Day 4

I’m not alone here in saying that things got weird fast here.

I’ve been debating writing about any of this. I’ve seen every hot take possible on COVID-19, and I’m seeing endless posts about being shut in, suddenly having to work from home, losing work, panicking about food and medical care, and so on. And in the current climate, I feel like putting anything out there opens me up to “oh, you think you have it bad?” attacks. I feel the same way about writing almost anything these days. We’ve fallen down this pit of stupidity that makes talking about almost anything pointless.

But, I need to keep writing every day. It’s more important than ever when the only other choice is to freak the fuck out about everything. And also, I know someday, I’m going to want to look back and see what I was thinking as World War C unfolded. If you look down at the sidebar here, it’s missing a few months of dates in the fall of 2001. This wasn’t a conscious decision; I was just working on finishing Rumored and was too busy to run this thing. And now I wish I could go back to read entries from September and October of that year, to see what I was thinking the last time the world was ending.

So first, the boat. The fucking boat. That Princess cruise ship docked at the Port of Oakland like a week ago. (I don’t even know when it was. The last week seems like a year and a half long.) The ship was about four thousand feet from my house, and if I was up on the parking garage connected to our building, it was plainly visible. (It’s not visible from our house, because they built another set of townhouses right in front of us, blocking our view. That’s another point of aggravation, but what can you do.)

Despite it being that close, it was a world away. No danger of infection, no view of the evacuation, just a giant symbol of how shit was about to go down, sitting on the horizon. The optics of it were bad — “well, we can park this thing in Oakland, because nobody lives there.” Thanks a lot, fuckheads. I understand the logistics of deep-water harbors and all that, but I’m sure if Atherton had a fifty-foot draft depth berth next to it, there’s no way the ship would have ended up there.

I also got the usual craziness from relatives who assumed I was ten seconds from death, like I do every time there’s a forest fire six hundred miles away or a 3.2 earthquake outside of LA. I had a real problem after 9/11 in that for a lot of people, I was their closest connection to the attacks. I did not like being in that position, being the face of the disaster, especially from people who generally had zero interaction with me, and suddenly they had a best friend who was in the towers when it collapsed, even though neither of those things were true.

The shelter-in-place happened quickly. At one point, they said seniors should think about staying home, and hours later, we all had to go on lockdown. Things changed fast, and in a world of clickbait media and dumb algorithms, it was difficult to get straight answers on anything. There were more questions than answers on Monday, and I didn’t wrap my head around the enormity of the situation as it was happening.

I did ease into this a bit since I got back the week before. I resupplied at Target on Friday afternoon, thinking everything would be wiped out by the weekend. I filled my prescriptions, bought toilet paper, got cat food, did all of my errands. I’m glad I did, because by all accounts, Monday’s midnight shelter order turned every store into a nightmare. You probably saw the pictures, a million times. Disaster porn is big these days.

The Saturday before, it was rainy and cold, and I drove out to Pleasanton to walk Stoneridge mall. I was slightly apprehensive about it, but I figured if I kept my space and didn’t touch anything, it would be no problem. The mall wasn’t empty, which surprised me. I think that was more scary than if the mall was completely empty on a Saturday. The quick walk made me super anxious and nervous, and I had to get the hell out of there.

That mall is now closed — all Simon malls are. The only malls that are open at this point are insane or stupid. A month ago, the whole concept of the mall in general had a shaky future at best. Now, malls are absolutely fucked. Some of the more prosperous large chains are withholding their earnings projections statements. Every anchor store imaginable is completely dead. None of the mom-and-pops will be able to survive. At least in the bay area, malls that were living day-by-day are going to be shuttered for months. At best, they’ll be temporarily reopened as virus hospitals. Most will probably end up in foreclosure, chained up, left to rot. Maybe in five or ten years when the market is back and REITs are thinking about redevelopment, they’ll get rebuilt into apartment complexes.

I wanted to get out of the mall nostalgia thing. Looks like that decision’s been made for me. Hang onto your photos, fellow mall-walkers. It’s all we’ll have left of the era of indoor shopping.

I’ve been working from home for almost ten years now, so this is business as usual for me.  I never leave the house anyway, and all of my meetings are always on Zoom. If anything, things are more chaotic for me because I simply have too much work to do. Not to get into details, but I have three really big things going on, plus an endless barrage of update meetings on what’s happening, how we’re responding, etc. Also, there’s a lot more chatter on Slack, in email, on Zoom. One of the reasons I love WFH is that the eight-hour office work day is really about two hours of solid work, and six hours of social interaction and distraction and annoyance and ritual. Remove that, and I can do three times as much work, plus still have time for cat herding and whatever else. But a lot of other people are getting stir crazy over this, and it’s ramped up the amount of online distraction. This is in addition to the bad news every two minutes on the rest of the internet.

