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.
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.
I’m old enough to remember when documents of any importance came on paper – often in multiple color coded carbon copies. For someone who has converted nearly wholesale to digital record keeping, I have an alarmingly large archive of old paper copies – old bills of sale, mortgage originations, and thousands of other 8×10 inch bits of paper that were required to build a life before everything came to us via electrons.
I recently had to take a deep dive into the furthest recesses of the paper archives – searching for something I know I’d need a copy of when the happy day comes and I go to closing on my southern Maryland condo. Yes, I know, cart before the horse and all, but I like having my ducks well-ordered.
Knowing how much has changed over the last almost twenty years, I assumed I was in for a bit of leg work – and possibly a pleading phone call to the condo association asking for a copy of the neighborhood covenants and restrictions. I mean what are the chances 22 year old Jeff held on to the copy he was given in the early spring of 2001?
Turns out I’m every bit as anal retentive as people think I am. After five moves and two decades, the old 1980’s vintage neon orange binder was tucked in between the original mortgage and the property management agreement, right where I left it back when the millennium was still shiny and new.
I was tempted to see what other oddities lurked in the depths of my filing system, but it wasn’t the moment to find myself sitting ankle deep in twenty year old paperwork. For the time being I’ll just be glad I found what I was looking for on the first attempt… but I think I’m going to add “digitize and shred” the deepest layer of the archive onto my list of things to do.
As we all know by now I’m a devoted creature of habit. Some of them are so well worn in that I’m not sure I’d know who I am without them. Others are more malleable based on circumstances. Contrary to opinion popular in some quarters, I’m not completely inflexible on all points – though I am on a few of them to be sure.
The real trouble comes when, of necessity, one of those more ingrained habits must change. Since unwelcome change in all its myriad forms is something that must be resisted at almost any cost, migrating one of these habits towards something new and different is rarely a course of action I’ll embark on willingly. I don’t like spending that much time with a warning klaxon rattling around my head that something isn’t right. The whole idea mostly just serves to remind me of a sign a friend of mine kept in his dorm room lo those many years ago. Perched above his desk, the sign gave off the constant reminder that “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.”
That seems to have become my unofficial motto across several fronts lately. My reading of history informs me of all manner of destruction/creation cycles and their near-inevitability. Mythology is filled with tales of the old giving way for the new to rise. It’s all very inspirational, of course… But that damned interregnum between one habit dying and the next taking hold tends to throw my whole neatly ordered universe temporarily out of kilter and that just sucks.
I’ve taken a couple days to sleep on it and have concluded that the hard truth many Walking Dead fans need to face is that a year or two after civilization has collapsed, it’s guys like Negan who are most likely going to be running the show. Rick and his crew, our main protagonists, are nice enough folks, always thinking that their key to safety and survival is joining up with the next group of survivors, fortifying a prison, negotiating, and hoping for the best. Every time their hopes get dashed when someone proves to be dishonest, there’s a little bit of cannibalism, or their neighbor drives a tank through their front door. Through it all, despite what they say, Rick’s crew seems desperate to want to believe the best about people. It’s constantly their undoing – and precisely why guys like Negan will triumph in the post-apocalypse.
Like any number of tribal chieftains of old, Negan maintains his rule and the stability of his followers through brutally enforced discipline. While this may seem abhorrent to us sitting comfortably in our homes tonight, it’s nothing new for most of human history. In fact, under the circumstances, it’s probably the group of survivors most likely to thrive in the face of the brave new world we’ve met yet in the Walking Dead universe.
Ponder for a moment if you will that Negan’s followers are highly organized and able to defend and expand their territory through better communications and tactics than those employed by Rick’s group. They’re well fed, clothed, and supplied, which indicates a relatively sophisticated economy based on the imperial model of commodity goods flowing towards the “mother country,” and finished goods and protection being furnished to the colonies. Unlike Rick, Negan doesn’t seem to shy away from his role as leader. As a result the command and control structure of his organization is very clear. He’s at the top, but he also indicated in this week’s premier that he has trusted lieutenants who he depends on. He may delight in dispensing rough justice, but his actions shouldn’t be a surprise – after all, he told our friends from Alexandria that bad behavior would be punished and then when they behaved badly he responded exactly as he said he would in order to establish a clear correlation between cause and effect.
I wouldn’t vote for Negan if he were running for president, but as a post-apocalyptic warlord, I think I’d quickly see the value of joining a group like his. This world they’ve created full of walking dead and the even more dangerous living is a violent place. The fact that violent men rise up to establish some kind of order shouldn’t surprise anyone. It was done like that in this world for a lot longer than we’ve been trying to master such societal niceties as peaceful transfers of power.
Spend enough days in a row sitting through meetings where nothing is ever decided, writing emails that no one ever reads, and dreaming up good ideas that will never see the light of day and one might be forgiven for tending to adopt a healthy cynicism about their profession. In a bureaucracy where every cog has its own agenda and can through even the best laid plans off the rails, frankly I’m surprised when anything gets done at all. It’s practically a cause for celebration.
I suspect that’s why I spend so much of my “off” time doing things that can demonstrate a tangible result. Reading and writing are easy. Finish the book, draft a new chapter, and either way at the end point you have something to show for the effort. It’s measurable. I suspect it’s also why I throughly enjoy mowing the grass, running string trimmer, and cutting back another few feet of encroaching saplings. Adding two hours of physical work after eight hours of repeatedly banging your head against you desk probably isn’t everyone’s idea of good times… but it makes me unreasonably happy, even as it leads to increasing exhaustion.
In that one small way, I’ve carved a bit of order away from chaos. It’s not making the world safe for democracy, or curing polio, but it helps stave off the madness and that contribution shouldn’t be undervalued.
So, Apple… listen… you’re a big, multibillion dollar international corporation with a supply chain that wraps around the globe. So I have to ask… What asshat in your marketing and sales department decided that not offering pre-orders for your new flagship phone was a good idea? I know you want the faithful to line up and cram the stores because that’s a great PR image that every news outlet is going to cover, but let’s face it, people are going to line up regardless of whether you have preorders or not. I’ve been on both sides of launch day; waiting in line at Saddle Creek and Christiana and sitting at home waiting on FedEx. Both served me well in the past, but I always had the option.
You know I want your shiny new phone on launch day and you know I’m going to be sorely tempted to schlep over to the Apple Store and get in line, but the fact is I’m older now and less willing to put up with the jackassery of standing around in lines waiting to give people my money than I once was. It’s not that I’ve gotten any more patient. I’ve just grown increasingly intolerant of large groups of people that I can otherwise avoid. As much as I want your new toy on its first day of availability – the day that I’ve had my greasy little hands on every previous model – I think I’m going to have to ride this one out until I can have one left on my doorstep or until your supply chain catches up and I can walk into a retail store and pick one up without getting into a knife fight in the parking lot.
I wish I could point to this as a sign of becoming older, wiser, and more responsible… the reality is probably that it’s just a sign of me becoming even more of an antisocial hermit as the years roll by. Then again, maybe it’s just the same concept expressed in a different way.