disasters, modern problems, technology, transportation, travel

Get back on the bus, Russ?

This morning, I read an article in The New York Times indicating that many people have quit using trains and buses in cities around the world. Ridership has gone so low that there’s concern that public transportation systems will fail and there will be many related disasters. One of the biggest worries is that there will be a severe effect on the environment, since more people will be driving their own cars. I expect that with more people opting for private transport, there will also be bigger traffic jams and less available parking. However– I don’t think that consequence will happen unless life gets totally back to normal, if and when the pandemic ever ends.

As I read the article about how cities around the world are grappling with the low numbers of fare paying travelers and governments are having to bail out bus and train systems, I couldn’t help but shake my head in wonder. It seems like it would only be natural that people aren’t wanting to use public transportation right now. Here’s a list of reasons:

  1. Most of us have been instructed NOT to travel unless we must.
  2. Many people are working from home, which eliminates the need to commute (and is probably better for the environment, too). Where I live, most businesses are closed, so why would I go anywhere?
  3. Who wants to ride in close quarters with a bunch of strangers, some of whom aren’t practicing social distancing or wearing proper masks?
  4. Who wants to ride on a bus having a bunch of people watching your every move and giving you the stinkeye if you aren’t wearing a mask the way they think you should?
  5. Isn’t it nicer not having to smell other people’s farts or halitosis? How about vomit, urine, poop, smoke, or booze? Or not being smushed standing up on a bus while some yucky guy cops a feel? That happened to me more than once in Armenia, where the buses would be filled until people were literally almost hanging off of them.

To me, it makes perfect sense that fewer people are taking public transportation. I think there are a lot of reasons why they aren’t using it. Some people, who were once bus or train riders, have opted to buy a car. According to the article, used car sales are up, and so are their prices. But some people are walking or riding bikes instead of using public transportation. Isn’t that a good thing, both for their health and the environment? Riding a bike is pretty low impact in terms of causing air pollution. So is walking.

The article makes it sound like the world will end if people don’t get back on the bus. And, I guess, if everyone suddenly starts driving a car instead of getting back on the bus, there could be serious problems. Mass transit systems are valuable sources of employment; they cost money to maintain, and they provide an efficient way of moving people that eliminates the need for parking spaces or sitting in traffic jams. However, more people than ever are working from home. Quite a few folks find that they like working from home and their employers are discovering that working from home is a viable option. They have lower overhead, the employee can handle minor personal business, and there’s no need for a commute. That means the employee can potentially sleep a little longer in the morning and maybe doesn’t have to spend as much money on work clothes or gas.

I read some of the comments about this article. So many people were writing that they don’t want to ride public transportation because they are concerned about anti-maskers spreading diseases. But there are probably just as many people who find riding on public transportation with militant mask enforcers just as unpleasant. I would rather ride privately in a car to avoid both types of people– the ones who don’t comply with the rules and engage in racist tirades, and the ones who act like mask cops and pay their kids to publicly call out rule breakers.

I have repeatedly stated that I won’t be willingly flying or cruising anywhere until the pandemic is under control, and I don’t have to be forced to wear a mask for hours while sitting in a cramped seat, being surveilled by flight attendants and other passengers after I’ve also been groped by airport security and had my bags searched. That just doesn’t sound pleasant to me, even as I understand why masks are important. I simply don’t want to spend money on that experience. For that reason, we’ll drive if and when we can travel. Mrs. Merkel did decide not to do the “hard” lockdown for Easter, but as it stands right now, most places I would want to go to aren’t taking visitors anyway.

I think, ultimately, the answer to this problem is mass vaccination and changing the way we do things. It sucks, although I do think that some of the changes could turn out to be positive. The article in The New York Times predicts disaster if the public transportation systems fail. But if people stop traveling so much for work and leisure, it seems to me that there could be a positive effect on the climate. If more people are able to work from home instead of clogging up the roads every day at rush hour, that could mean less air and noise pollution and less wear and tear on the road systems. And if people refuse to get with the program and get back on the bus as it is now, then perhaps the systems will evolve so that they are more appealing for riders. Hell… maybe more car manufacturers and municipalities will embrace electric cars instead of gas fed ones. That would be good for the environment and reduce noise pollution somewhat.

