Costco-vidisms, and Other Musings

I ventured out this week to get the tires on my car rotated and balanced at our local Costco. Now, I have been working at home most of the time since mid-March, with some time doing telepsychiatry and one clinical day on Fridays at the main mental health center office in Aiken. Other than that that, I have rarely ventured out at all, even to the grocery store, as my wife is the self-proclaimed “Food Lady” and does not require much of me in that department except for the occasional breakfast omelet making or steak grilling. I parked my Mazda 3 at the tire center side of the store, walked toward the entrance, donned my mask and got out my Executive Membership card, flashing it at the store employee as I made me way inside. So far, so good. What I saw shocked me, and at first I did not know why.

I could tell almost immediately that the store was different from the last time I had visited it, months ago. To my left, the wall made of fence-like material that usually held numerous, ads, signs and bolstered the stacking of merchandise, was free of any encumbrances at all. Clear. See-through, Airy, one might say. The height of the stacked merchandise on that side of the entryway was much lower than usual. To my right, the large screen televisions were socially distanced from each other. Granted as wide as these TVs are, they could be side by side and still be six feet apart from each other. Everything looked far apart, like one of those nightmares I used to have as a kid when everything looked over-sized and huge and menacing. I walked around to the auto service area, noticing on the way over that the rows of tables and chairs usually placed between the checkout line and the food court were all gone. Completely gone. I walked up to the auto checkin-checkout station and saw the high Plexiglas barriers that surrounded the desk and cash register area, little cutouts for exchange of paperwork and cards. After dropping off my keys, I made my way further into the store, back towards the seafood and wine and rotisserie chickens.

I was struck by the amount of merchandise that was NOT in the store. Granted, there was enough of just about everything you would come to Costco to buy, but there was not the excessive, pallet-driven environment of twenty four packs of everything, large bottles and over-sized boxes that made one frantic to overbuy while at the same time calculating available storage space back home. Huge fans whirred overhead. The entire upper third to half of the store itself was empty, clear, productive of good, proper airflow and circulation. I found the few items I needed, checked out, and walked towards the food area. My beloved vanilla-acai swirl, a treat reserved for tire rotation time, was no more! I was saddened by this loss in a silly, heartfelt way. Not having a seat to sit on or table to sit at, I stupidly walked towards the cardboard box corral, looked at my watch and figured that I could stand there for the remainder of my thirty minute wait time to get my car back. Which I did.

Why did this visit to Costco unnerve me? I got what I came for. I was not disappointed in the customer service at all. It dawned on me that this was the first time that I had decided to do out and experience the “normal” retail world in some time. At home, things are now routine. I work, eat, sleep, play, rest, relax and do almost everything else there. It is safe. I am healthy there. I do not feel threatened there. My world has not significantly changed there. Out in this new world, this world of distance and less stuff and six foot markers and Plexiglas everywhere, it is decidedly not normal any longer. I came to the realization, more vividly, that it may never be again. I went back to my home, calmer, more relaxed, feeling safe, but knowing that I will have to keep venturing out into this hostile landscape that some folks tell us will potentially get much worse before it gets better.

 

We have been attending church virtually for many weeks now. The Church of the Good Shepherd has learned, as we all have, to pivot with this virus, to use time and technology and virtual everything to stay connected with its parishioners and to try to keep us connected with each other. We have enjoyed “Good Morning Good Shepherd”, followed by a worship service that was at first quite traditional in its presentation, but that is now full of video and music and readings by parishioners and lovely tours around the summertime Summerville campus. We have even started having outside baptisms again, complete with baptismal font in front of the entrance to the church, masks and appropriate distancing and hand sanitizing.

Today’s service was especially poignant. The opening hymn admonished us to fight the good fight, run the straight race, cast care aside, and know that “Christ is all in all to thee”. Wise words of counsel in these very uncertain times, but oh so hard to do without much effort these days. Robert Lowry’s “How Can I Keep From Singing?”, sung in melodious tones by alto Rebecca Brune, was lovely beyond measure. Watch and listen to another wonderful version of this song here

Thro’ all the tumult and the strife, I hear the music ringing; it finds an echo in my soul-how can I keep from singing?

