March 29, 2020

WFH: Week Three

The beauty of the white camellia is fleeting, as the blossoms are quick to turn brown. Somewhere on that same bush there are light pink blossoms, but it might be too late in the season to find one.

Ten years ago this week I sauntered up the Bay Area's benchmark climb at a leisurely pace.

Five years ago this week I benchmarked my new wonder bike on a familiar descent. [Wow, it's been five years, already?]

One year ago this week I chose a sensible local ride.

This week, I realized that the days are all muddling together, blending into one stressful, unending day. I started putting marks in the squares of a good old-fashioned paper calendar. WFH. Post Office. Grocery store. I'm still taking the conservative approach and not biking outdoors.

I was all set to try a new lentil soup recipe, one that made the news recently because a nurse (who was about to retire) ate it for lunch every day. For 17 years. I had picked up everything I needed ... or so I thought. I pawed through my collection of spices. And then, made another pass over all the jars and tins. Nope. No whole coriander seeds.

The markets are sold out of many things, but I didn't expect to find an empty space on the shelf where those seeds should be. A clerk was restocking spices in the next market I visited, and I got lucky: there were just a couple of packets left. [Hmm, did everyone get the same idea from that story?]

I skipped this week's pastry lesson (Crêpes Suzette) in favor of a competing session (fried rice). The trick, we learned, is to open a circle in the middle of the mounded rice and scramble the eggs there before mixing it into the rice. (Aha!)

For entertainment, I watched a recorded performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which San Francisco Ballet was able to share (for one week only) with those of us who had purchased tickets. Puck was, well, puckish ... Cavan Conley stole the show, I thought. The dancers took their bows to an empty house and not to the applause they deserved. They've promised to perform this work again next season. (And hopefully, by then, we will be able to enjoy it live.)

The week opened with 302 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our county, and closed with 646 (a 114% increase).

March 22, 2020

WFH: Week Two

My decision to walk into town, despite the occasional rain shower, was an unexpectedly lucky one. There were a handful of others out and about, including parents leading two young kids. (”Where are we going? Why?“) Everyone gave each other plenty of space.

I stopped at the post office, finally recycled some old eyeglasses in the Lions Club's collection bin, and was the only customer in a large clothing shop. I had a gift credit to spend, and expected there would be few shoppers early on a Monday afternoon. I was the third customer of the day, they told me; and I might have been the last.

Shortly after I got home, our county issued a “shelter in place” directive, shutting down all non-essential businesses as of midnight.

That order spawned raging debates on multiple cycling mailing lists about whether cycling was, or was not, permitted, and whether a six-foot gap between cyclists would be an adequate protective distance. Outdoor activity was considered an “essential activity,” but cycling was not specifically mentioned; it took a few attorneys to clarify what “by way of example and without limitation” means. Our club canceled all upcoming group rides. Solo rides, or rides with members of your own household, would be fine.

But, what if you crash? This would not be the time to add to the burden on our already-stressed healthcare system.

More of my colleagues were adjusting to working from home, which went from voluntary, to recommended, to mandated. We're trying to preserve the social structure of our team, gathering most mornings and afternoons for 30-minute coffee/tea breaks. Getting to meet their children, as well as their pets, helps to lift everyone's spirits.

A couple of years ago, one of our colleagues completed a curriculum for professional pastry chefs. (To relax, he insisted.) He'd share his assignments with us; what a joy it was to find some wonderful treat on your desk in the morning. An experienced instructor, he has decided to give us a weekly lesson. This week, chocolate soufflé. It looked so straightforward ... especially with his electric mixer to whip those egg whites.

As the week progressed I felt anxiety mounting. How will this end? Is it just a matter of time before every one of us falls ill? And recovers, or ... doesn't?

For my cinematic distraction of the week, I watched He Named Me Malala, from which I learned more than the facts of her story, but also gained a window into attitudes and beliefs that are utterly unfamiliar to me.

