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There Are Signs Out There Of Things Returning To Normal

Once upon a time, as a retired guy, I looked forward to that one day a week when I ran errands and got things done.

I called them “Thursdays.”

When you’re retired, you never really rush to do anything unless it involves the last serving of a decadent dessert on the counter in the kitchen, so I’d ease into the day with a few cups of coffee, a few bits of conversation with my wife, and a few snuzzles from Maggie the WonderBeagle.

The errands came first, and like the days of old, yesterday I took my wife to her appointed place to get the second of the COVID vaccinations. I always do this for all medical situations with her because it not only makes it easier when someone drops you off at the door, I’ve found as we grow older, there’s this slight bit of nervousness that accompanies all visits to a doctor. It’s like an inner voice that asks “am I OK? Am I having a side effect?”

Having a big, burly bodyguard in the car available to listen to all this and respond with feedback as to what is real and what is imagined, can be comforting. Plus, if there is a real issue, my vehicle knows the way to quickly get to places that can provide further assistance.

Expecting it to take a long time, I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly the vaccination process went. I couldn’t even get through the first round of senseless arguments on Twitter before I saw her returning to the car, so after taking her home, I decided to go on to the next item on my list: getting a haircut for the first time since before we were singing “Hark The Herald, Angels Sing.”

I used to always go on Thursdays because for some reason, nobody was there around lunch time of that day of the week. Now you need to set up an appointment and make it a much more formal event than just driving by and sticking your head in the door. But when I called, the voice on the other end said “when do you want to come?” and when I said “now,” he said “I’ll see you in a few minutes.”

Aside from starting the process with a thermometer pressed to my head (I’m always at 97.1 for some reason, which must mean I’m part reptile) and being given antibacterial soap to wash my hands (which I had just done in the car before I came in), it was exactly as in the days gone by, only we’re both wearing masks. There was no one there but the barber and I, we exchanged pleasantries, and the television was on sports with the sound turned off. I even got to enjoy the added bonus of seeing my favorite team – the Washington Nationals – for the first time this spring, playing the New York Mets.

The barber did his usual excellent job, I said goodbye to his small son sitting in the back, I paid, and left double my normal tip, because it can’t be easy these days when there’s only one customer in your shop all afternoon. Then I drove on to the next stop.

Thursday is also grocery day for me because it seems most people wait until Friday. LIDL may have had 3 more people in the store than the barber shop, and while shopping at a leisurely pace, noticed another similarity to the days of old: They had all of their specials in stock, and plenty of them. It was the first time I can remember in a year I’ve gone to a store, not had to contend with people, I could take my time and think about different recipes I could make with an ingredient, and they had everything I wanted.

After dropping these off at home, I then went to Giant, and it was the same thing: Everything was not only in stock, products you got up at 6 AM to scrounge around and find – like brand name toilet paper – were not only in stock, they were on sale. A year ago, you’d be willing to pay $20 for a $14.99 big pack of Charmin, if you could find it at all. At Giant, it was on sale for $9.99.

Giant had even finally resolved the great Coffee Mate Creamer Crisis of 2021 here in Ashburn. For some reason around mid-January, the more exotic flavors they offer – like Peppermint Mocha, Snickers, Dove, Cream Brulee, and Vanilla Caramel – disappeared. Your only choices were the basics of French Vanilla, Hazlenut or Sweet Italian Creamer. That would have been fine with me in the past, but in the past 6 months, it has seemed they’ve altered that Sweet Italian Creamer formula so the sugar free version has a plastic aftertaste, and the regular isn’t much better.

It’s been a crisis in Ashburn, because here it seems to be a morning ritual to find the finest and most expensive coffee there is, then dump half a cup of some very sweet dairy product into it so you can say you are drinking organic Brazilian rain forest dark roast reserve, but you’re really sipping on glorified hot chocolate that cost you $10 a cup. I grew up in a house with a Dad who was a Navy Chief Petty Officer, and he believed cream in your coffee was a sign of weakness. But living with a wife and daughter here in Ashburn has taught me the softer side of caffeine, and by my Dad’s definition, I’ve become really weak.

I realized how bad the Creamer Crisis was one night when I was at Giant, and there were several others also poring over the offerings to find something other than French Vanilla and Hazlenut. One woman softly asked out loud “where are my creamers?” in a tone you usually hear someone use when their dog has just run away. The separation anxiety was noticeable.

But creamer and customer have now been united, and there were even new flavors like M&M’s Milk Chocolate. Per the rules of a pandemic, I reacted accordingly, buying 12 bottles across 5 different flavors, because you never know; they might run out again.

At the checkout line, there was only one guy in front of me, and soon he, the checkout young man and myself were engaged in mindless conversation involving local high schools Stone Bridge and Broad Run. The young man would be going to Virginia Tech, and I was wearing a Hokie sweatshirt, so that added a wrinkle of Virginia Tech comments. There was no crazy rush to get in and out of the line, and the young man even offered “for some reason, nobody’s here today. You two are probably the first two customers I’ve seen in the last hour.”

I then went home, cooked dinner, and was surprised to take Maggie out for a walk and there was still daylight present well after 6. Seems like just the other day I was hustling her along before it got dark at 5 in mid-December. Next week, the clocks change to daylight savings time, and it will be light until well after 7. The long hard winter is coming to an end, and spring seems to be peaking out from just about every vantage point.

Two years ago, I would have described a Thursday like yesterday as routine, maybe even a little boring. It was certainly nothing noteworthy, and yet at the end of the day, it felt somewhat special.

That’s probably because yesterday felt like normal. I could go do what I wanted to do and buy what I wanted to buy when I wanted to do it.

A year ago, I took all that for granted.

Now, I find myself humming Ice Cube's "It Was A Good Day" 😊



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Tuesday, 22 June 2021
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