No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that refuge clinging; Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?

 

Sometimes we need a little perspective. Watch this video if you feel that you are being put upon, that you are too stressed, or that we are facing more than any people have ever been forced to deal with and bear. It may change your mind, or at least put you into the river of time in the appropriate way and to appropriate degree. 

We rode our bikes on the Greeneway this afternoon in an attempt to get outside and do something physically good for us, as we love to do when we can. We ride this trail at least once a week now as times permits and always enjoy it. There are walkers, dogs, bike riders, in line skaters, singles and families using this wonderful community resource. It was very hot and humid today and we struggled on the uphill/out portion of the path, pedaling hard and getting a good workout. As the turnaround was in full sun, we rode a few dozen yards back up the hill and stopped to the side of the path, thought still on it and as out of the way as we could get, to drink some water and get ready for the trip back down to the start of the ride and the car.

Two other riders, one a middle-aged man and one a young man, rode towards us soon after we had stopped. With plenty of room to pass us on the opposite side, the older man called out in what I thought was a jovial tone, “Don’t stop in the dance floor, now!” They went on their way, down the short hill to the turnaround, then he came back past us, not really acknowledging us at all. The younger man, after turning around further into the neighborhood just beyond the end of the Greeneway, came back up the hill towards us as well. On the opposite side coming towards us, a family of five was walking along the path. As they arrived beside us at almost the same time that the young man was getting ready to pass us, he had to slow and stop to allow them to walk a few more steps past us so that he could safely whizz past us himself. This might have taken ten to fifteen seconds. We turned towards him and quipped that we needed to cool down a bit more before starting back and were sorry that he had to wait a few seconds to let the family pass. In an exasperated and exaggerated gesture, he lifted his head and rolled his eyes several times, sprinting past us on his bike, not saying a word. 

Now, as far as I know, the Greeneway is a community resource that is available to all, kids, families, novices riders, older riders like us and more. There are expected rules of trail etiquette, including allowing users of all skill levels to utilize the trail, and not blocking access or ability to pass for other users. When we stopped for water, we certainly did not mean to cause any impediment in access to anyone using the trail around us this afternoon, and the family that walked past us and engaged in friendly conversation certainly understood that. The young man who so rudely rolled his eyes at us and then sped past without a work of any kind, did not. 

If you are that young man in an Andy Jordan bike shirt who was so inconvenienced this afternoon that we shaved fifteen seconds off your out and back time, I apologize. I would only ask that you remember these things:

  1. We are in a global pandemic. Everyone is stressed. Everyone needs an outlet. Ours today was riding our bikes on the Greeneway with a heat index of 105. We meant no harm to anyone as we enjoyed that activity today. 
  2. My wife and I are in our sixties. We are happy to be able to get out and physically challenge ourselves in this way for exercise. You are not in your sixties. I would ask that even when you are displeased, that you respect your elders when showing that displeasure. 
  3. Lastly, I would hope that in this time of great stress for us all that you would develop a little more patience and show grace to those who are navigating this time with you. 

 

Tomorrow is a new week. I wish for all the peace and good fortune and grace that we are all going to need continuously as we move forward through this global crisis. 

 

 

 

 

Things Pondered Whilst Drinking Korbel Brandy

My lady friend and I have just finished an eight day,  212 mile biking trip across five valleys in northern California: Napa, Sonoma, Dry Creek, Alexander, and Russian River. We saw many things including acre upon acre of beautiful autumn-tinged grapevines, shady country lanes and active geysers. We ate food at Michelin-starred restaurants, sampled some of the best wines we’d ever tasted, talked with new friends and learned the value of time spent in a local country store.

I thought I would share just a few of my insights, gleaned while pedaling, napping, eating, and drinking on this very active, always-moving vacation. Indulge me, if you would be so kind.

