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Press Talk: Play it again, Stan

Editor Emeritus Lou Brancaccio and his wife, Maley, have been sheltering in place at their Florida winter home since March 13. This is the second part of their journey. The first part appeared on Saturday.

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. March 20: My wife, Maley, enjoys learning, so she has an app that sends her a “word of the day.” Today it’s “stir-crazy: Restless or frantic because of confinement.” Coincidence? I think not.

I need to fulfill my promise to Pat Jollota. Pat is a Vancouver fixture, always there, always helpful. But she’s been isolating and tells her Facebook friends she’s feeling it. I offer some low-rent entertainment: a video of me juggling while singing “Born to be Wild.” It’s a poignant song for today’s world crisis: “Like a true nature’s child, we were born, born to be wild, I can climb so high, I never wanna die.” Pat’s response? “Thoughts and prayers go out to Maley, who had to film that.” She kids! I think.

It’s difficult to forget that this all could have been so much different if our political leaders would have been proactive rather than reactive, especially our commander in chief. If he had made the difficult decision early on to lock down this country for two weeks, life would be very different today. Instead, the struggle continues. I can’t get this out of my mind.

In nine days, U.S. coronavirus cases have gone from 1,215 — the day I first posted my shelter-in-place challenge — to 18,747.

March 22: We’re on our front porch, where we often spend hours. A beautiful cardinal sings. Maley names him Stan. (Baseball fans will get it.) Stan perches on the railing. And sings. And sings. I’m mesmerized. Normally humans are free, and the bird is caged. In today’s reality humans are cooped up, and the bird is free. Play it again, Stan.

Look, we’re all in quite the pickle today but I’ve got a buddy who REALLY is in a pickle, and he’s pretty sour about it. It’s Danny, our pickle monger. Maley loves his half-sours and we often walk down to the farmers market just to buy them. When the market closed, we ran out of half-sours. And Danny ran out of luck. Now my first impression is “Hey, welcome to the club.” But after talking with him — well — think about it. We are keeping grocery stores open, right? And what do farmers markets sell? Food.

Today, there’s no ban on farmers markets in Florida and Danny says nearby cities still have them. But not Punta Gorda. Something very similar– I’m told — is going on in Vancouver. Its farmers market is being told not to open but others in the area will be selling.

I can only assume it’s a crowd-control issue. Hey, why not set up appointments? Let people born in January come from 9 to 10 a.m. At 10, tell January to leave and let in February, and so on. Sound crazy? Crazy times call for crazy ideas.

That evening, Gov. Jay Inslee gets on TV. He tells Washingtonians it’s time to shelter-in-place. He says something about stay home and be healthy. At least he’s making it an order. A few days earlier he was pleading with his flock to stay at home. Not gonna work.

The governor can’t be like the dad pleading with his 16-year-old son to not drive because the kid’s high on something. Take the keys, point your finger in your son’s face and say, “This isn’t a request, this is an order! You’ll thank me later when you’re still alive.”

Look, I like Inslee a lot. He was doing great early on in this mess. And he’s back on track now. But he got weak-kneed when it mattered. President Trump has been even worse. And he is yet to get on track. People are dying.

We should support our leaders during times of crisis but we can never — never — forget they must also be held accountable. OK, my rant is over.

Coronavirus cases: 33,404.

March 25: Waking up this morning brings the anticipation of a break in our daily routine: Groceries.

We use a delivery app now. No more store visits. Throughout the morning Maley looks at the list, trying to figure out if we should add anything. You can always add something, right? I had realized a day ago we still had some smoked wild summer chinook — from our fishmonger in Ridgefield — in the freezer here.

There’s only one way to eat this good stuff: with cream cheese, diced red onion and capers on a cracker of your choice. Those ingredients go on the list.

Then the waiting game begins, because as you know, today there is no guarantee you’ll get everything you want.

At 1 p.m. we get a message our shopper has begun filling our order. If we choose we can follow along. Maley does so with excitement. I listen to her.

“He’s got cauliflower! Now he’s got the navel oranges! Broccoli is in the cart! Now the bananas! The Life cereal is in.”

But I sense something is wrong. “Wait,” I yell. “He’s leaving the produce department and he didn’t pick up the green peppers! What’s going on with the green peppers?” I was so looking forward to eating stuffed green peppers.

Maley quickly texts our shopper: “What about the peppers?”

Waiting for his answer is borderline tortuous … for me. Then Maley smiles. “He says they were out but they’re restocking them right now!”

I’m relieved but question his decision to move along to other items. “What if he gets back to the produce department and they’re gone again?”

We wait. My nerves are on edge. Finally, the word comes. “He’s got the peppers! He went back and got the peppers!”

Hey, don’t judge me.

Coronavirus cases: 68,440.

March 26: Many of my friends know I was religiously tracking my (and Maley’s) movements during our sheltering in place and posting them as a Facebook blog. It was a lot like writing 14 Press Talk columns in a row. On Day 14 of the blog I decide to begin with this quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Where do you stand?

Coronavirus cases: 85,356.

April 1: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis finally orders residents to shelter in place. Like so many politicians he was way too slow. Because we spend our winters in Florida his actions are as equally important to us as Gov. Inslee’s actions.

As we begin to go down the endless list of exemptions to sheltering in place, you begin to see just how incompetent governments can be. DeSantis, for example, lists churches and firing ranges as essential and allows them to stay open. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

Coronavirus cases: 213,144.

April 3: I’m up early, trying to finish this column and as I’m stumbling around I drop my reading glasses. Before they even hit the tile floor I’m transported to a “Twilight Zone” episode, “Time Enough to Last.” It’s about a man who never has time to read, but after disaster strikes he finds himself alone in a post-apocalyptic world, surrounded by books. Then a second disaster strikes him. He breaks his reading glasses.

Without my reading glasses, I’m sort of like that guy. Normally these are not things one worries about. But — like the “Twilight Zone” guy — I again find myself anxious because these are not normal times. Fortunately, my glasses survive the fall. Unfortunately, with or without the glasses I cannot clearly see the future.

Normally, we would be planning our return trip to Vancouver. We are ready to see our Northwest friends and visit our Northwest favorite places. But as I write this we have no idea when it will be safe to travel. What if we can’t get back soon? We would miss Beaches’ yummy Beach House Salad. We would miss getting over to Mill Creek Pub in Battle Ground (now temporarily closed) for the flash-fried brussels sprouts. We would miss our Salmon Creek neighbors saying “Hi” when we walk. We would miss the summer bocce ball tournament the Mains/Lynch families hold.

I know things won’t end like that “Twilight Zone” episode. We will weather this storm. We will make it through to the other side.

I just want to see the light. No glasses necessary for that.

When we began this sheltering in place journey a few short weeks ago the Coronavirus count was less than 2,000. Today we’re at around 240,000.


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