The week opened with 114 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our county, and closed with 302 (a 165% increase).

March 15, 2020

WFH: Week One

The camellias are still blooming. What a glorious mess they make! I'll no sooner rake up the fallen flowers than I'll hear “plop” as another drops to the ground, as if to mock me.

The week opened with a backache that worsened when I'd lie down to sleep. Adding to that misery, my body was disinclined to get a full night's sleep. It was high time to improve the ergonomics of my workspaces. I use my dining table for video conferences because it offers a nicer background than the desk in my office. But those chairs were not meant for continuous hours of sitting. Once my “new” monitor arrived, I was happy to spend most of my workday in a proper chair, at a proper desk, in my home office.

Many years ago, after doing the math and reflecting on the inconvenience of making trips to a gym, I invested in my own equipment. [Which, sadly, mostly sits unused.] It was high time to lubricate the chains and get moving. I was determined to get some serious exercise into my daily routine, and my back felt better when I was upright.

I've read a few reports over the years that the best time to exercise is before breakfast. Not being a morning person, and needing to get out the door early on most mornings, that just wasn't happening for me. Until now. No more morning commute! Door-to-door, that saves an hour of my morning (and my evening). I can wake up naturally (no alarm!), work out, shower, eat breakfast, and start my workday.

Even I was surprised at how quickly my body tuned itself up. I rapidly graduated from a 20-minute session to a 30-minute session, then to a more challenging program, and then to ramping up the intensity.

To challenge my brain at the same time, I cracked open my copy of the original Cosmos series (which, inexplicably, I had never seen). So many things I hadn't learned, not to mention things learned and forgotten! Did I ever know that Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth more than 2,000 years ago?

During the last week of February, I had made a trip to San Francisco—on public transit—for a business meeting. Light rail to Caltrain to BART, and the reverse. I was wary of my fellow travelers and had kept my distance. The weather was chilly; I wore gloves. I brought my own travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer and was particularly mindful of what I touched.

This week brought news that two exhibitors at the associated conference had subsequently been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The news ricocheted around the few of us who had attended the meeting; we confirmed that none of us had ventured near the conference space, nor interacted with anyone from the exhibitors' company.

Our bike club's big annual tour was only about six weeks away; should we cancel it? Other spring events were shutting down or postponing. As the week opened, we stayed the course but wondered if the county would issue or deny our permits. Riding your bike is one thing, congregating at rest stops and for the meal at the finish is another. Could we adequately ensure that people kept a safe distance from one another?

As the week drew to a close, the CDC recommended canceling events of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks. And that was that: there could be no celebration of cycling on our scenic roadways, this spring.

The week opened with 37 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our county (population, about 1.9 million), and closed with 114 (a 200.8% increase). I decided to distract myself by watching a movie, and chose this year's Best Picture winner, Parasite. Which led to another night of disturbed sleep.

March 8, 2020

WFH: Week Zero

The message landed in my inbox on Thursday night: As of Friday, March 6, working from home was an approved (voluntary) option.

Restrictions had been escalating rapidly at the office—no international travel, all visiting workers required to return to their home locations, exhortations to stay home even if you were sure your sniffles were nothing more than seasonal allergies.

I was uncomfortable about the close quarters on our commuter shuttles. Just a couple of weeks ago I'd moved several rows back when the guy in the seat behind me kept coughing. And coughing. And coughing. Maybe it would be better to bike to work, now.

But then, I'd become increasingly uneasy with the (deficient) hygiene practices of some of my coworkers. A woman who leaves the restroom without washing her hands; this week, a guy who repeatedly sneezed into his napkin at lunch, repeatedly touched it to his nose, and then ... set it right down on the countertop. [This, after all the public news and all the warnings we'd received internally.] Common sense, as the saying goes, is not all that common.

So that Thursday night, I found a good deal online for a nice “open box” monitor. We'd be in this for the long haul, I reckoned, and my laptop screen would get tiring. External keyboard? [Check.] External mouse? [Check.]

