On the Road Again – Part 1


Road trips happen to be my favorite pastime. Driving along highways and byways, over passes, along rivers and lakes and through new towns is like a live movie with constant new scenes, impressions and input. Even driving through big cities can be exciting. It is certainly living in the moment. Lucky for me Clare is an excellent navigator and always checks her maps against the TomTom GPS which has been known to send people the wrong way.

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Here only for a short time


 (adapted from ‘Savages’ by Don Winslow)      

            We humans had for a brief time – in cosmic terms – a civilisation on land surrounded by vast oceans and bordered by ice to the north, desert in the middle and ice to the south. This civilisation depended on water, for drinking and for crops to grow. Water is life.

We built houses, roads, highways, hotels, sky scrapers, shopping malls, condo towers, parking lots, airports, schools, stadiums and factories.

We proclaimed the freedom of individuals, invented, bought and drove cars to prove it and built more roads for the cars to drive on so we could go nowhere faster. We invented social structures to govern people and we conquered diseases and multiplied.

We all wanted the same things: cars, fridges, TVs, boats, toys.

We watered our lawns, washed our cars, drank water out of plastic bottles to stay hydrated in a dehydrated land and we put up water parks and big sculpted fountains.

We built temples to our fantasies – film studios, amusement parks, cathedrals, megachurches, football stadiums and we all flocked to them.

We built plains to fly around the globe and boats to cross the lakes and oceans and we poured our waste water into the same water we loved and depended on.

We built weapons to destroy each other and the planet and sent rockets into space.

We reinvented ourselves every day, remade our culture, our beliefs, locked ourselves into gated communities, multi bathroom houses, condo towers and trailer-parks and then we started eating healthy foods, gave up smoking and sun bathing, We had our faces stretched, our skins peeled, our lines removed, our fat sucked, our bodies rebuilt and we defied aging and death and warehoused our old.

We fought each other for land, water and minerals.

We enslaved, segregated and divided each other.

We extracted, modified, harnessed and subjugated.

We made gods of wealth and health

A religion of narcissism

In the end we worshipped only ourselves

In the end, it wasn’t enough

Rules and Conduct


            ‘Did you see the new CDC map that tells us where all the covid-19 cases were in the province?’ I asked Camp after Rosie brought around a couple of pints.

            ‘Yes, I did. From January until end of July. Doesn’t tell us anything really. It’s better than nothing but I would have liked to see when those cases occurred. It doesn’t mean anything to know that we had 7 cases in 7 months. Were they in April or July?’

            ‘Why don’t they include that info?’

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The Great Divide


        As we’re nearing the end of summer – already – our daily lives are still ruled by the covid-19 pandemic. Although we know more about it, have better tools for control, testing and tracing, are closer to a vaccine and a treatment than five months ago, we are a long way from eradication or even controlling the virus. Everything has changed: Social behavior, schools, work environments, sports, entertainment, travel, restaurants and we are impacted in every facet of life and across the globe. We wear masks, avoid physical contact like hugs and kisses and make circles around each other. Such were my thoughts as I walked along the shore to our weekly chat over a couple of brews. Not much has changed there. Camp was already seated in our usual corner and lost no time to launch into a tirade featuring our wily and unpredictable neighbour to the south.

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Hot and Cold


            This has been the hottest week all summer here on the coast with everybody flocking to the lakes and the sea shore. Except for today. It’s raining non-stop. Water is a good thing for everything living and growing. In the last week alone, we have over 100 forest fires ravaging the province, foremost the 5000 acre Christie Mountain fire in the Okanagan’s Similkameen district near Penticton. It grew over 2500 acres in just one afternoon.

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Mad, Mad World


It was the first day we had any rain in over a month and since we had a wet June there are no forest fires to speak of. Not like a couple of years ago when we couldn’t even see the mountains for the smoke and smog. Camp was late today which meant he was held up at the store with customers or there were unforeseen circumstances. He never misses our weekly get togethers over a couple of brews.

Rosie, our Irish server, didn’t wait for my order and just brought me a pint of lager. Not quite the clairvoyant server that Vicky is but she was trying. Camp came in a couple of minutes later and Rosie was right behind him with another pint.

