s a gong show and we need to wear a mask when we do. Not something we look forward to, even though we were not big shoppers anyway. I didn’t think going to Costco could be a bigger PITA than it was – but I bet it will be.
  • Personal care – even a haircut will be an exercise in futility when this ends. The shaggy look may return.
  • Doctor, dentist, optometrist, audiologist – fuggedaboudit unless it is critical. I hear the dentist will be wearing a hazmat suit for my next visit. I just canceled a hearing appointment because my hearing aids are working OK and I don’t need the aggravation.
  • Online shopping – I just bought a bunch of vitamins through Amazon – think I would have done that before the pandemic started?
  • Online social activity – certainly has been a lifesaver. We learned about Zoom and Facebook video chats. Helps us keep in touch with the grandkids at least.
  • Starbucks, Tim Horton, McDonalds, other restaurants and coffee shops – we went out a bit, but no longer. We have learned to live without this stuff and our incentive to return is very low. It must suck to be a fast-food owner now.
  • Enjoying the fine weather – we haven’t had much yet. But when it arrives It’ll be a backyard BBQ, staycation sort of summer. We don’t have an RV or cottage so we won’t miss it.

My point here is that all of the above has changed and a lot of things we thought were essential turned out not to be. We are staying home, staying safe, saving our money. Will we be motivated to reopen our lives just because the politicians say it’s safe to do so? Time will tell.

One thing we hope will return to normal is being able to see our family. Maria hasn’t seen her mother since March and I haven’t been able to see the grandkids in close to 4 months. But will we have to practice social distancing with them? That’ll be hard – especially with my granddaughters. Teddy can probably deal with no hugs – but can I?

Plumbing in The Time of COVID

Being on lockdown is a great time to have something go wrong in the house. And that is just what happened a couple of weeks ago.

It was time to open up the taps for watering outside. After I opened the shut-off valve for the tap in the garage I headed into the back basement room to get the one for the rear of the house.

As soon as I started twisting the valve stem I knew something was wrong. Water was dripping over my hand. I quickly shut off the valve and the leak stopped.

We don’t use the rear tap all that much but I certainly did not want to have a leaky shut off valve above my rec room ceiling, so I put in a call to Town Mechanical. The next day Matt arrived to put things right.

I was once again reminded of the advantages of small-town life. Matt was friendly, efficient, honest and reliable. He quickly set about fixing my list of small jobs. He replaced a sticky faucet cartridge in the shower. Then he started to repair the bad shut off valve. Watching him at a socially approved COVID-19 distance, I concluded that plumbing professionally was a young man’s game. Matt had to crawl in and out of the tub, solder over his head, and on his final job lie on his back under the kitchen sink and wrestle with a seized up kitchen tap.

That last job was unplanned but we concluded necessary. At first, he thought he could just replace the kitchen tap cartridge to stop a drip. But the tap was worn, and after the cartridge was replaced it would not stay on when you lifted the lever.

Matt didn’t want to pressure us, but he wasn’t happy with the job. He offered to replace the taps for only the cost of the parts – no additional labor charge beyond what he quoted us. We are happy we decided to get a new faucet.

After he took out the old taps, Matt said that he would likely have been back for another call soon if we had kept the old ones.

All in all a great experience. We have used Town Mechanical in the past and we’ll be glad to do so again.

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