The structure of my work day routine has not changed, for the most part. Work all day, try to take a walk at lunch (that’s still allowed), try to write (and don’t), then watch TV until bedtime. The weekend is going to be another story. I usually walk around my house during the week, and spend the weekends driving somewhere else to walk or hike or shop or whatever. Now, I can’t officially do that. Not sure what I should be doing to stay sane. And this will go on for weeks, or maybe more. I know, #humblebrag, I still have a job and a roof over my head and health insurance, and I’m worried about park access. I’m mentally ill, go fuck yourself, see the second paragraph above, and feel free to start your own blog.

I think the worst part of all of this is the resonation between this and 9/11. There’s that overwhelming feeling of panic saturated into everything. The economy is in free-fall, and not coming back. Major industries like the airlines, auto production, retail, restaurants may never recover. Many things we took for granted two weeks ago have completely vanished. A large swath of the public is completely fucked. And none of this is even including the tens of thousands of people who are going to die from this.

I don’t officially have PTSD from 9/11, at least from like a diagnostic standpoint. And if I did, I’d be too ashamed to admit it, knowing that people in my office died, and they had family and friends and spouses who were directly tied to it, while I was just an observer. But sirens can get me ramped up. The smell of burning electronics has the same scent as the powdered concrete and metal smoke that hung over lower Manhattan, which doesn’t exactly have a calming effect on me. I tend to get too amped up over natural disasters and emergency evacuations and mass-panic situations like that. And having a helicopter hover a thousand feet over your house 24/7 for a week so the channel 2 news can get a picture of a fucking cruise ship isn’t great for this predicament. All of this, all of the uncertainty and the plummeting economy and the thought about if the grocery store is going to be open in a week and if I’ll still have a job by then or if banks will still be open — there are strong parallels, ones I can’t entirely put on the back burner and ignore.

This situation makes me think way too much about the fall of 2001, the feeling that all of lower Manhattan was going to shutter, send everyone back to whatever square state they came from, leave behind a skeleton crew of locals and a few bodegas, boarding up everything else, turning into some burned-out dystopian nightmare like the 1977 shown in every Son of Sam or Ramones movie. When I walk outside with nobody around, almost no cars on the road, no planes overhead, it reminds me of that same feeling I had eighteen and a half years ago. It’s scary. It’s something I wish I could ignore. It’s something I can’t. I have to work on that.

Not much else. Working. Watching TV. Trying to not look at my 401K, which I think is gone now. Playing Out of the Park Baseball, and simulating a season per month, now that the 2020 one is probably dead. This week, my team is 61-60 and three games out of the wild card, with 40 games left. (It sims a game every thirty minutes.) The 1971 Dock Ellis is the ace in my rotation, and my outfield is a 1984 Tony Gwynn, 1976 Ron LeFlore, and 1934 Jo-Jo Moore. If you’re a fan of the national pastime, spend the twenty bucks and get a copy. Drop me a line when you do, and we can start a league or something.

I should be writing. I’m not. I should work on that. Hope everyone else is surviving out there.

