Don’t go breakin’ my heart…

My home state of Maryland is moving swiftly towards ending the last of the COVID-19 related business closures. Now we’ll be able to go to the movies and concerts in addition to bars, restaurants, and retail establishments. It’s surely good news if you’re dependent on any of those businesses to make your living. Personally, it’ll still be a good, long time before I take advantage of most of these reborn opportunities.

I’ve never been what one might call “social,” but I can’t think of anything I’d rather do less during a plague year than sit in a movie theater for a few hours, belly up to the local bar, or go out for a long, lingering meal at a neighborhood restaurant. I wasn’t terribly keen on it in the before time and I’m even less so now that as many as one in twenty could be walking around blowing the plague out of their face holes.

Other people, I’m sure, will be happy to do those things. They’re welcome to it… as long as they keep the hell away from me afterwards. Though I don’t suppose that’s much of a break from my usual approach on interacting with people.

Fortunately, the bookstores and junk shops that I tend to haunt aren’t generally hotbeds of activity. Their few, but loyal clientele are well versed in avoiding other consumers. We were doing it well before anyone was worried about the Great Plague. Who knows, maybe while everyone else is busy going to movies and loading in to bars and restaurants during this long holiday weekend, I may even try to sneak in a visit to pick out a few new (old) books or find a hidden gem buried among shelves of junk… or I could just make a pre-dawn supply run and head on back to the house for four days on interrupted peace and quiet. Neither course of action would break my heart.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. EZ Pass. Every month I check my Maryland EZ Pass statement. Every month I find at least one mistake – usually a toll charged at full rate when I’ve already paid the flat fee for the year option and had it coded on the transponder. Every month I go through the process of logging in, filling out the dispute form, and then watching the account periodically to make sure the right multiple of $8 per incident is refunded back to my account. Individually, it’s not the kind of thing that’s a big deal, but since it’s happening month, after month, after month, like interest, the annoyance compounds.

2. Pants. A million years ago at the beginning of my career I wore a suit or a minimum of coat at tie to the office just about every day. It was DC and that was the standard. Slowly though, I abandoned the suit or coat, but grudgingly stuck with the tie and long sleeves. In a pinch I kept a sports coat in my cube that I could press into service in extremis. Eventually, I abandoned the tie and long sleeves, too… introducing my personal “five star” rule – that no meeting that included any less than five “stars” in the room justified wearing a tie. The ghost of Eisenhower or Marshall rated a tie, two three stars rated a tie, three two stars rated a tie, and so on. Those were the rules of the before time. Now, of course, I’m annoyed as hell on days I have to bother putting on long pants. That’s just to be expected as part of life in a plague year, I guess.

3. Students. The news is currently filled with still photos and videos of college students in their hundreds attending parties now that at least some schools have opened again. You can’t see it, but I’m obviously sitting here with a completely shocked look on my face. I have a vague recollection of being young and invincible once. I wasn’t really a party animal, so my poison was mostly seeing how fast a Chevy Cavalier could go or how high I could get it to jump over railroad tracks or bridge approach ramps. Negative consequences were something to worry about when or if they happened. The point is, I have no idea why college administrators and parents are suddenly surprised that their 18-22 year-old darlings are throwing caution to the wind. It’s exactly the kind of behavior that administrators and parents have complained about since the first universities sprung up in Europe almost a millennium ago. 

Quarantine fatigue…

The internet is rife with articles documenting the horrors of “quarantine fatigue.” That malady seems to be typified by people going out more frequently, governors rushing to open other-than-essential businesses, and random protests to open this or that state immediately. People have seen the reports that we “flattened the curve” and are now ready to get back to business as usual and spring sets in… even though those reports certainly don’t reflect the reality of every jurisdiction across the country. Here in Maryland, the rate of infection continues to increase – meaning we haven’t yet hit the peak, let along started down its far side.

Among the list of things I’m not is an infectious disease expert. There are, however, lots of smart people out there who are experts in this field – and they’re largely saying it’s way too soon to start having big groups of people congregated in the same place. I wouldn’t take their advice on logistics or operations so it seems reasonable that I shouldn’t try to second guess them when they’re opining about a topic they’ve spent a lifetime studying.

