We’ve somehow stumbled our way from March to Memorial Day weekend, a holiday created to honor soldiers who died in war but also unabashedly celebrated as the line of demarcation for summertime fun.
School’s out. It’s vacation time, adventure time and the time to ease your foot off the gas pedal of work.
Oh wait, the coronavirus is still here.
This weekend’s parades for fallen military heroes are canceled. The Indy 500, the background music of more Lake Waco fish fries than I can count, has been postponed. Road trips are so rare that AAA opted to skip its driving forecast for what is usually one of the busiest weekends of the year.
So how will we approach this season of play — a summer unlike any we’ve ever experienced?
Even on the best days since this darn virus descended on North Texas, life has seemed like an interminable game of chicken: Waiting to see if your job will come back — or if it will go away. Waiting to see if you can go back to school in the fall. Waiting to see a vulnerable loved one behind an assisted living center’s locked doors.
Chances are you are among the decent, responsible folks who week after week have tried to count your blessings and remind yourself that — healthy and with food and shelter — you don’t have it as bad as a lot of people during this pandemic.
But cut yourself some slack: It’s OK if you are craving a vacation or thinking, “I would love to have just a little fun outside these four walls.”
I’m thinking the same thing — and we shouldn’t be ashamed of feeling that way, even if our worst complaint of the last three months is that we’re sick to death of Netflix.
Memorial Day is always our first “woohoo” salute to summer. Coinciding this year with Texas’ tentative reopening, the holiday also can be a way to celebrate some first steps out of our bear caves — if we can do so like responsible adults.
We know what the absolute safest way forward is: Stay home until the scientists perfect a vaccine.
But many of us who are healthy are ready to crawl out from under the rock. The question is how far to venture. There’s no consensus or protocol for how to journey through summer 2020. Everyone is looking for someone else to make the first move in determining exactly what is prudent.
Breathing in each other’s face? Not prudent. Super-sized weekend warehouse parties? Not prudent. All of us rushing to the lake this weekend and fighting for picnic-table space? Same.
It hasn’t escaped my attention that the reckless folks — some of whom are tubing with coolers and pals at this very moment on the Comal River — are having all the fun.
Tubers float the Comal River in New Braunfels Wednesday. As parks reopen following closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Texans are returning to the outdoors.(Eric Gay / AP)
For the rest of us, the way forward is confounding and the what-ifs are exhausting. The anxiety that boils from — pick any one — mask etiquette, public bathroom safety or polite ways to say “hey, back off,” can convince you pretty quickly that staying home is your best bet.
My only housemates through the pandemic have been cats Lila and Glory, both of whom are mostly interested in when I’m going back to the newsroom. Luckily, I can call up good friends who listen to my worries, especially when I’ve spent too much time alone in my head.
One of those friends is Gordon Keith, whom many of you know from KTCK SportsRadio 1310, The Ticket, and as a columnist who always has something profound to say.
Thinking about the unprecedented summer we are about to journey through, I was reminded of a column I always considered to be Gordon’s “ode to moderation.” His topic at the time was alcohol consumption — “chasing good times and navigating poor decisions.” But that same call for moderation and steadiness is strong medicine right now.
Just like the rest of us, Gordon mostly felt fear and anxiety in the early days of the pandemic. “But when the wheels came off, the whole world was forced to abruptly slow down,” he said. “That meant that maybe, just maybe I had a chance to catch up.”
And he has. “I eat a lot more meals at home. I take a lot more walks. I play a lot more board games,” he said. “In some ways, it feels like the way life should have been all along.”
Gordon expects this summer to be a strange, seductive time. “Vigilance, like enthusiasm, love and other virtues, always fades,” he told me the other day. “It’s especially hard to sustain when the enemy is something we can’t see and many have made an irritating sport of denying it exists.”
He’s all for having our summer fun — just at a couple arms’ lengths. “Let’s get inventive,” he said. “Market masks as ‘face bikinis’ and let’s all party like it’s 1918.’
Lewisville Lake boasts some of North Texas’ most infamous “party coves,” where boaters like to congregate. In this July 2013 photo, Denton County law enforcement patrolled one of the gathering spots.(David Minton / DRC)
Gordon’s right about the masks and social distancing. A vaccine is a long way off, so it’s up to us to learn to live and play safely amid a disease that, if not deadly for me or you, might be a killer for the person we unwittingly expose.
These are more than just hypotheticals for me. I’m taking my first week off since the start of the year and I have no idea what “vacation” will be. Maybe a day trip or two to hike in a state park.
My toughest time-off decision involves my beloved 89-year-old Aunt Lois, my mom-and-dad-rolled-into-one. Aunt Lois, who lives alone in Central Texas and has seen none of her tiny family since January, has been impatient for my visit for weeks.
When I finally relented and told her I might come — but only if we visit in her backyard and wearing our masks, she sighed loudly and informed me that the pandemic has made her life hardly worth living.
I’ve missed hugging a lot of people these last three months, and staying six feet apart from Aunt Lois will be hardest of all. But I refuse to let the coronavirus defeat my optimism, as illustrated by this recent clenched-fist moment.
The first weekend in March, amid final preparations for a small bridal dinner I hosted for a dear young friend, I realized that my fancy old flatware had lost quite a few spoons and forks over its many decades of service.
That dinner party marked my last moment of “pre-COVID-19” normalcy. Just a few days later, Friday the 13th, we were under siege. Claire and Austen would end up getting married, not in their long-planned New Orleans venue, but in their backyard in front of an audience of none.
Last week, I came across the inventory note reminding me of the lost flatware. Despite the uncertainty of these times muddying how long it will be before I ever need more than a single spoon, knife and fork, I place an online order for those missing pieces.
And then I got a haircut.
Gordon told me he too is looking to this new season with some anticipation — especially after he realized that he liked doing things differently when he couldn’t do them any other way.
“Give me a million social things to choose from, and I will sit at home and watch TV,” he said. “Tell me I can sit at home and watch TV, and I go for walks, smile at strangers and FaceTime with friends.”
When Gordon turns off the TV and lives a life of limited possibilities, he breathes easier. Same for me when I stay where my feet are rather than tightening against the future.
No doubt you too are trying to figure out how to travel through a first-of-its-kind summer. Stay safe. And if you try your hand at creating a face bikini, send pictures.