March 13th I was in the stands watching the Leander High Baseball team take on Cedar Park. It was a great night for a game. Big crowd, beautiful early spring weather, the guys were playing great. Then I heard something really unusual. One of the dads who worked at HEB grocery store was talking about people panicking and buying all of the toilet paper in the store, Was I hearing the right? I turned around and said, "Did you say toilet paper?"....
And so it began.
March 14th we had an outdoor gig at Hayes City Store. It was their anniversary celebration and we were playing for a large crowd. That morning we heard all kinds of information about "social distancing"... not hugging.. staying 6 feet apart. We saw a lot of friends that eve.. and it was very hard not to hug them. We stood pretty close to each other though... maybe for comfort, maybe in disbelief.
That day everything changed. Watching the news it was clear that life, as we knew it... would be very different for awhile.
We stayed home. We washed our hands. We wore our masks. We cancelled everything.. and everything was cancelled for us. After a while, we were in a groove. Peaceful walks, online concerts, online everything, really. Toilet paper was back on the shelves.. along with bleach, paper towels and anything "clean" related. Although, this time there was a 2 item limit.
Then, Texas opened up.
16 weeks after the shock and shutdown, we are seeing a 370% increase in Covid cases here in Texas. Parks are closed again for this holiday weekend...and perhaps indefinitely. Bars are closed... Parks and bars. Fun and Fun. Fun is cancelled for awhile. Boat ramps too. Museums, tennis courts, Stay home. Do not pass go.. do not collect any fireworks.
Then a Sahara Dust blew through. Perhaps it blew away the murder hornets that were hanging around a month ago.
Where to go when the world around you is closing in? Church? I am not sure if we can go to church yet. The gym? Kind of sketchy. A good walk? Well, the Sarah Dust makes it unsafe to exercise outside. I know.. we'll go to the beer garden down the street and hear some live music. That will make us feel better. Oh wait..
I guess we need to stay inside. I mean Real Inside. Like to our very hearts and souls. Meditate more. Pray more. Honor reading and writing and creating more. Garden more. 16 weeks wasn't enough time apparently, so here is more...time.
And when we are in the clear, if that time ever comes, we will meet at the park... or the bar... and awkwardly hug.
I have been walking a lot lately. It is good for my spirit and well, heck.. I really like to eat. So if I walk, I can eat chips. More chips, add a mile. I have been calling my walks " The Great Reward", rather than calling it exercise.
The Great Reward has been an interesting observation tool in the last 6 weeks. I changed up my route to accommodate more miles and a hill. I was a little too comfortable with my 3 mile route around the neighborhood, even though I enjoyed seeing some of the same folks out in their yards on my speed walking adventures. I think they started calling me "The Flash". It could be a compliment or could be a joke. Either way, I'm getting a cape.
One of the reasons I changed my route initially, was because our little city was becoming very crowded. The traffic was increasing day by day. The tension was palpable. I wasn't enjoying my walks.. I was merely slogging through. So I chose a different path.. and it was sweet. But not enough milage... and dang-it.. I was feeling the extra chipage.
Then all of life changed.
I really love my family. In order for them to keep loving me, I had to start walking more. I decided to take on the old route and hill. It was awesome. Very few cars.. and a LOT of walkers, runners, rollerbladers, jugglers. Ok, no jugglers, but once I did see a dude walking and juggling on the route. It was cool. Or maybe he was on a unicycle. Maybe he had a pony.. I can't quite remember the details, but I knew he was juggling. Another walker I would see consistently in the old hill days, was a gentleman most likely in his 80's. He had a beautiful steady pace and was always holding 2 pound weights. I hope he is still walking somewhere. Haven't seen him for awhile. Maybe he changed routes too.
With all of us sheltering in place, yet still allowed to get outside and exercise, it created this lovely scene. More people than ever (since we have lived here) were out with their families. They left their cars at home...because, really... where would you go? It felt like a tiny Utopia for a few weeks. The Great Reward was paying dividends. Got to listen to awesome podcasts, wave to the families, get my miles in and then eat chips. The serotonin boost that comes with the walk is an extra bonus too. When mama is happy... well, you know the rest.
THEN y'all.. last week happened. The people were restless... they were given a little more leeway... and what did they do? They got back in their cars. Well, some had to get back in their cars. But some didn't. But now they were not on the hill. And there was a lot more traffic in Utopia. And that kind of made me sad.
I can feel the vibration changing. Folks are ready to get back to work or back to a kind of normal. It has been a huge sacrifice staying home. Some people's business' and lives will be forever changed. We can only pray that things will rebound peacefully, healthfully and soulfully for all.
For a moment though, we could sit in our backyard in the middle of the Austin Texas suburbs and hear, well, nothing. The stars, moon, planets seemed brighter. The birds in the morning... oh Glory!! In the midst of flattening the curve, we experienced Peace and Tranquility. Gifts of the quarantine, I guess.