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Ten Things

  • I had this recurring dream that I somehow inherited an old Corvette (mid-70s, the bad years) and was trying to rewire the stereo because it worked when the car was running, but not when it was shut off or in accessory mode. I seem to remember having to fix the same thing in my first car a million years ago. (Chilton’s guide is your friend.) This got me thinking about the whole culture of aftermarket car stereos in the 80s and 90s that is largely gone now. Every car had an identical hole for the radio (two knobs, unless you sawed that out and made a square hole for an Alpine) and every factory radio was a piece of shit, usually without a tape player. My first car had a mono AM radio stock, with a single paper speaker under the dash. I fell down long k-holes paging through the JC Whitney catalog, looking at no-name stereos with suspiciously high wattage and ending up with the cheapest amp available at the local Radio Shack.
  • I have been wasting a lot of time watching car restoration videos on YouTube, maybe because they are good background noise, and maybe because I wish I was restoring a car, even though I don’t have the time, space, money, or patience to do this. My favorite channel is a very well-done set of videos from a guy named Ronald Finger who is restoring an old Fiero. I’ve always been obsessed with the Fiero (see here) even though I’ve never even ridden in one, and stock, most of them drive and feel about like a vintage Pontiac Sunbird, although they do look better, and can be hot-rodded up to be a formidable performer. But that’s a formidable performer with no airbags, antilock brakes, navigation system, or any other new safety or creature comfort features, so maybe not.
  • I also recently watched the ZZ Top documentary on Netflix (too lazy to find a link.) It was pretty good, although it pretty much ended when they got to Eliminator, and didn’t go into any details on that album except how MTV blew them up with their videos. They didn’t touch the fact that the writing credits were slightly disputed, or that it’s essentially a self-produced Billy Gibbons solo album (with help from sound engineer Linden Hudson) and almost all of the drums and bass using drum machines and synth. There’s also a story of Hudson researching every popular song on the radio to determine their speed and deciding that the album should all be recorded at 120 bpm.
  • That said, I would say Eliminator is definitely in my top five all-time list, because the production and songwriting is so impeccable and a perfect mix of blues, pop, dance, and country music. I listened to the album a few times yesterday, and although people generally think of the big hits, the deep cuts on the album are amazing. Songs like “I Need You Tonight,” “Thug,” and even “TV Dinners” are so amazing, even though they usually aren’t discussed by the “hey remember the 80s” crowd.
  • Speaking of Houston… I was thinking the other night about how I used to see a disproportionate number of Astros games back when they were a National League team. The first MLB game I ever saw was Astros @ Brewers, and the first Rockies home game I saw was against Houston. It was also a strange coincidence, because in my horrible pee-wee league experience, I played for a team named after the Astros. Our uniforms were bright orange, like the tequila sunrise jersey Houston used to have. Prior to the throwback thing taking off, Houston in the 00s had boring red uniforms, so no joy there.
  • I have been thinking about New York a lot for some reason. The thing I think about most is how in the early 00s when I was single I had this dumb weekend routine that usually involved staying up late on Fridays and playing PlayStation 2 until three in the morning. Then I’d oversleep, walk to the subway, stop and get a bagel at this hole-in-the-wall place on 30th Ave where I was in love with the cashier and never talked to her other than asking for an everything with a smear and a can of Coke. Then I’d go into Manhattan and waste the afternoon walking between book stores and record stores and video places, buying various media that I’d then consume for the rest of the weekend while ordering delivery from one of the same three places. There was a diner where the guy on the phone knew who I was the second I called and asked me if I wanted the usual. And then Sunday was grocery store, laundry, and more nothing. Writing was always anticipated and never happened.
  • It’s now bugging me that I can’t remember what “the usual” was. I think it was a greek omelette. I also used to get a side of cereal, which is the laziest damn thing imaginable, paying three bucks for a little box of corn flakes and a coffee cup of milk. I remember one time misplacing the cup of milk in the fridge and wondering where it went, and then finding out a week later that it dumped into the little tray underneath the crispers and was now a biological warfare weapon.
  • I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I looked up that old Astoria apartment, and it has not been upgraded whatsoever, but costs more than twice as much to rent. I think I was paying around 800 back in the early 00s, and it’s now about two grand. And the neighborhood – the bones are still there, but it’s obviously had a lot of gentrification in the last 15 years. Lots of small family houses ripped out and replaced with 12-unit mini “luxury” apartment buildings. They have a Chipotle now. I don’t know if they have a grocery store that isn’t a disaster, but I guess you just order online?
  • I had a weird dream the other night that this guy Rob who lived by me in Astoria sent out a mass email saying he was retiring from his job, and quitting technology entirely, and that this was the last email he was ever going to send. I’ve probably watched too many Unabomber documentaries lately.
  • Falling down a huge ADX Florence k-hole. I’ll probably spend the rest of the day looking that stuff up, unless I fall sideways into some other wiki-hole, like I did the other day when I spent two hours reading about nuclear-powered rocket plans of the fifties and sixties.
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Vegas 2020

Got back from Las Vegas last night, so I’m still digging through things and looking at photos and trying to get reset for work on Monday. Oh, and trying not to catch the death plague everyone’s worried about. (I actually wash my hands, so I’m not as worried about it. But now that I’ve said that, I’m probably the first person you’ll know to die of it.)