Friday felt ... different. I've worked from home before, typically when I've recovered enough from a cold to be productive, but not recovered enough to mingle with my colleagues. I was focused, I was productive, and I was content to close the laptop at the end of the workday. But I also felt ... lonely.

I was uncertain about traveling to the city on Sunday for the first ballet I would see this season, A Midsummer Night's Dream. I'd never seen it, and San Francisco Ballet hadn't performed it in more than 30 years. I decided I would drive—steering clear of public transit—and if it seemed at all sketchy after I was there, I would leave.

The mayor of San Francisco made the choice for me, shuttering all city-owned venues on Saturday. In our county, the week opened with 7 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and ended with 37 cases (a 5.29x increase).

On Sunday, I made a trip to the office to rescue the plant that lives on my desk.

Over the coming weeks, I'll share some reflections to preserve the memory of this time. And for some color, I'll share a photo of some bit of local flora, for cheer. Hopeful for the future, something is always in bloom.

March 2, 2020

Thanks to a Guy Named Joe

Once upon a time, some charitably-minded athletes (cyclists, mainly) had an idea. What if you could raise funds for worthy causes, just by riding your bike? Running was okay, too. As GPS-enabled devices became common, it was easy to record and verify the distance you'd traveled. Smartphone apps later made it even easier to track and upload activities.

Plus3 was born. Strava did not yet exist.

I signed up in November, 2008. In the early days, the founders lined up non-profits (like Trips for Kids) and companies willing to donate a pot of money (like Ritchey). Each Plus3 member chose a cause, and each activity earned points that allocated small amounts from a sponsor's pot for that cause. The payout rates shifted over time, but even pennies add up.

The idea, in part, was to motivate people to be more physically active. There were leaderboards, challenges, and prizes, and many more qualifying activities were added (like healthy habits, volunteering, carpooling). The model shifted toward the corporate world: to encourage employees to be active and make healthy choices, a company would sponsor a cause.

That shift seemed brilliant to me (but, what do I know?). My employer had run a similar sort of program in-house to encourage “self-powered” commuting. When they shut it down, I failed to persuade them to engage with Plus3. They chose, instead, a personal-incentive-based program where cyclists (only) can redeem points for things (water bottles, socks, tote bags). [Sigh.]

Plus3 found a niche for some early, loyal members (like me) who weren't aligned with their new model. There were only a handful of folks in our little corner of Plus3, and I didn't notice how much the overall participation had dwindled until they sent me a message at the end of last year that they were shutting down.

Plus3 moved more than $3 million to charities around the world; my personal tally, they tell me, was $1,942. Mostly by riding my bike (more than 3,100 trips) and walking (more than 1,900 trips). Over 11 years, I logged about 40,000 miles and more than 5.5 million steps.

I was sad, but a colleague who spent many years in the non-profit world was not surprised. It seemed like such a great idea, and a sustainable model, to me. But, what do I know?

March 1, 2020

About a Mile

I should know better. I really should.

A short hike, my friend promised. “Keep it under three hours, and I'll join you; I have other things to get done today. And my body got a workout yesterday.”

I haven't hiked the full length of this trail in many years. We passed the spot where we'd turned back on our last trek.

“How much farther?” I'd ask. “About a mile,” he'd reply. [I knew better.]

There's a flowering plant I've not seen before. That's the thing about visiting a trail in different seasons, there are always surprises.

This trail has some wickedly steep sections. It's popular with mountain bikers; we kindly yielded the way as they dodged the rocks and ruts.

To the junction, he'd said. [Of course this would take more than three hours. I knew that.] “Look how close we were, a year ago—an easy 1.6 miles away!” [And another 4.1 miles down to the road, with no car waiting at this end.]

Round trip: 8.2 miles, ascending approximatley 1,900 feet. I should know better. I really should.