Maybe we could keep the peace for a little while longer. Maybe we could create a Conscious Quarantine, once we are allowed to roam free. Wouldn't it be cool if we started honoring Sundays again? Or any other day of the week, for that matter. Maybe a Tuesday. Yeah.. Take off Tuesdays. Or Work From Home Wednesdays. Thursdays are too close to the weekend and kind of give that air of "It's Almost Here".. Fridays are the weekend.. and Mondays are a necessity for us to get things moving. So I vote Tuesday or Wednesday.
Keep the cars home. Sing along with the birds. Find some stars. Walk some hills. Meet some neighbors. Take up juggling. Buy a cape.
below: The Great Reward.. with no traffic. A wee miracle.
I woke up early on Monday to stand in line at the grocery store. Got there at 6:45... in the fog... before the sun. We all stood 6 feet apart, waiting for the doors to open so we could all sprint to the paper goods aisle. Doors flew open, the manager welcomed us, the flag was dropped and the race was on. All of us in our 40's or 50's speed walking to aisle 6. When the first person got there, we could all tell that there were no goods to be had, so we all kind of casually turned down the other rows, acting like we actually came in for baby formula or light bulbs.
No paper. I have not purchased tp in about 3 weeks. My husband was lucky enough to stumble upon a 6 pack at Walgreens. In the afternoon, at that! That was like discovering gold during the gold rush. It was a sweet victory for the suburbs. He came home like he had won a major award... and truly, he did. It reminds me of going to a pond and feeding the fish or the ducks. Throw a little piece of bread in the water and if you are one of the lucky ones to be close, or just happen to be there when we walked up, you win! But, whatever you do, do not put your hand close to the beaks. Do not try to beat Ms. Pinky Sweatpants to Aisle 6 on a Monday morning either. You could get your hand bit... or at least pecked at. I was going to let her take alllll of the good tp.. and we would take the cheap, scratchy, recycled almost passing for tp, 1 ply. I was kind of grateful to see the disappointment on her face, even though we came up empty handed. I think I bought whatever was on the shelf in the next aisle...pickles or something like that, just to make the waking up worth it. She, on the other hand, huffed and puffed and left. Good. Take your pink negative energy to the next lucky store. She probably has a garage full of Cottenelle.
Everyone else was delightful. Laughing at our circumstances, kind to the cashiers and the manager, grab a few things and go. The shelves looked sad. The produce looked pretty good. I think people are buying comfort food and throwing their diets to the wind. Hell, they can't go and work out, why should they eat well? I was surprised at the bounty of green.
When I walked out to my car, no one was standing in line to get in. They perhaps had experienced this last week and decided to just to chance it, coming in at 7:15... they were the smart ones. Leisurely driving through the lifted fog, easily parking their SUV's, sauntering through the parking lot, sanitizing their carts and totally avoiding the produce section. They didn't even bother turning on their blinker to turn left on 6. They drove right past it to the frozen section, where they could fill their super sanitized baskets with tater tots, frozen pizza and something the store folks found in the forgotten freezers in the way back of the walk-in from Christmas. Pie crust or something like that.
Do you remember the Nematode episode of Sponge Bob? Where he invited all of his Nematode friends over for a party and they ate and destroyed everything? That was the store.
It felt a little third world-ish, in sight and in desperation. I guess we are all dealing with this the best way we know how. Some folks need the pie crust and some folks need pickles. Some folks are kind and some are huffy. Some wear gloves and masks and some wear their pj's. There isn't a lot of joy in the grocery lately. I remember the good ol days (4 weeks ago) , when I would get a coffee from Starbucks, grab a dirty hand basket, clean it casually with the abundant wipes, take a squirt of the free hand sanitizer (because what if someone had a cold who used it before me?) skip blissfully through the wine, bakery, fish, meat and yes.. the paper goods section... feeling free and fine.
Makes me appreciate those carefree moments. The simplicity and ease of our lives. The kindness of the employees and the glorious blessing of good health.
May your aisles be filled with paper towels and no one having to wear gloves to shop. May your pie crusts be few and your eggs be many. May you and yours be surrounded by sunshine and freshest of fruit. May we all be able to stop in the aisles and talk, even if it's with Miss Sweatpants.
May we all be blessed.
I met Rick when I worked at Bobby McGees Restaurant in Burbank, California. I think it was around 1989. I started working for Bobby McGees in Brea (North Orange County) ... June of 1986, right after I failed miserably in the Miss California Pageant. I was pretty blue wondering what to do next, now that my pageant days were over. I was the ripe old age of 21. I did win Miss Congeniality though.. and still have the silver bowl to prove it. I keep it around to remind myself to stand up straight, hold my shoulders back and suck in my stomach. My dad knew that I needed something to do.. or was tired of footing the sequins bill... so shortly after I returned home with my winning bowl, he had left a "want ad" out on the kitchen table for me that said "Do You Sing, Act or Dance?" "Can you wait tables at the same time?" Or something to that effect. Bobby McGees was hiring. Perfect for a college student who had dreams of being some kind of performer. At Bobby McGees, you got to dress up in costumes, act a fool and make some money. It was a hot spot for family celebrations and it was always packed. The bar that was attached to the restaurant was a totally different vibe... a 1980's nightclub vibe, where the cocktail servers wore high heels and tiny tuxedos. People could order drinks that came in mini bathtubs, sinks and toilets. Good times.