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The New Reality


There is no place like home, goes the cliché which is certainly true for the Sunshine Coast. We’re very lucky to live here in paradise by the sea. I haven’t been to the city, Vancouver, in over three months and don’t see any reason to go. Life is good here and the sun is shining right now. Summer is finally here and people are out camping, swimming, hiking and biking. But we don’t see any tour buses or Germans driving around in RV’s, no Americans filling up the pubs, no Chinese clusters looking for the washrooms. It’s eerily quiet which suits us locals just fine. How long will this go on? Predictions say at least another year, maybe longer.

I found Camp sitting at our table, separated by a plexi glass barrier from the next table. He was thumbing through the Worldometer which highlighted the dismal US numbers of new covid cases and deaths.

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Local and Global


Our corner table was nicely separated by plexiglass and potted plants. I kind of liked the private atmosphere this created.

‘Maybe we should all believe in reincarnation. If we did, then we would be more concerned about the long-term future than we are. I’m thinking about the environment: ocean acidification, temperature increases, garbage; all of that would matter a lot more if we were destined to come back,’ I said to Camp who was quaffing his first pint.

‘What’s bugging you now, he asked.

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Rational Realist


It’s finally summer here on the Sunshine Coast. Rich man’s weather with no bugs, I like to describe it. But it’s quiet, no tourists, no festivals, no fireworks. In a way it’s kind of nice but it seems like the calm before the storm. Vicky set down two fresh pints and said: ‘Today you two need to focus on the beauty and goodness all around you. No doom and gloom and no Trump.’ We both looked at her speechless. ‘Just kidding,’ she said with a smile.

We raised our glasses and toasted to the beauty and the goodness and then Camp said, running his hand through his unruly shock of grey curls. ‘We have to admit that we’re not going to get out of this pandemic as we thought just a few months ago. Now it seems that the so called second wave is just a continuation of the first wave, trending upwards in lockstep with uncoordinated re-opening policies.’

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Cash and Zoom


I walked to the pub along the shore at low tide and thought about what Clare just told me. She is working virtually and is zoomed out. ‘I feel a bit lonely, a bit sad and a bit awkward, maybe even a bit depressed.’

‘It’s called zoom fatigue,’ I said. ‘People cannot function in two dimensions and not everybody is an actor or looks good on camera. Also, people present a persona which is switched on and you cannot get the human connection that face to face meetings and body language’ provide. We are not screen images.’ I told Camp about it and he agreed. ‘I don’t do zoom,’ he said, ‘either come and see me or I’ll wait until this is over. I’m not talking into a computer like I’m doing a commercial of myself. Not gonna happen.’

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Uncertainty Blues


                 ‘Let’s say that one percent of the North American population – US, Mexico, Canada – has been infected with the Covid-19 virus – many of them unknowingly. That’s about 5 million people, almost double the official number of 3.2 million. That leaves 99 percent of the population untouched but still vulnerable.’

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Covid Encounters


It’s finally summer here on the Sunshine Coast and week 15 of the Covid. There are still no public celebrations and concerts, no parades or marathons, no team sports and no public fundraisers. Club meetings, Yoga and dance classes are on zoom or skype, even family gatherings and weddings are held virtually with the betrothed assembled in front of a screen instead of a crowd. Good thing the pubs are open again and breweries are an essential service. Camp was already at our table at Gramma’s and our masked server just set down our frosty pints as I walked in.

‘How’s your week been?’ Camp asked, pocketing his little screen.

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Drugs, Death and Dylan


‘The longest day of the year is coming up,’ I said, as I sat down across from Camp who looked dapper in khaki pants and a short-sleeved shirt, Birkenstocks and sunglasses.

‘Yep, and I decided that in order to celebrate summer, I’m dressing the part.

‘Well, if you want my opinion, it suits you. Casual is in you know.’

‘No, I didn’t know but I have a closet full of clothes I never wear. I thought I’d try some of them and since nobody is dressing up working at home, I’ll support the garment industry.’

‘By wearing your old clothes from home?’

We both concentrated on the lovely scenery and our beers.

‘Here is a frightening statistic Camp,’ I said. ‘Over 400 overdose deaths in the past 3 months, 170 alone in May. These are people who inject what they believe is a rush or a high and what they get instead is a fatal shot of fentanyl laced heroin.’

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The Future is Here


‘Kids are back in school but I hear that only 30-60 percent of pupils show up,’ I said after we settled into our spot on the veranda, right over the water by the harbour.

