In the pantry on the first day of the COVID-19 office diaspora

Downtown Portland, Oregon from a rooftop

Today I worked from home, and will be for the next while, same as all my Puppet teammates. Al ordered some groceries and had them arrive just after lunch. Not a full-on prepper load-out: Just some staples that we could have held off on grabbing for a week given current supply levels.

I’m still very happy about the pantry I made out of a dismal space under the stairs in the kitchen, so when I opened the pantry door and the automatic light came on I was pretty happy to have some shelf space to put the extra stuff: Some cans of beans, a jar of peanut butter, a couple of bags of rice.

Then I thought about how I’ve never really thought in “pantry for overflow” terms before. Just hasn’t been in my thinking. Stuff I had a purpose for just went in the cabinet, maybe I’d buy the big package of paper towels or toilet paper, but I never really put away even modest amounts of extra whatever. That has slowly changed with the addition of the pantry.

So I stepped back and just stared at the shelves in there. Lots of canned goods and baking supplies. Cartons of oatmeal. Pasta. Dried beans in nice storage containers. Rice.

One of the shelves is the liquor shelf, and I briefly considered the bottles of Jefferson Reserve and Woodford Reserve as material for a joke about stocking up on the staples. They were gifts from friends at work, one for helping out with a dicey retrospective and one for literally just being me. I can remember a time since Ben was born when the cost of a big bottle of Woodford would have stopped me cold, and there it was, given to me just because someone knew I liked it and wanted me to know I was loved.

So I had a moment where I had this profound sense of safety and contentment.

I’d just done my one deep read of the NYT for the day over lunch, so that sense of safety had to dislodge a feeling of unease and disquiet. One of the folks on my team has a one-month-old baby and had to deal with runs on the supermarkets up in Seattle, and the frightening experience of traffic and lines and crowding being so bad that a 10-minute trip took her over an hour. I had skimmed a crowdsourced Google spreadsheet of tech workers sharing office closure information. I had been thinking all morning about how businesses and local governments have been left to figure this out, and how there’s this palpable sense that the litany of “an abundance of caution for the foreseeable future” is just inviting us all to consider the shapeless, open-endedness of the situation, compounded by the ruinous incompetence of this terrible president and his enablers. I thought about how we’re not sure it’s a great idea to close the schools because a lot of meals and social services flow through them to kids who desperately need them. I thought about working parents who are going to be in a really bad way.

That feeling of contentment had to dislodge all that, and it couldn’t. And good. It shouldn’t. How much luck can a human have? I feel like I’m constantly testing that.

So for a moment I stood there in the pantry staring at the shelves holding both sets of feelings and thoughts in my head. So I sat down on the floor and had a cry about all of it. Relief from feeling safe and content and seeing reminders that I’m cared about and matter to people. Worry and care for people this is going to be incredibly hard on. A building full of well-off tech workers can just disperse to their home offices and ride it out, and maybe this is all just sort of an adventure. But it’s not going to be a fun adventure for a lot of people as we go into a defensive crouch in the face of so much uncertainty and fear. My kid’s set: Solid Wi-Fi in all parts of the house, a Switch with a complete library, and there’s enough flour, sugar, butter, and milk to keep him in pancakes. Other kids will be at home with stressed-out parents who won’t be sure if they can make ends meet. Senate Republicans called guaranteed sick leave a political ploy, accused the Democrats of stuffing their bills with unrelated goodies, then said they’d only approve relief packages if they included stuff about no Federal money for abortions. I wanted to grow wings, fly into the air, and breathe fire down on Washington.

Someone recently told me I was a rock for them: A calming presence who makes it all seem doable. I told a coworker today it is part of my job to be unflappable and unflapped, and so I was. She took a moment to say, “yeah, but how ARE you?” so I described the 😐 mood I have recently added to my mood tracking app that is below “good” and above “meh.” It means “I know what I need to do, am doing it, and do not feel significantly tasked doing so, even if some of what I am doing is stupid or distasteful but needful.”

Anyhow, on the first day of bunkering in the home office, explaining how stock markets and panics work to Ben, laying in an extra jar of peanut butter, and looking at a page of Italian webcams all showing empty or near-empty streets and plazas, that’s me.

I hope you’re all doing as okay as can be. It’ll be fine, but goddamn do we make this all hard on ourselves.

The q-ships of late capitalism drop anchor

One is a food cart. One is a “ghost kitchen.”

[Ed. Note: Apparently what I’m talking about here is referred to as a “ghost kitchen.” Thank you, Eric Sorenson.]