Anyway, here’s the trip rundown:

  • Flew in Sunday night, out Friday night, so it feels like it was a slightly shorter trip than usual.
  • Stayed at Vdara, which is a new one for me. It’s part of City Center, just north of Aria, sort of just below Bellagio, but not on the strip. Vdara is all suites, and has no casino. The rooms have a nice view, but it does take a minute to get to the strip, and there’s no food, other than a small snack shop place, or room service. I had a smaller suite, with a token kitchen (tiny fridge, two-burner stove, no oven, no dishwasher) that came with no dishes. Bill had an upgrade, which had full-size appliances and a washer/dryer, which was a first.
  • There are room service robots. You can order a soda or some sundries, and they load it up into this oversized Roomba thing which then drives to your room, rings the doorbell, and unlocks the top so you can get your stuff. It sounds pretty neat, but I didn’t want to pay $20 for a Coke and a Snickers bar.
  • Bill and Marc also came in on Sunday, and left Tuesday afternoon. I spent the rest of the trip by myself.
  • The first night, we went to the first place that was close by that I could pull up a reservation on OpenTable with no notice: the Strip House at Planet Hollywood, a New York steakhouse. It was decent, although the salt and pepper char threw me a bit. I didn’t pay much attention, but the decor had various old cheesecake photos or something on the walls.
  • Went downtown to the Fremont Street experience and wandered a bit. We went to the Fremont and Marc and I played some blackjack for a few minutes. I was slightly ahead, then went to make a dumb sports bet, and put $20 on the Rockies winning the World Series, which would pay out $1600, although of course that won’t happen.
  • Ate that night at Roy Choi’s Best Friend Korean BBQ restaurant at the Park MGM. Choi is the proprietor of the Kogi taco truck in LA, and this place is sort of a LA/hipster/Korean/Mexican joint. Decor is weird, looking like a liquor store in Koreatown, with the waitstaff all wearing track suits. Food was great – we all just did fixed menu and an endless array of different stuff came out, all excellent.
  • We had lunch at The Peppermill, which is always okay.
  • Brought Bill to the Boulevard Mall, the weirdo all-dead-anchors old mall, which now has a Goodwill as an anchor. Did a quick lap there, and it looked about the same as last year, except the Sears is now fully dead and stripped of logos. They’re supposedly stripping that out to open some little open-air mall next to the existing one.
  • Spent an afternoon taking a long walk through all the malls on the strip, then ate at Cabo Wabo for no other reason than gaming OpenTable of points. (Well, I like the nachos too, I guess.)
  • Drove out to Rachel, NV to see the Little A’le’Inn and extraterrestrial highway and all that. Stuck a Konrath sticker on the flying saucer in front of the Inn. Drove around “downtown” Rachel, which is more like 50 people living in trailers in the desert. Lots of old cars and broken-down stuff. Also found the black mailbox and got a Konrath sticker on that. And stopped at the Alien research center to buy books. They had Andrea’s dad’s book there, which was awesome.
  • Went to Meadows Mall, which is doing okay. Their Sears is also dead, but a Round One took over one floor of it. They have this new store called Curacao’s, which is interesting. It looks like a nicer Best Buy, but with a big toy department, furniture, jewelry, and cosmetics. Honestly, it looks like an alternate timeline where Wards somehow survived and actually updated their stores.
  • Went to UNLV because they have a copy of Dealer Wins in a special collection of Vegas gaming history books. I don’t know why I wanted to see a copy of my own book, especially since I have a half-dozen here, but it was neat. They have a very modern library, but it still reminds me of IU for some reason, which makes me horribly nostalgic, and everyone there looks like they are about twelve, so very strong “you can never go back” vibes, and I had to get the hell out of there.
  • There was really nothing to do that week as far as shows or comedians or anything. Although I know nothing about hockey, I probably should have gone to the hockey game, because for whatever reason, people are nuts there for the new hockey team.
  • Went to The Writer’s Block, which is a great little book store downtown. Bought a couple of books, and if you’re there, you should too, because we need more of this sort of thing.
  • Weather was about perfect for the trip. A little cold at night, maybe the sixties but going into the seventies in the day. Ideal walking weather, clear skies, a lot of sunshine, but no triple-digit weather.
  • The old Harley BBQ restaurant is now the most ghetto weed store imaginable.
  • They are putting a Target on the strip.
  • They renamed the Monte Carlo to the Park MGM. There is still an MGM Grand, so this is confusing.
  • The Sahara, which was the SLS last year, is now the Sahara again.
  • It was slightly quiet with the COVID scare, but not as bad as when I visited in October 2001.
  • Fuck resort fees. And fuck parking fees. And Vdara doesn’t even have a self-park garage. You either pay $30 a day to valet, or you pay $18 to self-park at the Aria, although the lot is on the far side of the Aria, so it’s a major hike.

Anyway, good trip. Pictures here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jkonrath/albums/72157713401785407

 

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