Ready or not, even if it’s against the best medical advice, people are going to reopen this economy. Even people who don’t need to leave, those who can readily work from home and haven’t had any issues of lost pay, seem on the cusp of giving up and trusting to fate out of the lack of ability to keep themselves entertained. You can already see the signs of it in the weekly statistical tracking of people who are out and moving around.

There’s a catch to quarantine fatigue, though. When, after a month or two of this initial experience when the masses insist on restoring “normal,” the Great Plague will spread at an even faster pace than it is now – the number of deaths will increase and we’ll find ourselves facing an even higher curve that needs mitigating. 1918-19 gives us a blueprint of how ugly a pandemic is once we collectively decide all is well and spend a few months forgetting about containment and mitigation. We’ll end up going into the fall and winter far worse off than we were back in March.

Sometimes human nature is painfully predictable.

My employer will, in all likelihood, force us back into non-socially distanced cubicles sooner rather than later. Being a guy who likes to be able to pay the bills, it’s not likely I can do much about that. Stores, bars, and beaches are going to open sooner rather than later and there’s going to be a monumental temptation for people to treat that moment as our “return to normalcy.” Mercifully, I don’t need Governor Hogan or Dr. Fauci to tell me that it’s best to avoid hanging out in those places for the foreseeable future.

I’ve always had philosophical issues with blanket “stay at home” orders. They reek of government overreach. Then again I’ve never needed the government to tell me I should be my own best advocate and look out for my own interests. So open anything you want to, I guess. It’ll be a good long time before I feel any need to sit down in a restaurant or movie theater, go to a concert, or let people through the front door here at Fortress Jeff. I don’t need Uncle Sam or Mother Maryland to tell me what does or doesn’t pass the common sense test. As for everyone else, I suppose y’all are on your own.

Let’s revisit this in about October and see where we are. Good luck.

Doubts…

Maryland’s governor started out a few weeks ago cautioning residents about the virus. Over the last several weeks, those advisories took on ever increasing urgency as it because clear that politely asking people to stay at home wasn’t working – as they continued to congregate at beaches, parks, and bars. Then he ordered those places shuttered… and people found other ways to gather. This morning he announced a wide reaching “stay at home” order, providing criminal penalties for for doing those things we were previously advised to avoid.

Aside from my own instinctive chafing at government so dramatically curtailing the scope of our collective liberty (even in the name of a good cause), I have serious doubts about the average citizen’s ability or willingness to comply with what are currently open ended orders to stay put. Americans have a long and storied history of going where the government of the day tells them not to go. It’s in no small part the story of our nation’s westward expansion… although I don’t think the desire to move the family west to homestead Nebraska is going to be the issue in the here and now.

I’ve spent a large portion of my adult life being utterly happy staying home. That’s not true for most people. It’s even less true when you can’t tell them how long they’ll be expected to stay put. Many of us are starting week 2 or 3 of this new normal and despite the gallows humor that suffuses social media, there’s a decided undercurrent of fear and worry out there too. How long my fellow citizens are willing to sit in their homes with those two companions remains to be seen. 

I’ve got my doubts that “indefinitely” is going to be an answer some, or even many, will accept as the weeks continue to stretch on, even if that means going about against the best medical advice and in violation of our newly instituted executive orders. 

Maryland, my Maryland…

On March 25th, 1634, along the shores of the Potomac at St. Clement’s Island, subjects of the English crown first set foot in the Provence of Maryland.

No one loves to rant and rave about the government in Annapolis more than I do. Despite their never meeting a tax they didn’t want to levy and general disregard for the rights of citizens, I’ve always found myself drawn back to Maryland – to it’s shore, and its marshes, and its mountains. I never manage to stay away long. For all its political foibles, I simply do better when my feet are firmly connected to the good soil of my native country.

