Saturday, March 14, 2020

It's Corona Time

It’s been a wild and wooly week here on planet Earth. The World Health Organization categorized the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. Yesterday, our government declared a state of national emergency. We’re all on lockdown in one form or another. The stock market has tanked. Other than that, everything’s coming up roses.

The response to this health crisis has unraveled in a confusing manner. We literally do not know what we’re doing. We’ve watched the way the viral epidemic has unfolded in other countries and we are trying to learn. We have learned too slowly and now it’s said we are about eleven days behind Italy, which is a frightening scenario. The official response is now calling for “social distancing”. As an introvert, this is music to my ears. Everything is being canceled? That’s absolutely wonderful.

Our life began to change several weeks ago when I contemplated our upcoming trip to the BNP Tennis Tournament in Indian Wells. I started to think about the close contact one has with thousands of people who come from all over to see the matches. We get grounds passes, which gives you access to many courts and you go from one court to another depending on who is playing. While you are waiting to get seats in one of the stadiums you stand in a crowd, literally shoulder to shoulder, with dozens of others. You are stuck waiting there until the changeover, which could be ten minutes or more. I cannot emphasize how intimate the contact is. It’s like being in a crowded elevator, except that it’s outdoors and on stairs. People bang into you unknowingly with their backpacks. You have someone’s butt in your face. It’s very claustrophobic under the best of circumstances

That train of thought was the end of this year’s tournament for me. I had splurged for two nights at La Quinta and then we were supposed to stay with friends for three nights. Fortunately, La Quinta was gracious when I told them my elderly mom had been in the hospital and wasn’t doing well. While that was technically true, and fortunately she is doing better, it seemed like the way to go. I was afraid that if I canceled due to the coronavirus they would be less sympathetic. The airline tickets were non-refundable. That’s what you get when you book with Cheapo-Air. At least they were cheap, and we saved a bundle by not taking the trip. About a week after we decided not to attend the whole event was canceled. I can’t imagine the economic ripple effects throughout the desert. The two weeks of the tournament are a boon for the area. This year it is clearly a bust. Magnify that by the worldwide economy and it's just unfathomable. 

Now the local schools are closed. All pro basketball, baseball and hockey games are on hiatus. The annual Dipsea Race, which was scheduled for June, has been called off. People are working from home or not working. I’m on the Board at the Outdoor Art Club. With heavy hearts, we canceled all events for the remainder of March and the month of April, even the beloved Teddy Bear Tea. Life is definitely different.

My birthday was on March 11th, which fell in the middle of this surreal week. I was supposed to take a two-hour horseback ride in Pt Reyes, but canceled it because I hadn't been sleeping well and was tired. Clients contacted me at the last minute and wanted to see property, so it worked out better, anyway. It was a nice day. The weather was gorgeous. I took a swim and played tennis. 

We went out to dinner at a local restaurant and the place was almost completely empty. The atmosphere was lovely, and I definitely felt like I was upholding the six foot from strangers mandate, but it was quite eerie. After dinner we took a walk around town and the other restaurants were so quiet as well. If possible, we should support our local restaurants by buying gift certificates or having takeout. We want them to still be standing when this is all over. 

Personally, I looked ahead to an empty calendar with glee. Being quarantined at home would mean time to read, write and catch up on my sleep. I could work in the garden and swim at the pool. Now it’s raining and the pool has been shut down until the end of March. My not so young husband has gotten sick, so we canceled a trip to Tahoe. We were planning to stop by to see my mother on the way, but then Eric got a sore throat and plans changed again. It seems to be a nasty cold, and nothing more, but we are taking no chances. As of now, I feel absolutely fine and plan to remain that way.

It doesn’t yet feel like a stay-cation. It’s hard to block out the news, such a temptation to tune in and get distracted. Watching presidential briefings where everyone in charge of our COVID-19 response is clumped together, shaking hands (good lord) and sharing microphones is quite compelling. How can you NOT watch this?

I’ve also been taking trips to the grocery store to procure food while not touching anything, checking Eric’s temperature and bringing him beverages so he’ll stay hydrated. I realized the dog hadn’t gotten any exercise in two days, so late yesterday afternoon I took her for a good, long walk. I was griped at by an elderly gentleman because Ruby peed on a patch of grass on the street side of the sidewalk in front of his house. Sheesh. Get a bigger problem! I guess we’re all a bit tense and manifest it in our own ways.

We've been through our share of disasters here in Northern California. We've had earthquakes, mudslides and catastrophic storms. One year our whole neighborhood flooded on New Year's Eve and our garage and everything in it was covered in mud. More recently we've had the firestorms and putrid, toxic air for weeks at a time. We had the PG&E mandated power outages which were the most frustrating of all. So far, house arrest has been easier and more pleasant than previous scenarios, but it's early times. Check back in a week or two.

I’m happy to help “flatten the curve”. I’ll work from home unless I have to show property. It’s an uncertain time in the real estate business, which is never very certain. Thankfully, I have buyers who got out of the stock market while the getting was good and are ready with cash down payments. Interest rates are low and going lower. Real property suddenly seems safer than investments. At least you can live there. One can’t crawl inside their 401k and take shelter from the rain. Still, prices are so high. Are home values going to drop twenty or thirty percent? I don’t think so, but what does any us of really know until it’s behind us? Nobody wants to be the one who buys at the top of the market.

So, on this gloomy Saturday I look out the window at our majestic Mt Tamalpais, saturated by a lovely Spring rain, and shrouded in wisps of fog and I can’t help but wonder where we are headed. Will we all be here at the end of the pandemic? Will we feel more anxious and less secure or will we be calm and gracious and just plain grateful? I don’t know.

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