Why I plan ahead…

Back in March, people we shocked when a global pandemic hit and grocery store shelves were stripped bare of bread, milk, eggs, meat, toilet paper, canned goods, and a host of other products we deem essential. 

I was watching reports of this new virus in January – and made my last “stocking up” trip to market sometime in the last half of February. I’m not claiming any particularly deep insight, but a lifetime of pondering what ifs and worst cases and a bit of professional training in emergency management gave me a bit of a head start on seeing what was coming along and the short term results we were likely to see.

This week the virus is seeing a resurgence in Europe, while we here in America have never fully been able to get our arms around the problem. It’s obvious from seeing how people are acting that we’ve already collectively grown tired of even the minimal restrictions we managed to put in place. Smart people are telling us that the results of this behavior will be, in a word, bad. We here in America, of course, have a long and storied history of not believing what smart people tell us.

Why am I bothering to mention any of this?

I think there’s a significantly larger than zero percent chance that prevailing conditions could adversely impact long-standing and traditional holiday travel plans over the next two months. With that in mind, I’ve started laying in the essentials to make myself a proper Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, should staying put at Fortress Jeff be a more rational option than traveling out into the plague lands.

I hope it’s not necessary, but just like in February, I’d rather have everything I might need on hand and discover I didn’t need it after all. I’d don’t want to have to fight it out for the last can of sweet potatoes or friend onions when the masses realize they won’t be travelling over the river and through the woods because granny caught the damned ‘rona and is in isolation.

Panic buying for “safer at home” was unpleasant. Panic buying for Thanksgiving would be its very own mini apocalypse.

Marks on the wall…

It’s mid-May, a magical time on the calendar where the end of the long slog through the months of spring bereft of federal holidays is in sight. The long holiday weekend for Memorial Day is almost upon us. That usually marks the first of my planned four-day weekends, with Fridays as often as not spent trolling through used book shops, antique stores, flea markets, and barn sales. Given the climate, that normal kickoff to summer doesn’t feel likely to happen, which is, in a word, disappointing.

The next mark on the wall is a week of leave starting on June 1st that I scheduled back in the depths of winter. That’s historically a week when I go further afield on my quests for the next interesting item – ranging widely through eastern Pennsylvania, the Delmarva, and central Maryland. That too seems like an activity that will surely still be out of reach just three short weeks from now. I also question the value of taking a restorative week of vacation time when I’ve already mostly been home for the best part of two and a half months. I’ve often enough needed a proper break from the office, but needing a rest from being at the house is beyond my understanding.

In any case, the marks on the wall by which I plan my year appear to be lining up to fall in 2020. Admittedly, two months into the Great Plague and its associated closures probably makes me a little late to this particular party. Although I find this impending change of plans annoying, they’re not debilitatingly so. They certainly don’t drive me to take to the streets in protest… even if that’s the cool new thing to do.

There will be other marks on other walls at some point in the future yet to be determined. My vacation time balance isn’t going anywhere (as long as I’m not dumb enough to let it expire at the end of the year) so holding those plans in abeyance isn’t cause for alarm just yet. Getting all up in my feelings about anything that’s not happening feels about as useful and productive as wandering down to the river and ordering the tide to go out. 

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?

In a time of global pandemic, impending financial doom, and the collapse of civilization, you might be tempted to think I wouldn’t find any day-to-day petty grievances to air. You, of course, would be exactly wrong. It may be the end of the world as we know it, but it’s far from the end of me being agitated. With that said, let’s get into it…

1. The news. The minute by minute drumbeat of the news is impossible to miss. Crisis, contagion, collapse… It can absorb you if you let it, and I, unfortunately, was letting it for the last few days. The trouble with being monopolized by the news is that it was getting in the way of my reading. So I’ll be making a conscious effort to step back and start ignoring it again. Beyond don’t leave the house unless you need to, I’m not sure what the news is going to tell me at this point that I might find personally useful. I mean if the apocalypse really comes, someone will beep me, right?

2. Bailouts. I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the various vast bailout proposals being kicked around with what fees like very little discussion or analysis other than politicians wish to be seen doing something immediately. Then again I didn’t support what eventually became the sweeping bank bailouts in 2007, government backed loans to the auto industry, or home mortgage “forgiveness.” I’d never be so bold to claim that government doesn’t have a role to play in shoring up the economy, particularly for those businesses shuttered and employees thrown out of work by executive fiat. My concern is mostly that everything I’m seeing reported on the news this week reeks of “lets throw money at it and hope it goes away” being the primary planning principle. A trillion dollars is a shit ton of money, I hope you’ll forgive me for thinking that maybe spending it should involve a bit more analysis than we’ve seen thus far.

3. Planning. Way back in 2005-ish I was involved in some preliminary “pandemic flu” planning. The end result was a plan and supporting documentation, the density of which would stun a team of oxen in their tracks. Pandemics aren’t something new. History could certainly be a guide here even if there wasn’t an actual plan. Everything I’ve seen thus far makes me wonder if anyone even bothered to read or even just dust off the damned thing from way back when.

Long Range or: The Return to Normalcy…

In tense and uncertain times there’s a tendency for all of us to look towards our own personal bubble of responsibility. That’s not a bad thing. Taking care of kith and kin first feels like it could be our oldest instinct.