One thing I have noticed since we moved to Wiesbaden and live close to two Autobahns is that I can really hear the traffic here– both from the massive roads and the flights coming in to Frankfurt. One thing our homes in BW had over our home here is that it was a lot quieter (at least when the landlady wasn’t yelling at me about something).

I did think this article in The New York Times was interesting reading. If you have access to the NYT, I do recommend reading it for a look at how public transit systems around the world are coping, as people have stopped moving around as much. I think the people working in that industry are going to have to come up with creative and cost effective ways to make the system more attractive to riders. And that will mean they might have to consider why people are opting not to ride the bus or the train and adapt as necessary.

I can state that when I lived in Yerevan, public transportation was not comfortable. Riders were expected to cram in as much as possible, and it was not pleasant or safe. Today, I would imagine those buses that used to be stuffed to the gills with passengers are not so much, thanks to COVID-19. But in the 90s, when there wasn’t a pandemic, I remember having my crotch and my breasts explored by someone’s hands as I was mashed up against a stranger who hadn’t bathed in awhile (due to a lack of running or hot water in those days).

Public transport in Germany, pre-pandemic, was generally not that extreme, but I do remember some really crowded rides on the U-Bahn or city trains in Stuttgart. I remember there not being enough seats and almost falling on my face as the trains moved, because I had to stand in the aisle. Believe me, I have had my fill of public transportation. It’s a necessity for cities to have it available, but honestly, if you can arrange your own transport, why wouldn’t you? At least you have a say in how you will ride without having to deal with other people’s bullshit or bad behavior.

Even flying is less attractive these days. I remember how, about five years ago, a young pilot on Germanwings (now Eurowings) decided to kill himself and everyone else on the plane because he was so depressed. He deliberately crashed the plane and killed 150 people. Given how deadly COVID-19 is as it’s begun to mutate, perhaps the odds are becoming riskier for public transport users. Maybe 150 people on a bus won’t die because of COVID-19 spread, but for those who get the illness, it could mean long term disability and a permanent change of lifestyle.

Incidentally, my comments on not wanting to spend money to ride planes, trains, buses, or cruises don’t mean that I’m an “anti-masker”, either. I do follow the rules. A person can agree with the necessity for wearing masks, yet still hate the goddamned things and do what they can to avoid having to wear them. My need to travel is not so great that I have to get with the program, but I understand that I write from a place of extreme privilege. I know most people don’t have the choices I have. My point is, nowadays, since there is a pandemic, one really does take his or her life in their hands when one uses public transportation. City transportation experts should probably consider that, and act and change accordingly.

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An unusual Easter…

Today is Easter Sunday, which is a day many people typically spend in church. Or, at least they spend an hour or two in church, celebrating Christ’s rise from the grave. This year, we have a global pandemic going on, and people are being asked not to congregate. Many wise people are following this advice and staying home. Some people are worshipping remotely, using the power of the Internet to connect with religion. Some are having church at home with family members. And then there are people like me, who aren’t particularly religious and won’t spend much time thinking about Christ today.

Easter has become kind of a special holiday for Bill and me, mainly because it was Easter 2000 when he and his ex wife drove to a notary public in Tennessee and signed their divorce papers, which were later filed in Arkansas. Ex hadn’t actually meant to get divorced. She’d stupidly issued an ultimatum– as Captain Lee on Below Deck would say, “her mouth wrote a check that her ass couldn’t cash”. But rather than admit that she’d done something really stupid… which actually wasn’t all that stupid in the grand scheme of things… she stubbornly allowed Bill to take her by the hand, lead her to the car, and drive to the older couple’s house, where they began their divorce proceedings.

I’ve always thought of that moment as the day Bill’s life was resurrected. Things only got better for him once he and his ex wife split up. Sure, he went through some hard times, but at least he was with someone trustworthy… himself. And he had already met me online when this was going on, so a year later, we were able to meet in person. And now look at us. We don’t mind the social isolation, because we enjoy each other’s company immensely. We still have a good time talking, listening to music, eating, drinking, watching TV, and laughing at each other’s jokes.

