Bar Hopping, Quarantine Style
I don’t actually believe in jinxes, but watching WWII movies as a kid, I soon figured out that any soldier who said “When this is all over, I’m going to buy a farm…” soon became the next casualty. This made such an indelible impression on my young psyche that since then I've never tempted fate during a crisis by talking about “when all this is over.” But then, during a recent Zoom gathering, a friend said, “Boy, you must really be missing your dive bars.” And just for a moment, I let myself recall all the fun Rich and I’d had visiting the world’s loonier taverns; maybe someday… Then another friend sent me the Quarantine Diary I published last week, with the entry “Day 9 – I put liquor bottles in every room. Tonight, I’m getting all dressed up and going bar hopping.”
“Bingo,” I said to Rich. “We are doing that one.”
So Tuesday night, we got all dressed up and went bar hopping around our apartment.
Rich transformed the living room into a dive bar (an American expression describing a funky, downscale bar with local character and tacky charm). I was grateful he refrained from pouring beer on the carpet to create the usual stickiness and fragrance; otherwise the setting was classic, colored lights, rubber chicken, and all.
After sharing a beer there, we each had a glass of wine in my office, which I’d remade into San Francisco’s famous Tonga Room, where he’d once taken me on a date. Their theme is tropical kitsch, with a pool in the middle where musicians play on a barge while “rain” falls from the ceiling. Sadly my shower nozzle didn’t reach far enough to recreate the downpour, but I found a YouTube video of the bar and played “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” to set the mood.
Our final stop was The Cave, which Rich set up much like the forts we’d constructed as kids, from table cloths draped over furniture, except now he included a video fireplace and rum.
“One thing about the quarantine,” said Rich, sipping his rum thoughtfully. “I really appreciate stuff I used to take for granted. Maybe I needed a bit of shaking up. It’s like that time all those years ago — you remember? — when I went out for a haircut and got all the way across town to the barber shop and realized couldn’t remember a thing about that walk.” He’d been so shocked to find himself on automatic pilot that soon thereafter he proposed the first of our three-month train trips. It certainly did the trick; when we got back, we saw the city with fresh eyes. “I’ll never again take for granted the pleasure of walking in Seville,” he said now.
“Or getting a haircut,” I added. My last salon appointment had been cancelled due to the lockdown, and the last forty-odd days hasn’t improved matters.
One of the great things about getting older is that I am a bit better at managing my own hair and considerably less worried about how it defines me in the eyes of the world. In fact, I find people in my age bracket, while we’re obviously not pleased at being on the front lines of medical risk, often cope with quarantine better than younger folks. It helps that we’re not juggling remote jobs and homeschooling kids. Beyond that, as the New York Times reported, many older Americans thrive in lockdown, modelling strength and resilience, “skilled at being alone, not fearful about their career prospects, emotionally more experienced at managing the great disruption of everyday life that is affecting everyone.”
“It’s easier for you,” a young friend said during a Zoom call. “You’ve been through this sort of thing before.” Afterwards I said to Rich, “We have? I wonder how old she thinks we are. Old enough to have lived through the 1918 pandemic? The Black Death? Asteroids killing off the dinosaurs?” While I missed out on those exciting times, I remember plenty of other shockers, such as the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the assassinations of two Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the attacks of 9/11. In the weeks after the Twin Towers fell, I happened to catch a radio program in which young reporters interviewed people in their eighties and nineties, seeking perspective about how to handle the unimaginable.
One woman cut directly to the real issue on the reporter’s mind. “Don’t worry,” she told him kindly. “You’ll do just fine.”
Now, nearly two decades later, I find myself saying much the same thing.
Time teaches us we are capable of surviving more than we ever imagined. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Speaking of horrors, last month, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (and others) said that the elderly should be willing to die to help the economy. Really? Because even from a mercenary perspective that’s a non-starter; an enormous number of movers and shakers are over sixty, including 90% of the world’s billionaires and 63% of Americas millionaires. Eliminating a host of powerful people over a short timeframe would send companies and global economies into freefall. And let’s face it, putting any government in charge of making judgements about which categories of human beings deserve to live is a very slippery slope. Especially when it’s a category everyone's going to find themselves in one day — possibly in twenty or thirty years, when the world is being run by kids who were homeschooled during quarantine by day-drinking parents.
