Thursday, March 26, 2020

Shutdown Velo News

When he announced his latest round of Covid-19 stay-at-home restrictions Governor Islee stated that outdoor exercise like walking or cycling is essential.  We just have to maintain a safe distance while doing so.  That fits my biking style even in normal times so I've had little reluctance to ride.  Weather has been very cooperative--sunny and bright for a Saturday ride and broken clouds and some sun between morning and afternoon showers on Wednesday.

Saturday's ride took me out to The Evergreen State College on the far west end of town.  The best time to ride this route is a Sunday when traffic is lighter.  A normal Saturday afternoon means a steep climb out of downtown in traffic, breathing hard and sucking exhaust.  This Saturday was more like a Sunday--some but not much traffic.  The climb was still steep but once I got up on the west side the ride was moderate.  I didn't see people out and about until I got to Evergreen Parkway, not many but a few taking advantage of the wide, separate bike lane.

The College, though, was deserted.  On a sunny spring day the campus would normally be alive with students.  On this sunny spring day Red Square was emptier than I've ever seen it.  More so than between sessions.  The Activities Building, where I often use a restroom, was conveniently open.  I encountered people all along the trail south of the College.  It's a popular area any time and this day was no different.

What  differed was traffic on Mud Bay Road where the trail ended.  The roadway is four lanes wide, usually with busy traffic in both directions.  The simplest way to cross is to find a hole in each stream that lines up with the other and shoot through the window.  It helps that the end of the trail is a downward slope that I can use to catapult myself across the road.  It does not help that sight distance to the right means that vehicles can come into view suddenly just after I launch.  On this Saturday afternoon I stopped at the top of the incline to check traffic, found none and launched immediately.  Sweet.  The ride back into town and home was easy. 

Wednesday's ride did not have any steep climbs.  The inclines were gentle and traffic was light on city streets.  Most of the ride was down and back on the Chehalis Western Trail so I had no traffic to contend with at all.  Lots of people werer out on the trail--walkers, joggers and cyclists.  Not unlike a busy weekend day.  Most everyone appeared to be keeping a distance from everyone else.  Only the couples walked close together. 

The skies grew darker the farther south I rode.  I knew that rain was in the forecast for later in the day but rain started falling as I approached 103rd Avenue, heavier by the minute.  At that point I figured that I had sufficient mileage for the day and turned around.  It only took a few minutes to ride out of the rain and not long after that, I was riding under mixed sun and clouds.  I made it home well ahead of heavy rain toward evening.

As long as I can ride my bike I don't think self-isolation and social distancing will be too onerous.

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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Coronavirus Shopping News

The COVID19 pandemic has definitely altered my weekend grocery shopping routine.  I tend to shop early in the day since I  I don't like crowds.  Friday mornings I head to Trader Joe's and Grocery Outlet on the west side around 8:30 or 9:00 so that if I want to go to Costco I can get into the store when it opens at 10.  This past Friday was different. Trader Joe's did not open until 10. Rather than hang around for an hour, I headed to the Tumwater Costco which I figured would be a zoo.

The gas lines were typical for that time of day (drive right up to an open pump) but the store was very different.  A half-hour before opening the line stretched across the front of the store, wound around the side and was beginning to stretch around the back toward the loading dock.  People weren't practising social distancing but I managed to keep my distance and place in line by standing off to one side.  My trip to Costco was somewhat discretionary and I debated bagging the whole thing but the line began to move, slowly at first but then pretty briskly, so I went with the flow to see what would happen.

What happened was that the store was well-prepared.  They had carts lined up facing the entrance with employees disinfecting the handles as they rolled a cart out to each customer.  Once inside it was more crowded than normal at opening time on a Friday but not much worse than a normal day at a peak time (except for the clusterfuck around the toilet paper pallets).  I managed to find what I wanted and, best of all, rolled right up to a checkout lane with only one person in line.  That's when I noticed that all lanes were open which I guess was Costco's attempt to avoid long checkout lines were people are bunched together.  Except for the wait to get in, it wasn't worse than any normal Friday morning.

Back at Trader Joe's I found a short line at the entrance but it moved pretty quickly.  They had an employee disinfecting carts at the door but once inside the store was very crowded.  Navigating the aisles was tricky at times.  Some items weren't available although I did manage to nab one of the last three chocolate slabs from an otherwise empty shelf.  I was tempted to grab a second one but my conscience slapped down that notion pretty quickly.  Despite the packed aisles and unavailable items people were courteous.  We all navigated as best we could, although each close encounter felt like stepping on a booby trap whose impact would not be readily apparent.

This morning's trip to the Eastside Co-op and Fred Meyer brought more of the same.  A typical Sunday morning at the Co-op is maybe 10 shoppers and one checkout with a short or no line.  Occasionally, a second checkout might open if a line begins.  Today, I was met at the entrance by a staff member who told me that only 20 people are allowed in the store at a time (I was number 15) and recommended that I use a disinfectant wipe and food handler gloves that were available at the door.  He also suggested that if I didn't absolutely need some items, please pass on them so that others might have access.  I found everything I was looking but the paper product shelves were completely empty and canned goods were in very short supply.  Three of the four checkout lanes were open, each with up to three people behind the person checking out.  Keeping our distance pushed the lines back into the grocery aisles.

Fred Meyer wasn't too much different than a normal Sunday morning except for the near-empty shelves in some aisles and notices of limits on certain products.  Th bakery section no longer sold individual donuts and pastries--only in packages now.  Some of the self-checkout kiosks were closed to allow shoppers to maintain distance from others.  

No doubt, this experience is nothing extraordinary, just mine. It does give me a real appreciation for the employees who not only come to work in a crowded environment but have also altered  their operations to accommodate the challenges of accelerated demand and anxious customers.  It's not exactly wartime combat but the work comes with some serious risk.  If I am uneasy during my rather limited forays into crowds, I can only imagine how it might feel to an employee whose exposure is far greater than mine.  

I made a point of thanking them all for their efforts. 

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