A lot of people are not content to stay home today. I’ve read about it in the news. Some stubborn folks– much like delusional ex– have decided they’re going to going to go to church. I read one account of a pastor who expects 2000 people filling his pews today. Reverend Tony Spell of Baton Rouge, Louisiana is conducting business as usual at his Apostolic Life Tabernacle Church, despite the governor’s stay-at-home order. He says “Satan and a virus won’t stop us.” Spell adds, “Like any zealot or like any pure religious person, death looks to them like a welcome friend. True Christians do not mind dying. They fear living in fear.” I think the real reason these folks want to have such huge Easter services has to do with money. As one astute friend cynically pointed out, Easter is like the church’s “black Friday”. This is a time of year when people make donations. So what if some of them get sick and die?

Up in Idaho, Ammon Bundy, a rancher who made news in Oregon by leading an armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge, is up to his old tricks. Fed up with the government telling him what to do, he’s now leading a “liberty rebellion”, calling upon others to ignore Governor Brad Little’s orders to stay at home. Bundy says that a group in the Boise area was looking for a venue to host an Easter service today with a potential crowd of 1,000 people. He said a man in Twin Falls plans to host communion in a park. Bundy himself holds regular meetings with scores of people to decide how to fight back against what he considers government overreach.

Meanwhile, last night I read about some very sorry people who spent time at Florida’s beaches last month. They were dancing, drinking, bonging beer, getting some sun, passing out hand sanitizer, and now a lot of them are sick with COVID-19. As of last night, there were 38 people who from one group who had gotten the virus and a couple of them have died. And again, as of last night, Florida itself has over 17,000 COVID-19 cases, and of those about 400 people have died. It’s true that most people who get the virus aren’t going to die from it. They might not even get very sick. But those who are at a higher risk will no doubt suffer more, and some will wind up on respirators in intensive care units, where the chances of leaving without a body bag are very slim. I almost wonder if some people, when faced with the prospect of being on a respirator, won’t just take matters into their own hands and avoid the huge hospital bills.

I can’t really blame those folks in Florida, though. I remember what it was like to be young and relatively poor. When I was in my 20s, I had no money for trips to Florida. I never took a “fun” spring break trip in high school or college. I think if I had spent money on a long awaited trip to Florida and a virus came along, I might be tempted to risk it. People in their 20s often think they’re invincible anyway. I can see why so many people thought this virus wasn’t a big deal. They live in the United States, and a month ago, it seemed like the risk was just in far away places like Italy and China. It didn’t seem like a tsunami of respiratory disease was on its way. Spring was coming; deposits were paid; people wanted to party. Some of them are now paying the price.

I do hope that things get back to somewhat normal soon. I would hate to spend the rest of my life living this way, even though Bill and I get along so well. I do think this pandemic could change a lot of things in the future. Some people will come out on top. Some will make the ultimate sacrifice. I’m reminded of an old George Carlin quote from about 20 years ago, when he made his album, Jammin in New York. He was taking on all of those people who think they can control the Earth, and trying to “save” everything. In his routine, Carlin rightly points out that humans can’t control nature. And trying to control nature is what gets us into trouble. Carlin says the Earth has been here for billions of years and has been through a lot worse than human beings. He compared human beings to a bad case of fleas. The Earth will shake us off. The planet isn’t going anywhere… we are. Shit… Carlin even mentions viruses, and how difficult they are to control or eradicate. Yeah… he was way ahead of his time. Wonder what he’d think of the coronavirus.

Maybe all this social isolation really is pointless. But this isn’t about preventing people from being exposed to COVID-19. It’s more about making it so that not so many people are sick at the same time. I don’t think it’s a good idea to go to church today. Luckily, I wouldn’t be going anyway.

Maybe he was right.

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Yall [sic] suck!

Facebook went a bit wonky last night, and a bunch of people got perfectly innocuous posts reported as spam. A lady in a group I follow– Tidewater Flashback– got pissed off because one of her posts was flagged. She had the above comment, then left another one in which she protested being “reported”. For the life of me, I don’t see why people ask to be “removed” from any Facebook group. You can remove yourself with little fanfare. As one person wrote, “It’s not an airport. You don’t have to announce your departure.” In any case, this lady was probably the victim of a common Facebook SNAFU and had a couple of her posts “reported” by bots.

It’s an epidemic.

Two of my posts were reported, too. One was a news article about huge, wealthy corporations not wanting to offer sick pay, and the other was about museums around the world that are offering virtual tours. No, they weren’t “spam”, but I guess since everyone is online right now because they’re stuck at home, Facebook will continue to have problems. I noticed that at least one of the “spam” posts is still visible, but they’d been up for a few days, anyway.