Beyond all that, society needs older people around, if only to say, “Don’t worry, you’ll do just fine” with the authority of experience.
Nobody knows what life will be like in the future, lending a strange, zen-like, live-in-the-present-moment quality to our days. But we’re catching a glimpse of things to come in the Spanish government’s just-released “Plan to Transition to a New Normality.”
Spain’s kids are already allowed to play outside, this weekend adults can walk for exercise, and starting Monday — thanks, St. Martin of Porres, patron saint of hairdressers — beauty salons will open. (Did I hear cheering?) Outdoor bars aren’t far behind. (Yes, I definitely hear cheering!) The plan’s four phases include restrictions, mandatory protections, and warnings that if our curve pops up, all bets are off. But with luck and social distancing, the “new normality” is expected to be a way of life by the end of June.
How will it all work out? Who knows? As the joke says, nobody ever expected 2020 to go viral. And I suspect the year still has a few whopping surprises up its sleeve; personally I’m braced for anything from aliens to zombies. We’ll just have to wait for events to unfold, remembering that, in the words of Yogi Berra, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
What does the new normal look like from your quarantine location? How's your hair holding up? Your wine supply? What have your stopped taking for granted these days? Let me know in the comments below.
More Pandemic Perspectives & Humor
Scofflaws, Naysayers & Coronavirus Myths
In the Pandemic: Desperate Situations, Ingenious Solutions
Why We All Feel Hopelessly Unproductive in Quarantine
Quarantined? Take Mini-Vacations. For Betty White's Sake
Months of Quarantine? OK, If That's What It Takes
Yes, You CAN Stay (Relatively) Sane During Lockdown
4/30/2020 05:37:50 pm
One of our young Spanish friends told us it's not so much seeing family when this is over as going to a bar with friends for a beer!
5/1/2020 11:17:09 am
So true, Kay. Here in Seville, the vibrant social scene begins with gathering over beers in a bar, and everyone misses it terribly, including me. You can do a video conference call with your family but you can't Zoom a bar experience; it has to happen IRL (in real life). I understand what your young Spanish friends are saying!
4/30/2020 06:28:43 pm
We live in Bay Area - California. I had lived in Sevilla first year of College and was months away from retirement and a six week trip to Italy and Spain - followed in about a year or two with living abroad again. All that has changed. But as you say, it’s all OK somehow and I can’t help realize how resilient and lucky we are at our age. I’m enjoying the quiet from less plane traffic and our early evening walks, cooking 21 meals for two per week (which I don’t think I’ve EVER done before) and our cocktail hour after work. I will definitely miss all of that when things get back to normal. I’m an extrovert and Zoom is great but I can’t wait to hug my friends and family again...and car trips to visit our adult daughters.
5/1/2020 11:21:07 am
I sometimes wonder, Rebecca, if many of us will look back on quarantine as "the good old days" at some point. Yes, I miss going out, hugging family and friends, and feeling safe in the world. But it's also wonderful to slow down, appreciate the little things, and enjoy the quieter atmosphere. And I've loved the cooking piece; like you, I can't recall a time when I ever made 21 meals a week, although to be fair, Rich cooks dinner once a week, so it's really 20. Tomorrow the restaurants here open up for take-out, but I'm probably sticking with my own cooking (and Rich's, of course) a while longer.
4/30/2020 07:02:17 pm
We too launch a stair-step return to 'new normal on May 4th. Small business, hair salons and barber shops are the first to open. Yes, a week from today with mask firmly around my face and my go--to-town (latex) gloves on I will be letting Mr. Aris take me from the Corona Lisa look and back to my old normal. Can you see me jumping from the chair shouting a muffled 'Opa!' And doing Zorba's dance out of the salon??
5/1/2020 05:01:14 pm
Yes, I can totally picture you doing Zorba's dance out the salon and down the street; I am with you in spirit, my friend! What a day for celebration! I'll look forward to seeing the pictures on your blog!
Your "bar hop" looks like a huge amount of fun! Personally, I'm loving going to the cocktail lounge (aka my living room) in my pjs. My bartender makes an excellent tangerine bourbon sidecar.