There’s no point in denying that some people are going to die as a direct result of this virus. Not acknowledging that would be foolish and wrong. For most of us – the vast majority – coronavirus could well end up being not much more than a monumental inconvenience – a way point in life we’ll use to measure other moments against. Twenty years from now we’ll ask whether something happened before or after COVID-19 the same way we do now with September 11th.

That’s all a prelude to saying sooner or later we’ll all get back to living “normal” lives, with the rhythm of nights out, family gatherings, and well stocked supermarket shelves restored. If you accept that there will be a return to normalcy, you owe it to your future self to spend some time thinking about what you want that future world to look like.

In that spirit, I went online last night and placed a few orders for books that have been lingering on my “to read” list. It was nothing crazy – Just four orders each costing less than $15. Each one of those sales went to small, independent book shops. It’s a niche market to be sure, but one I have a vested interest in preserving through the current economic uncertainty. For these small businesses, every dollar coming in will matter as they fight to make good on their rent or finding a way to keep paying their staff. Keeping these businesses alive is important.

Those who have the ability to do so have an obligation to make sure the smalls, locals, and independents are still alive and kicking when we return to normalcy. You’ll regret it if we don’t.

Agreement…

I’ve had my current telework agreement in place for over three years. That represents about 150 weeks of working from home at least one day per week. There have been occasional technical issues, but I like to think my performance over those last 150 weeks hasn’t suffered. My yearly performance assessments under two different bosses seem to back up that theory.

The telework agreement I’m working under, and I’ll quote here, says in part, “Employees’ participating in the telework program enhances workplace flexibilities and it allows he Command to maintain Continuity of Operations (COOP) during any emergency situations, pandemic health crisis, or special event that causes disruption in the workplace.” I added a bit of emphasis there.

We are currently living through the exact reason why employees are issued laptops and encouraged to have telework agreements in place. I can perform 95% of my daily tasks right here in my sunroom without a problem. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has declared offices in DC “open with maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees.” The Centers for Disease Control is recommending that no gatherings of more than 50 people take place for the next eight weeks. The President of the United States lowered that to groups of no more than 10 during this afternoon’s coronavirus working group briefing. Every news outfit on the planet is preaching the gospel of social distancing. I spect sooner rather than later, many jurisdictions in the United States will find themselves with soft “lock downs” similar to what Italy is experiencing.

Letting people who can work from home go do that makes eminent sense. The fewer potential vectors wandering the halls the better for everyone. My particular part of the vast bureaucracy, though, has opted to remain utterly silent on the issue. I can only assume that means they think piling hundreds of people into a hermetically sealed building is somehow a more advantageous strategy to ensure the business of the organization continues to get done.

It’s a bad take… and it’s the very definition of an unnecessary risk to personnel. Maybe I’ll catch hell for saying that publicly… but of the things I could catch in a room where 30 people are packed in asshole to elbow breathing recirculated air and not seeing the sun, catching hell should probably be the least of my worries.

I’m lucky that I got to work from home today. Unless someone steps up with a little leadership before tomorrow morning, I’ll be expected in the office the rest of the week. Ultimately, though, I’m responsible for my own health and welfare. If I can’t depend on the powers that be to make good decisions for their employees, I’ll continue to conduct my own daily risk assessments and determine for myself when it’s time to hunker down until the worst blows over, regardless of whether that means working from home or burning off the mountain of leave I’ve banked over the last 18 years.

You’ll be glad you did…

You can’t miss the funny, funny toilet paper memes. I got it. Large numbers of people pummeling each other in the grocery store isles is good humor, I don’t deny it.

I’ll be the first to agree with you that panic buying is stupid. With that said, I think it’s stupid for reasons different than “coronavirus doesn’t cause you to die of shitting yourself.” For me, the rolling of eyes is triggered more by looking at people who don’t already have a “safety stock” of items essential to keeping a household running for a few days, a few weeks, months, a year or more depending on what your risk tolerance and budget will support.

I know some real, honest to God end of the world prepper types. I’m not even close to being in their league. I’ve got no interest in taking it to that level. They’re legitimately trying to be prepared for the collapse of civilization. It’s not out of the realm of the possible, but I’m not entirely convinced I want to hang around for that party. My personal cognitive bias tends towards the belief that over time, things will trend towards that status quo… that tomorrow will be more or less the same as yesterday. I could also be 100% wrong about that assumption.

I’m extremely comforted in knowing that if, for some reason, I needed to button up Fortress Jeff for a period of a few weeks or a month or two, I could get along without any significant impact on my standard of living. We could probably hold out a bit longer than that if I did a little rationing. It’s the level of insurance and peace of mind that I’m comfortable with maintaining over the long term.

Because I’ve done a little advance planning and bought extras a few items at a time, there’s no need for panic buying. My regular shopping trips involve simply replacing what I’ve used from week to week to maintain the baseline – usually a few canned goods, some fresh mean and vegetables, dog or cat food, and so on. Keeping a bit of extra on hand just makes good sense. When everyone else is panicking and buying up 54-packs of Charmin, you can smile, make another cup of coffee, and get on with your day.

Next time you make your weekly grocery list, add a few extra items that are good for long term storage. Buy stuff you know you’ll use anyway. Try having a little bit of a plan that extends beyond the next three to five days. At some point, because of flood, fire, snow, or pandemic, you’ll be glad you did.