As I keep reading about Facebook’s foul ups, I remind myself that Facebook has way more power than it deserves. Maybe it’s time some of us logged off of it and found a better way to occupy ourselves. Personally, I’ve just gotten hooked on the show, 9-1-1, starring Angela Basset and Jennifer Love Hewitt. I wasn’t that impressed with it when I first started watching, but it’s gotten better and now I’m hooked. I feel a little guilty watching TV, when I could be reading Keith Richards’ life story. But I’m even doing that electronically, since I downloaded it on the Kindle app.

Once again, I’m reminded of how dependent we’ve become on electronics for entertainment. There was a time when, in a situation like this, families would come together and bond. Or, at least I’d like to think they did. For all I know, this was a disastrous situation for them, too. I just noticed a headline about how this forced social distancing could wind up being disastrous for domestic violence victims. Abuse victims are isolated enough when things are normal. Now that everyone is being asked to avoid being in close contact with strangers and stay at home, it really could be a dangerous situation for people who are being abused by their partners or their parents.

Hmm…

On the other hand, I’ve also read that even a few weeks of less tourism has been great for the environments in China and Italy. Venice, in particular, is cleaning up nicely. Maybe this is a prime opportunity for us to learn about each other, and about the world in general. This is a time we’re being forced to slow down and adapt our usually hyperkinetic lifestyles to one that is health promoting. Maybe there will be time for couples to get closer and children to discover new things about their siblings and parents. Some people will probably become parents because of this situation.

Some folks might really use their time wisely and pick up a new skill. I wish I had a guitar. Maybe I’d take the time to pick up a few chords. I suppose I could order one. Maybe I will, if this social distancing thing drags on for many months.

Recently, I’d been thinking about giving up my blogs and doing something else with my time. I wondered if it was worthwhile to keep writing. But then it occurred to me that even though I had to start my blog over last year, people still read it. And while I know that not all of my readers actually like what I do, a lot of them do appreciate my efforts. Now that people are stuck at home, there will be folks looking for things to occupy their time. Some might even read blogs like mine. Or not.

This coronavirus stuff hasn’t really changed my life, except that Bill is now teleworking. So actually, my lifestyle is more social than it was a couple of weeks ago. Usually, I don’t have close interactions with anyone, including Bill. He works and takes business trips, and I hang out with the dog. But I have a lot of friends who have lost their work because of the forced isolation. One friend, a sommelier in Washington, DC, lost his job just after coming home from Germany, where he was completing some hands on work for a winemaking degree. Anyone who can’t work from home is screwed, and this will really put a strain on a lot of businesses. I thank God Bill can work from home and I no longer depend on restaurant work to pay my bills.

I was telling Bill this morning that I hope that what seems like an “extreme” overreaction to the coronavirus will slow down its spread and allow healthcare workers a chance to catch up on getting people well. The sooner we slow down the virus, the sooner things will get back to normal. But if people keep passing it around, the situation will only become much worse. I read one scary thread on RfM written by a woman who has had the virus and now fears that she has permanent lung damage.

One other thing that is being impacted by this situation, is that we’re hoping to adopt a new dog. We haven’t yet made the final arrangements as to how we’re going to collect him, should the rescue ultimately decide we’re worthy. Apparently, overnight stays in German hotels are currently verboten if they’re not business related. I’m not sure if fetching a new dog is considered “business”. Money will be changing hands, and it would only be for a night. He’s in Hamburg, and that is about five hours from where we live. We don’t really want to go up and back in one day. That would be pretty stressful. I would like to have him here, though, because the timing would be excellent. Bill will be around, and we’ll have the ability to break him into the family faster than we might otherwise. A new dog would be an excellent spring project for all of us, especially Arran.

I suppose if the new dog doesn’t work out, we can work on the garden. Maybe we’ll plant some vegetables, since one of the crepe myrtles in the backyard died last year. I don’t know why it died. It was green a year ago and now it’s definitely dead. We cut some of the branches and used them for kindling. Now we have a small plot that can be turned into a tiny garden spot with full sun. And I also bought Bill a bunch of books about making cocktails. He can test them out while we enjoy our fenced in yard and neverending music from Siri.

I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t buy a bunch of concert tickets this year. Looks like it’s going to be a strange time for all of us…

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