There’s more than enough going on in this old world of ours to keep me blogging every day for months. It would be incredibly easy to fall down that particular rabbit hole. It’s important during these times to remember that we’ve been doing what is hard here in this corner of the world for 386 years now. I don’t even want to guess how many “ends of the world” we Marylanders have endured in that time.

I’m a native son of Maryland and today I’m taking a break from the pandemic to celebrate it.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Sheetz. The quintessential gas station of my youth which has grown to be a regional juggernaut. For the last couple of years I was able to order ground coffee and k cups through their online sales arm. I went to plug in a reorder this week and find that their site has gone defunct. Twitter confirms that there are currently no options for ordering online. I’ll either have to start buying the stuff 20 pounds at a time when I’m west of Baltimore or just go ahead and give up on the idea of being able to brew the good stuff at home. Both options are… disappointing.

2. Bureaucracy and decision making. Very rarely some things benefit from the application of a little bit of bureaucracy. Most things don’t. Mostly all ratcheting up the bureaucracy does is make sure that decisions happen more slowly and result in shit tons of extra work for everyone involved. I’ve encountered a rare few leaders who can manage to slice through the bureaucracy and get things done… though it’s hard to remember the last time I saw one of those in person.

3. Jealousy. The state of Maryland is kicking off a great big batch of telework for eligible employees in order to combat the spread of COVID-19. Uncle Sam is opting for the more traditional, approach of telling employees to wash their hands and disinfect hard surfaces (supplies not included), and wanting as many people as possible sitting asshole to elbow breathing on each other in his vast cubicle farm. In this case it’s more jealousy than annoyance. Once the Feds collapse, I guess it’ll free up some job opportunities for our friends in state government, so it’s not all down side.

What Annoys Jeff this week?

1. The US Postal Service. I probably shouldn’t say this out loud while my taxes are in transit, but they should have arrived at their destination by now. Emphasis on the “should have.” In any case, I’ve just received a Christmas card. It was postmarked on the 20-somethingth of December and delivered to me here on the homestead just in time for Valentine’s Day. Maybe I should award points for it getting here at all based on some of my other recent experiences. Increasingly the expectation that products and services should work as advertised feels like something that’s just too much to hope for.

2. Baltimore. One of the perennial joys of living in the State of Maryland is the unending shitshow that is Baltimore City. In a state with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, we somehow are home to one of the world’s largest live action shooting ranges. Year after year the legislature pours ever increasing amounts of money into the city, because surely that will fix all the problems. Let’s not get hung up on the fact that when asked, the city government generally doesn’t seem able to tell anyone where the money they’ve already been given went or what improvements were made as a result. For my entire adult life, Baltimore has been governed by increasingly feckless “leaders” whose sole purpose in life seems to be finding new and more ridiculous ways to convince Annapolis to give them mountains of cash. The city government either needs to get its house in order or the state should step in and get the city into line. Allowing it to continue to swallow prodigious amounts of tax dollars without showing even the most marginal of improvements feels downright criminal.

3. Mind reading. It’s worth repeating from time to time that mind reading is not among my many varied talents. If you tell me you want something, I’m going to proceed from the assumption that you know what you want. I’m going to do my best to give it to you – not some version of what you requested, not something with the flavor of your request, but the honest to God thing you asked for to the best of my abilities and within the time allotted. If it turns out what you end up with isn’t what you want, I can promise you that the issue is almost always with the description of the requirements, not with my being way out off the edge of the map somewhere.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. New and improved. Last week the powers that be implemented a new procedure that was aimed at speeding up the time it takes to get people through the front gate. As far as I can tell all it’s succeeded at doing is creating a cluster fuck of the traffic pattern and made the wait time even longer. Forty years of experience tells me that “new and improved” rarely is… and mostly exists because someone needed a big box checked off on their annual performance appraisal.

