Friday, September 17, 2021

A Worrywart Goes on a Road Trip

I’ve felt fear, I’ve felt angst, I’ve felt panic, I’ve worried. I’ve been a scared little rabbit, a scaredy cat, and a wimp. I’ve even detailed the finer points between fear and worry in a blog called “Not a scaredy-cat – a worrywart.”

Yes, I’m occasionally brave, land on my feet, am tough as nails. But not right now. Right now, I’m planning a road trip into Covid Land USA: the Lower 48. (Well, actually, Alaska is a worse Covid Land. The whole U.S. is Covid Land.)

Tim and I just returned from a 3-day ferry ride on the Alaska Marine Highway’s Tustumena to Dutch Harbor. The trip had been canceled on us for the last two attempts over the years, so this was Our Chance. We were also going to spend an additional three days in Dutch Harbor.

These were my pre-trip planning concerns:

  • Will I barf for three days of seasickness?
  • Will the Scopolamine patch behind my ear be enough to not barf? Do I need (as advised by friends) anti-nausea drugs given to chemotherapy patients?
  • Where will I barf if we don’t have a private bathroom in the stateroom?
  • What about traveling in a state with only 50+% vaccination rate … and an assertive non-masking contingent? And what about tourists?
  • What’s the hospital capacity if I get sick?
  • Oh, no – we’re coming back on a small plane?!? How will I keep from barfing on a small plane?

Okay, that IS a lot about barfing. I have, in my life, been known as the Barf Queen. I have barfed on many a ship, so it’s not some idle fantasy. But – amazingly and wonderfully – the ocean was calm and peaceful, the weather glorious, and the plane ride smooth. No cell coverage and no wi-fi just increased the relaxation. The landscapes were beautiful, the hikes through World War II sites fascinating, and the burger at Norwegian Rats Saloon the best in my life. Hooray!

The passengers: unmasked, unconcerned, and too close for comfort. Oddly, I hadn’t worried about Covid onboard the ferry because these were the published rules: AMHS currently requires passengers and employees to wear masks inside, but the CDC order makes refusal to wear a face covering a violation of federal law. But there was NO enforcement at all, even when four people had to be put off at King Cove for testing positive. The seating deck where many hung out in close quarters was a frightening petri dish I never entered. They advertised a safe environment and then didn't deliver.

That was the trial run for Barbara Takes a Road Trip. Obviously, barfing is no longer a concern, but Covid is. As in:
  • The Delta variant is running amok!
  • Hospital ICUs are full! If anything else goes wrong, we can’t get in.
  • What if everything around us closes down and seeing new stuff – the reason we’re headed to the Lower 48 at all – becomes impossible?
  • There are 170,000 NEW cases!
  • What if we get a positive test and are stuck in some hotel somewhere for ten days? Ordering in pizza?
  • Even being vaccinated, we could still be spreaders.
  • And almost on a par misery-wise: It’s 90° down there! Yikes, it’s more than 90°! How do people live???

Okay, I can really worry myself into a corner, but I’ve already had one trip fall apart around me when Philadelphia closed down. So packing for this trip became a stop-and-go activity; we’re going, we’re not, we’re going, we’re not.

But then Connie told me the New Mexico State Fair was happening in Albuquerque. I love state fairs! When I checked, I saw that they require full vaccination or a recent test to enter! Hooray! New Mexico, here we come!

But yes, I still have a Plan B. Wherever we are, we can just come home. We have no reservations, no commitments – just the open road.

Hello, open road.

Monday, September 6, 2021

How do I know you're you?

I was watching an old YouTube clip of musicians doing an impromptu street concert in New York City.

Then, at :46, I spotted my father in the crowd!

My father died in 1980. I haven’t “seen” him for 41 years, but this man had his build, his eyes, nose, white hair. He was even wearing clothes my father would have worn, clothes my mother would have picked out for him; he was in a leisure suit. (So it would have been before the time I asked why he was dressed like a pimp, and he glared at my mother and never wore it again.)

But it really wasn’t my father. (I’m pretty sure.) For one thing, my mother wasn’t next to him in the crowd. There is no way my father would have been in that situation – an impromptu street concert! – or remained in that situation – without my mother, and she wasn’t there. (I’m pretty sure.)

So there’s this duplicate Dad, and I know it’s not him. (I’m pretty sure.) So it leaves me wondering: what is it that makes someone someone? What is it that would make me sure that man in the movie was my father?

When I was pregnant, I read that mothers could find and identify their babies by their smell. After Sophie was born, I spent a lot of time sniffing her, memorizing her. My postpartum existential worries included whether or not I could pick her out of a crowd of babies.

I’ve read about animals and birds that throw an intruder baby out of their nest, that they can tell if it’s not one of theirs. Yet, in reading The Lost Family by Libby Copeland, a wonderful book about DNA tests, there was one terrifying photo of a cartful of babies in a Manhattan maternity hospital. The babies were collected from the mothers – without little name bracelets! – and then redistributed after baths. Apparently, a big, switched-at-birth mix-up occurred. Aiiieeee!

Well, now, I would know my daughter anywhere. When she was in a play in costume and whirled around the stage, I’d just hunt for the blond ponytail … and end up tracking Seline, who also had a blond ponytail. Seline’s parents had the same problem. And recently, in a photo she shared of her friends all dressed up at a wedding, I asked, “Who’s the one in the middle?” and it was my own daughter.

So what makes us us? How do we recognize each other?

When I would visit my parents after a long time away, I would search the airport as I disembarked with a certain bit of panic pumping my heart: would I know them? Sometimes they’d look different, they’d aged, and I’d hunt for their “them-ness.”

Okay, this may be complicated by my own prosopagnosia, facial blindness. My brain has trouble processing faces into memory unless I can link it with posture, gait, expression, hair style, voice, etc. Unfortunately, my worst case involved a boss: I would show up every Monday after a weekend off and introduce myself to the “stranger” in the office. Sometimes I just stay home because it’s too stressful to run into people I’m supposed to recognize.

One benefit of Covid and mask-wearing is that finally, I can ask people who they are without risking social gaffes. I used to cover my cluelessness by blaming it on sunglasses, bike helmets, hair styles, poor lighting, or anything else I could claim…. Now I just blame it on the mask.

In the midst of my mother’s dementia, she’d often fake it, offer exuberant hellos to friends when she had no idea who they were. So that’s a memory thing; she couldn’t remember them. But I remember my father, and in photos from my childhood, I know that’s him. Is it because I was there, I know the situation, the environment, or is there something I see?

And would I be able to see it and recognize it 41 years later if he showed up in a video on YouTube?

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