Yesterday a coworker pointed out to me that the cart on the right in this picture isn’t actually a cart: You can’t walk up and order food at the window. Rather, it’s a mobile kitchen with multiple storefronts on UberEats. 

Sorta torn. I don’t feel completely put off because it’s just sort of interesting to see the ways the Internet keeps changing stuff, and these people seem to be deftly maneuvering through a set of conditions that make it easier for them to make a small business out of a patchwork of regulatory concessions to micro-businesses (food courts) and “free” infrastructure (gig economy delivery services). 

I’m having a bad reaction to this because I feel like anything that further deepens the pattern of “sit around in your house and have cars bring stuff to you” isn’t the right way forward. ESPECIALLY operating right out of the middle of our downtown. There are ride share stats that indicate Uber and Lyft (not food delivery, just car “share”) contribute to upwards of 13 percent of the traffic in San Francisco’s urban core (Chicago, 3.3; LA, 2.6; DC, 6.9). Then layer on “food carts” that are getting a break from a city that is trying its hardest to support small entrepreneurs and all the traffic in and out of downtown. 

Anecdotally, these are also some of the most erratic, difficult drivers. My informal scoring system as a motorcyclist included +10 feet of clearance for each Uber/Lyft/whatever sticker: They’re frequently heads down in their GPS, suddenly darting across three lanes to get their turn or get to the bridge they need, so they’re not only adding congestion, they’re contributing to the stop-start dynamic by making everyone else react. 

And I feel resistant because I feel resistant to the gig economy generally. What a failure—or at least a tragic misuse—of our collective imagination. 

Army anecdote: When I was enlisted, the PX had a similar thing going: You’d go to a food court with five or six “restaurants,” including a pizza place, a Chinese place, a sandwich place, etc. Each had its own branding and menu, but the kitchen backing them all was the same kitchen, same employees, same napkins/cups/tray mats, etc. It was just there to create a simulacrum of what people were used to in the real world. Sometimes it was even funny in an uncanny valley kind of way. All the branding looked almost but not quite like some real-world analog, like if WestWorld wanted to make a shopping mall but couldn’t secure the licensing for Panda Garden, Sbarro, or Subway.

Last picture with the X100F and a farewell gallery

Portland Outdoor Store, Downtown Portland, OR

I sold my Fujifilm X100F to a friend-of-a-friend. I took one last picture on my way home from work before packing it up at the UPS store and sending it on its way.

It was always a second camera to my X-T2 (and briefly my X-Pro3), so it didn’t get a lot of use. Fewer than 4,000 exposures over the time I had it. Still, it was a lovely camera. The X100 series woke me back up to photography, and the X100F was a great iteration.

Here’s a gallery of a few of my favorite photos from it:

The Graduate Hotel, Eugene

Al had a physical therapy appointment in Eugene, so we made an overnight trip of it. The Graduate is a former Hilton, now stripped to the studs and university-themed.

I think our experience may have been colored by the timber industry trade show that was in town: Lots of loud, drunk people stumbling in and out of the elevators and shouting across the lounge at each other, but the baseline ambience isn’t super hard to disrupt: The lounge has high ceilings, concrete pillars and wall treatments, and hard floors. The sound ricochets around, with the fluorescent lighting adding a terrible sense of institutional sterility. I accidentally rested my elbow on a bit of un-wiped-up sterile table cleaner and it itched for a few hours.

In case you forget you are in a university-themed hotel, the coffee shop sacrifices some shelf space behind the counter for decorative books (an encyclopedia, a few complete works of romantic poets). They help it click into place that there’s supposed to be a university library thing going on, if university libraries had their acoustic issues frequently surfaced by drunken, shouting lumberjacks.

Our room was decorated with what is supposed to be dorm room eclecticism: Paint-by-numbers-quality paintings, a fraternity paddle that was permanently screwed into the wall, and a waffle iron lamp meant, I believe, to be a callback to Nike’s waffle treads.

When we tried to check out through the tv room system, we got a message that the checkout system was temporarily unavailable. When I mentioned that to the desk clerks, they said, “we don’t have a checkout system.” So, apparently some bugs being worked out in the transition from Hilton to member of the Graduate collective.

Anyhow, it was a place to crash near Al’s appointment, and will surely be a fine place to crash for people in town for the game, whatever game it may be that weekend. A quick peek into the room hosting the timber industry trade show’s “Ladies Dessert Against Trafficking” seemed to indicate everyone was having a fine time.