Labor Day? Done. We are now moving toward the winter of our discontent, but we don’t yet know just how much discontent. The winter of 2020 had barely begun before an unknown coronavirus rocked the world. There followed a year of adjustment, anxiety, suspicion, fear and an unaccustomed lack of mobility for this peripatetic nation.
We are a country of people who like to be on the move. We travel to see the sights, for business, to see family, to hide from family, to ponder relocation, to learn a new language, take a new job or find the perfect wave. We travel despite having to stand in long lines, dump out our water bottles, take off our shoes and be patted down in front of our fellow man. We travel crammed into smaller and smaller seats, sustained by a handful of pretzels, subjected to our fellow travelers throwing drinks, cursing out the cabin at large and assaulting the flight attendants.
Now we tiptoe toward a winter when, instead of a slow return to normal, we are facing climbing COVID caseloads with increasing frustration and weariness. When once we did not give our daily routines a second thought, they are now fraught with decisions about the simplest activities.
Let’s meet for lunch! Wait, our usual spot is closed because they don’t have enough staff, or someone tested positive for COVID. That place down the street is open but they don’t have outside tables, and we’d rather not eat inside. We could get take-out, but the line is really long…
OK, forget lunch, let’s get together at Pete’s house for drinks after work. I’ll drive. Wait, Janet was just on a business trip. I don’t know if I want to be in a car with her. She’s supposed to be quarantined. OK, Janet will bring her own car. Can we stop at the post office on the way by? Wait, I left my jacket at work and my mask is in the pocket.
All this is just the minutiae of an average day. The end result? We’re exhausted, trying to absorb the latest guidance and draw a line between prudent and over-cautious. Those of us who live alone are just plain lonely, spending much more time at home, connecting with friends online instead of in-person. And if you are particularly vulnerable, immune-compromised or with existing respiratory illness or just plain old, you are under even more pressure to isolate yourself.
That’s just our personal lives. In our public lives there are policies that attempt to manage all that decision-making at an institutional level. Health-care facilities, schools, churches, colleges and public meetings all have COVID policies meant to protect our health, but they vary from institution to institution, sometimes from day to day. Are they mandatory or recommended? Are they science-based or political? Are the leaders following the same rules as are laid down for the worker bees?
After a taste of getting back together, do we really have to retreat to Zoom? Even largely outdoor events like the Common Ground Fair and the Whoopie Pie Festival have run up the white flag, cancelling in the face of increasing COVID cases and unending uncertainty. The Blue Hill Fair was full steam ahead, with a few changes designed to lower risk, but then came Hurricane Ida making opening day a soggy start. We just can’t catch a break.
What will autumn bring? Signs of recovery in the air travel industry were set back as the Delta variant drove cases up again. Will the desire to be out and about continue to drive road trips, especially to outdoor destinations? Looking at you, Acadia National Park. Sure, school is back in session but leaf peepers whose kids have flown the coop will soon replace the traveling families of summer.
The adjustments to life in the time of COVID are not limited to personal health concerns. There has been a disruption of global supply chains that touches a broad spectrum of U.S. business. Shocked by empty shelves in markets and big box stores in the early days of the pandemic, we are now growing accustomed to gaps in product availability.
Be it raw materials, finished products, parts, or the very containers in which these items are shipped, the flow of inventory we used to take for granted has become much less reliable. Rather than bring our extraordinary national capacity to bear on these problems, we are trading in horse deworming medication, 5G networks as the source of COVID and the introduction of micro-chips to our bodies via the vaccine.
The country that astounded the world with the Industrial Revolution, applying science and technology to every aspect of daily living, has been swallowed up by the inanities and vitriol of social media.