I "auditioned" and got the job at Bobby McGees. I loved it. I loved everyone I worked with. I worked there for 3 years and made some life-long friends. Eventually I transferred to the Burbank store, because I wanted to live close to LA... where dreams supposedly came true.
Here I met some serious characters. In Brea, most of the servers were college students working at the restaurant until they received their degrees, then moving on to reasonable jobs with 401 k's and a retirement plan. There were a few of us performers ... and we quickly learned that if you were serious, you had to be close to the action. Close to LA... not Orange County, where the Brea store was. In Burbank, I met actors, dancers, comedians, singers, writers, photographers, musicians and even a few clowns. Real clowns. Not scary mini-bike parade clowns... These clowns were the real deal. It felt like I had found my tribe. Not a clown tribe, but a tribe of misfits. We were all trying to make sense of our gifts & passions and what to do with them. Most of us were in our 20's, unmarried & did not have children. It was a highly competitive town and Bobby McGees was a friendly oasis for those who landed there.
Rick Spector was in one of the training classes soon after I had begun working in Burbank. I was a seasoned McGees waiter by then... knowing all the ropes. He and I became fast friends. Me, a Catholic girl singer from Wisconsin & California....Rick a Jewish kid from the suburbs of Philly. He. Was. Funny. Like, naturally, brilliantly, funny. He was a big, funny comedian with the most tender heart. His comedy was pure. He took his studies & his comedy seriously...so seriously that when he lost 100 pounds, he thought he lost his funny. He put most of the weight back on slowly (and unintentionally)...and he felt that his funny came back. (so maybe not unintentionally)
It was a grand circus working at McGees. Rick told me that those were some of the best years of his life. They were life affirming, for sure. Food service and customers aside.. this was Soul School. It was a creatively rich time, wild time, supportive time, We all worked hard, laughed constantly and became the best of friends. Rick was featured on a couple of tv shows, was in a comedy troop and took all kinds of acting classes. I believe he was one more audition away from making a great living as a comedic actor. He had one thing we didn't though... a desire to return home. He was married to the most wonderful woman.. and they wanted children.
I remember how selfishly mad I was when Rick said he was moving home. I couldn't imagine someone with this tremendous gift was going to "just give up". He was so close. He was so close. "Close to what?" he would say. But he was also so tired and ready for something more meaningful. Ellen and Rick returned home to be near to family and friends.. It was the right choice, for sure. They made a beautiful life back in Pennsylvania.
We stayed in touch throughout the years, life changes and miles. Rick starred in local musicals and plays while he worked his day job. He and Ellen raised 2 awesome kids. He would remind me often to not let life pass me by... and to think about having kids. He said that his children and his wife were his deepest loves. He said that he was my biggest fan. He said that I was like his country Barbara Streisand. That was a high compliment. He loved Barbara. He would always ask me to sing "Darlin'" to him... a tune that I used to sing back in our Bobby McGees days. I would remember about 1/4 of it and he would tell me to study and call him back when I was ready.
When we talked, even if a month or three had gone by, it seemed like just a day. We would pick our conversation seamlessly where we left off. We talked about angels a lot. God. Souls. Our kids. Our partners. The song "Porchlight", that was on one of my CD's, was another one of his favorites. We talked about death and what we think happens after we leave. In the last couple of years, Rick talked about death a lot. I would brush it off and go onto some other subject like Michael Buble or Judy Garland to get him off the subject. He said that he wasn't feeling great these days. He was still funny. He had a long list of health issues, none that I really thought would take him down at 58. He tried to warn me... even when I saw him 2 years ago at a house concert, he said an ominous goodbye. I thought he was just being dramatic.
Rick's last message on my phone went something like this: "Hey T, I wanted to say that I love you and I am in Hospice. I don't have much longer, and would love to talk". His breathing was labored and he sounded weak. I called immediately. I said, "What the Hell, Rick? What kind of message was that?" He said, "I wanted to make sure you called me back". He made me laugh. Even at his worst, he made me laugh.
Rick passed away about a week after I spoke with him, surrounded by his beautiful family. I called and sang to him twice. My friend Ron & I were practicing for an upcoming gig so we called and played "I'll be Seeing You". The last time I sang to Rick, I sang "Darlin". Again, I could not remember the words. Which maybe this time was ok.
On my walks I talk to him. I tell him that I pray for his family. I tell him that I will keep singing. I tell him thank you, thank you, for encouraging me to not take the business so seriously and think about having a family.
I hope he is singing with Judy Garland, hanging out with his folks, rehearsing sketches with his friend Dave.
Say hi to Charlie for me, Rick. You'll make him laugh too.