5/1/2020 05:07:59 pm
It's going to be difficult adjusting to the idea that we actually have to dress in something besides pajamas to go out for cocktails, Shéa. Maybe someone will open a Quarantine Bar where we can arrive with ragged hair and comfy clothes and bedroom slippers. Come to think of it, I've seen people show up like that in a lot of dive bars. Good luck with your continued quarantine. They aren't fully up to speed on testing here, but they've done all the senior centers and other key areas, and our numbers have dropped so low that we're cautiously optimistic now. Hope Oregon gets there soon, but the important thing is not how fast but how sure they are that it really is time to open. Nobody wants to have to go back into quarantine for this virus!
Linda Wright Reilly
4/30/2020 08:37:58 pm
5/1/2020 05:43:37 pm
Thanks for your kind words about my blog, Linda, and I'm so glad you've found my posts on the pandemic in Spain to be helpful. I hope your niece is well and have no doubt she is looking forward to the quarantine de-escalation that starts tomorrow.
4/30/2020 09:34:44 pm
Your charm and inventiveness is always refreshing, Karen! Rich's, too!
5/1/2020 05:50:40 pm
Tobey, that giant doll is named Noel, and she was given to us ten years ago as a joke gift by parents whose kids outgrew her. We immediately welcomed her into our little family, gave her various outfits (Christmas, spring fair, International Women's Day, etc.), and began including her in our social activities. Most of the time she's perched on a ladder propped on a bookcase, and since the start of quarantine she's been wearing a gas mask I picked up on our travels. She seemed pleased to swap it for the fez. The tall object is for holding candles, usually without the colorful mask attached. I'm always astonished at the amount of random stuff we've accumulated! Noel isn't stuff, of course, she is family.
5/1/2020 01:22:08 am
I am spending a minimum of thirty minutes in the sun each day as part of my "penance" for having done nothing else but being born. It is heartening to see that Rich knows the value of what I have named "the viejo bake." Merced is easily as hot as Sevilla on any given day. I choose not to drink, other than water with a bit of limon juice and Equal. They say we should drink warm water, not iced, but it's a chance I am willing to take. I am so attached to the mask I use to go out shopping (very occasional and very low profile) that I have given it a name: Mass from Cal. This is derived from the Emergency Room designation for "mass casualties," a drill in case of a disaster in the community which leaves a large toll of death and injury. Salud, viejos mios.
5/1/2020 05:56:08 pm
Brian, I am picturing you strolling around Merced with your Mass from Cal mask and sustaining yourself through the hot weather with cool, flavored water. Sunlight has become an essential part of every day for us as it has for you. Luckily here there's the 8:00 pm clapping for the healthcare workers, and we go up into the sunshine on our roof where we can see and hear our neighbors and catch a few rays. This crazy situation makes us all appreciate the little things in life. And the big things, like friends. Thanks, as always, for your insightful comments, amigo.
5/1/2020 07:27:49 am
The Cave bar/fort made me laugh! Glad to see you two making the best of it with style and aplomb!
5/1/2020 05:58:04 pm
We do what we can to keep up our spirits, Mary!
5/1/2020 10:24:04 am
Love reading you, Karen. Thank you, always, but even more so in these crazy times. Here’s hoping we’re go bar hopping again soon!
5/1/2020 05:57:19 pm
From your lips to God's ear, Victoria!
5/1/2020 07:28:53 pm
The email I read just before your Blog sent me a YouTube video parody of the Lion Sleeps Tonight, called The Liar Tweets Tonight.
5/2/2020 01:36:08 am
Thanks for “The Liar Tweets Tonight” Kitty...right on.... I, too, drink alone quite often.... My tiki bar located on my backyard patio is open to singles, couples, or groups...well, before the pandemic, that is. Now just me....but that will change soon, I hope.
5/1/2020 08:01:11 pm
I was just thinking about you guys and figured I’d read your blog to see how you two are doing. Happy to see that you are making the most of quarantine! Harrison and I will have to take notes on your at home bar hopping. We are trying our hand at making a Spanish tortilla tomorrow - let’s hope our recent cooking class in Spain stuck with us!
5/2/2020 05:37:25 am
After hearing the virus will last for 18 months to 2 years (CNN a couple hours ago) unless a vaccine is found, I sure hope your creative juices keep flowing, Karen
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