‘Does this feel like before the covid?’ I asked Camp, looking around at the generous spacing of the tables and the potted plants between them for separation and distancing.

‘Not really,’ Camp said. ‘It’s strange to be served by Vicky in a face mask like we’re in a hospital setting. Also, I miss smoking my pipe. It goes well with beer.’

‘And teachers got what they’ve been asking for years, thanks to the virus: vastly reduced class sizes and an additional boost in virtual learning capacity. Many kids had to learn from home and use virtual platforms. Not sure how successful that was but those tools won’t go away,’ Camp said.

‘They’ll be part of the learning arsenal,’ I said. ‘And it made kids read, even though it’s on a screen. It’s the future and it has arrived.’

‘Last week we talked about civilisation and I forgot to mention that our cultures wouldn’t exist without beer. I read an essay about how nomadic peoples in the Neolithic met annually for beer festivals. Because this required large quantities of beer, production had to be placed in the hands of specialists – probably shamans and priests at the time. They intensified cultivation and expanded the planting areas. In short, early forms of agriculture were created because of beer. In addition, calendars were needed to make the way to the festivities in time. And some revelers just stayed on, thus creating the first permanent settlements.’

‘Beer, the harbinger of permanence and stability? A bit of a stretch, no?’ I said.

‘It’s a good theory,’ Camp said, raising his glass.

‘What do you make of all these demonstrations and protests for equality and against racism in light of George Floyd’s murder by those nasty cops’ I asked Camp.

‘I’m afraid it won’t change much of anything. It’s like a pressure relief valve, some steam is let off and that’s about it. Black Americans will remain second class citizens as long as they are seen as inferior to whites. Descendants of former slaves and colonized peoples do not become equals with their masters and exploiters even after they are freed. They remain the poor, the underprivileged and the exploited.  And its white old men who control the flow of money and you know the golden rule: Those who have the gold rule,’ Camp said, finishing his pint.

‘Sad but true,’ I agreed, ‘but are we condemned to repeat the past over and over like in the movie Groundhog Day?’

‘If you’re a black person then you have to concede that not much has changed since 1967 and James Baldwin’s and Malcolm X’s speeches could have been written today. As far as they are concerned, we now live in their future.’

‘Black lives matter, but do they matter as much as white lives?’ I said.

‘Maybe in the sports arena or the music hall and the military, but not so much in the corridors of power or the halls of justice and not on Wallstreet or Mainstreet.’

‘But a vast number of young white people are demonstrating and protesting against systemic racism. Maybe a change is coming. Maybe this new generation will be colorblind and fair,’ I said. ‘Let’s hope the result is not a drastic increase in Covid infections.’

‘There is only one chance of making a difference and that’s at the ballot box this coming November. If all those Generation Z protesters vote, then maybe there will be a sea-change,’ Camp said. ‘And an uptick in virus transmissions is guaranteed with these mass gatherings. We already know that.’

‘Ready for another one,’ Vicky said, from behind her mask, exchanging the empties for two full ones.

‘Always ready for another one,’ Camp said. ‘How is life behind that mask?’

‘Lonely,’ Vicky said, ‘it’s isolating and distancing. And what am I supposed to do with all my lip sticks and teeth whiteners?’

 

Civilization


Camp looked around, absentmindedly tamping his unlit pipe. We were back in the pub, found our usual seats and Vicky was our hostess.

‘How did you get over the last two months,’ I asked her.

I stayed home with my son, enrolled in an on-line course on becoming a realtor and applied for every dollar from the government I could. I did better than some others.’ Happy to be back. I missed seeing and being with people the most.’ And with that she dropped two lovely pints in front of us.

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Zoom and Gloom


            ‘You know Clare is working from home, just like Muriel, and all this virtual interconnecting is driving her crazy, must be the same for Muriel,’ I said.

            ‘Yes, teaching from home is a real challenge. Also, many people who work from crowded homes, Muriel has a friend where 4 adults are trying to work from home. Two university students and the parents. Everybody gets a turn at the kitchen table, 4 computers, 4 smart phones and somebody has to cook and clean.’

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Noise, Thieves and Masks


Camp and I met by the dock and brought our beers and peeves along.

‘Now that the weather is warmer and it’s light until ten o’clock at night it also means that everything is growing in wild profusion: grass, lawns, shrubs, flowers, gardens and noise,’ Camp said.

‘Noise? You mean the birds and frogs?’

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