2. I’m not particularly chatty at the best of times. When I have Post It notes stacked up like cordwood and a ten page handwritten list of shit to do, I’m even less inclined to want to chat about, well, anything, really. Sorry if the blank look on my face while you’re talking to be about a radom sportsball team I have no interest in at the best of times seems rude, but I have a limited amount of bandwidth. I’d really like to use it to make sure as many of the bits of paper on my desk are on someone else’s desk before the close of business. Unless what you’re telling me is something that’s going to make my life easier, it’s best for both of us if you bugger directly off until I’ve dug out from under the clusterfuck of the day, week, or month.

3. Maryland E-Z Pass. Let’s forget for a moment that until recently tolls at roads and bridges in Maryland were sold to the public as something that would be dropped “as soon as the cost of construction was paid off.” E-Z Pass is one of the ways that many states, including Maryland, have offered up to make their ongoing extortion backed by the full authority and power of the government less obvious to the average citizen… and I only say less obvious because the other option is handing over a fistful of physical cash money every time you drive through a toll plaza. If the state is going to continue to extort money from its citizens for things that have been long paid for and depreciated, it feels like the least they could do is make sure the back office is keeping the books right and not generating a daily email threatening to cut off your account for having a low balance when a quick look at the customer facing website shows there is very clearly both money in the account and a valid credit card from which to siphon more money as needed.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Surprise. In between reports on Epstein’s guards being arrested, the impeachment hearings, and the weekly report on a random husband who killed his family, there are a few reports this week of China finally cracking skulls in Hong Kong. What coverage it is getting is the standard breathless, hand wringing that we’ve come to expect in reporting on bad things that are happening internationally. Mostly I’m just over here thinking that China is just being China. Given its track record from the late 1980s to today, I have no idea why anyone would be surprised that a student protest would be brought to a sudden, violent halt. There’s a track record there. You don’t have to look a lot further than the formation of the Chinese Communist Party and the Cultural Revolution to see how dissent is handled sooner or later. History may not tell you exactly what will happen in the future, but it leaves plenty enough clues if you bother to look.

2. What I can’t say. I can tick off a list of at least five things off the top of my head that I’d desperately like to write about this week. Each and every one of them would be fertile ground for its own post… and all of them remain firmly embargoed indefinitely because there’s no good way to change the names to protect the guilty or obfuscate the origins of the tale. The “maybe someday” file got a bit thicker this week, that’s something, but not something that’s helping me out here and now.

3. Cashless tolls. It’s not the cashless tolls I hate, so much as I hate the other people driving through the cashless toll system. Removing the option for people to stop and fish through their pockets, purse, and ashtray for toll money, the State of Maryland opted to make the Hatem Bridge a E-Z-Pass or video toll only facility. It should have radically sped up the throughput at a particularly constricted stretch of Route 40. What no one took into account, though, is the people who can’t seem to grasp that the tolls are now taken (by overhead scanner and camera) at the west side of the bridge rather than on the east side where the toll booths are being slowly deconstructed. It’s been more than a month and these asshats are still stutter-stepping or doing the slow crawl through the place that’s distinguished by empty brackets where the scanners use to be and where there is currently no reason to slow down below the posted limit. No reason aside from people who wander through life without noticing a goddamned thing happening around them.

On Taxes and why I won’t vote blue…

The good news is that I’ve now sold my condo and the proceeds have been deposited. The bad, but not unexpected, news is that thanks to the money grubbing politicians in DC and Annapolis, I get to keep a whopping 50% of the profit from the sale.

I’ll say this slowly for those whose response to every issue is “tax the rich:” Capital gains taxes are taxes on the middle class. They’re taxes on every man and woman who has used a little bit of their already taxes income to invest in their own future. 

If you want to know why I’m firmly in the #NeverVoteBlue camp, it’s the fact that they’re the party of more taxes even when government revenue is already at an all time high. It’s the fact that after 20 years of paying property tax, tax on rental income, and generally trying to look out for my own future, the state and federal revenue agents feel like they’re entitled to get another bite of the apple. It’s almost as if they’ve got beef with someone who’s trying to take care of their own future rather than accept a subsistence level life doled out monthly and overseen by political hacks.

Enough already. Unless you’re planning on giving me a handy, keep your damned thieving mitts out of my pockets.