First of all, flying standby is just what it says. You show up at the airport, boarding pass in hand, but it says STANDBY on it. You get through security, TSA-Precheck if you’re very lucky, and you STANDBY some more until your name turns blue on the little board. Sometime the evil gatekeepers make you STANDBY until the very last minute, as the boarding doors are closing, even though there are clearly thirty open seats on the plane. Am I complaining about this? Of course not. I did make it out to San Francisco and back, after all. (Thanks, Scooter)

San Francisco is a very neat city. It has clam chowder; sourdough bread; vocal, nine foot, aggressive, hungry sea lions; and hills. Lots of hills. You get the hill street blues in San Francisco, especially if you decide to get off the cablecar and walk. (I would not recommend this).

This Just In! The Golden Gate Bridge is not golden. It is a rusty orange. It had no visible gates that I could see. I had Trina take my picture standing on it, for my birthday, anyway. You never can tell when the painters  might actually get the color right on the next coat, or when the whole thing might be closed off by a piece of swinging wood with a Master lock on it. it could happen. I guess The Rusty Ungated Bridge would not attract as many tourists.

Alcatraz would make a nice place for a game of hide and seek.

If anyone tells you, “Hey, it’s easy! Just like riding a bicycle!”, don’t believe them. If the last bicycle you rode was red, had a big padded tush toter and had one gear, beware of the hybrid bike with twenty seven gears and a skinny-ass unpadded (read HARD) seat being fitted to your middle-aged body. It is about to be your home for five or six hours a day for the next week.

Day One: wine is your friend.

Goats are funny. Some of them bleat. Some of them butt their offspring. Some goats faint. I kid you not. Look it up.

Geysers are playful and cantankerous. They tease. Even when the nice lady up front says that the Old Faithful Geyser of California should treat us to a show every thirty minutes, and that she expects the next eruption in twenty minutes (just enough time to resuscitate a goat that just fainted), she then offers us some wine while we wait. It is ten in the morning, This is not a good sign.

The geyser does its geyser thing, but after nine, count ’em (Trina did, and videoed them all too) nine false starts. Ten times was the charm. It was underwhelming, but hey, we could have flown STANDBY to Yellowstone, yes?

Grapes picked off the vine surreptitiously are the sweetest, juiciest, best in the whole world. (No, I did not have to bail her out, thank God.)

You can have chocolate, really, really good chocolate, and coffee, and more chocolate on your birthday and nobody can stop you.

The tall white hats that chefs wear used to have 101 pleats in them to signify the 101 uses that the egg could be put to by a well trained chef. You’re welcome.

There is a characteristic smell, pungent and grape-y and musty and fertile, that one experiences when riding a bicycle through the wine country. I would bet that no one riding in a car ever experiences this wonderful smell in quite the same way that the cyclist does.

French oak barrels are works of art.

Porch sitting with your companion, reading a newspaper, planning the next day’s ride, eating cheese and drinking wine, stretching your tired legs and petting the cat are as close to heaven as you need to be on this earth.

Watching olives being harvested is too cool for words.

Standing next to the actual desk that was used in the filming of The Godfather is surreal.

Finding that there is a hill, a winery driveway to be exact, that is so steep that you can barely get off your bike and push it up to the top with all your might and determination is quite humbling.

I never knew that sitting in the sun, having lunch and good conversation, and drinking excellent champagne could bring such midday joy.

Entering a redwood grove is like entering a cathedral. Cool, misty, mysterious, and so quiet that you hardly want to break the silence by whispering your awe. Can you just imagine the stories a 1400 year old redwood tree could tell?

The Pacific Ocean has more hues of blue and green than can be described in words.

A boat on the bay. A kayak. A mailbox. A flower. “It’s that spot of red…” (Trina Watters, the painter, paraphrased)

Finally, why do they insist on calling it the shoulder of the road, anyway?

“You will have a much narrower shoulder for the next three miles”, or “You will enjoy a much wider, smoother shoulder on tomorrow’s ride”.

I suppose they could have called it the “butt” of the road.

But then, the Kardashians would not have been pleased at all at the prospect of “wider butts” in California, now would they?

After all, the shoulder is the first thing that might likely hit the ground if a logging truck crowded you and pushed you off to the right, just short of the Pacific cliffs.

No. luckily, that never happened.

This was the best vacation ever.

No ifs, ands, or butts.