YOU MISS IT, RIGHT? Sure you do.
For the past (pandemic) year, it just hasn’t been the same without the twice-daily rush-hour windows that so restricted many of our lives — not just for scheduling, but for choice of jobs and even where we live, and at what cost — for decades.
Gone on the work-from-home winds are all those delicious pieces that went with it: the 5 a.m. alarms for 8 a.m. shift starts. The uplifting thought of stop-go-stop-go-stop-go for two hours (on a good day) on the freeway — or, alternatively, the two-bus, one-train, stand-out-and-freeze-then-swelter-like-a-feral-hog-trapped-in-a-feedlot experience of public transit (we KID, public transit!).
And let’s not forget those dark-sky arrivals back at home, to a waiting audience of hungry, bored, agitated family members.
If you’re a Puget Sounder formerly beholden to the old, anachronistic, 9-to-5 existence, surely a pandemic year’s absence from same has left you all misty-eyed and nostalgic for carpooling, aisle-standing and strategic detouring. To make things worse, this is accompanied by mourning the loss of the personal fulfillment you once found only through office-life activities such as the plasticware-leftover lunch syndrome, interoffice team-building activities and …
Loud screech here as the needle is pulled across the record on the great turntable of life. Spare us. You don’t miss it. Even a little.
You revel in its defeat, even if temporary, and live in fear that in any pending return to “normal,” those old-school banker’s business hours might rear their hideous head, springing back to life like a hand from the grave in some B-grade horror flick, rendering the one, small, selfish satisfaction from a year of strife a pleasant memory.
This need not be inevitable.
The mind-boggling changes wrought by the pandemic of 2020 — and counting — likely will stand in history as one of those great societal timeouts (previous unspeakable national calamities, such as war, depression, social upheaval and consecutive New England Patriots Super Bowl titles, also qualified), with impacts so profound they provided a chance to start over, from sheer necessity.
Many people, especially “front-line” workers — blessings to each and every one of them for keeping the country running — have kept on just as before, except with added stress. Other people, in great numbers, have been fortunate enough to take their work home, or off into a tar-paper shack in the woods, or into a half-buried shipping container — any place with a light socket, power outlet and passable broadband.
But everybody has felt the wind blow through the hole the pandemic has opened up in what we once called humdrum. And many of us, being human, have seized the opportunity to wonder whether some things that have gone firmly into the ditch really ought to stay there.
Let’s call this the Good Riddance stuff — social, business and institutional habits we had all fallen into, some with good reason, over the decades, and clung to like a Styrofoam cooler after a rafting incident. Many of these, it should now be clear, had long ago outlived their usefulness but just Zombied on, feeding on human inertia, like the idiotic twice-a-year American time changes.
On that list, twice-daily rush-hour commutes are an unquestioned front-runner, the adjustment, if not outright elimination, of which is a true no-brainer.
Wiser minds had noticed over the years that when a temporary transportation emergency — failed bridge, major repaving and so on — arose, that local humans, given proper notice, could function outside the 9-to-5 self-imposed sentence for days or even weeks at a time. Shockingly, these adjustments have come and gone with nary a hint of the decline of civilization.
Yet those lessons never seemed to translate into the sort of civic enlightenment that would make these evolutionary adjustments a feature rather than a bug of the way we live. Witness: the insidious creeping return of rush-hour scheduling, and the attendant jam-ups, in recent months.
This is but one prepandemic mole that deserves immediate whacking.
Expanding this to other parts of life, we are pleased to offer up our highly subjective, thinly researched, tongue-marginally-in-cheek NW Good Riddance List — stuff that’s been left behind in the past year that really ought to remain in the rearview mirror as we nudge, with great trepidation, forward.
Feel free to discuss, in separate groups and at safe distances. Unless you live in Texas, in which case — so very sorry.
1. Rush-Hour Commuting Torture
See above. Whether you enjoy working remotely or think it’s the spawn of Satan (or, let’s face it, sometimes both), most people can agree that the artificial construction of morning and late-afternoon rush hours was right up there next to colonoscopy prep on Modern Mankind’s Least-Praiseworthy Achievements list.
Let slip the cubicle chains! And good, good, good riddance to rush hours; may they rot in stop/go hell.
2. Corporate Retreating, In-Person Hostage Taking/Training, Trade Show Conventioneering and Other Needless Biz-Network Glad-Handing
Yeah, yeah, yeah; we know all about the “networking” benefits of eye-to-eye, skin-on-skin, germ-transmitting glad-handing/suck-up sessions, in which widget producers from around the globe gather annually for their big to-do at the Velcro Room of the fabulous Ipswich Holiday Inn & Go-Kart Track.
We also know about the health benefits of not ever eating doughnuts. So what’s your point?
While some of this contact and questionable travel surely has benefits — and even pays dividends — one of the great lessons of the Great Readjustment has been the stunning degree to which much or even most of this departure-gate torture was clearly nonessential. And in the year since much of it was shelved, the economy has not collapsed. We’re willing to bet it won’t. And the fragile Earth will be grateful.
3. Any/All Academic Conferences
Sorry, Dr. Communications Theory. Your fascinating treatise, four years in the making at taxpayer expense, on Important Flaws I Have Detected in Modern Media From My Detached Sanitary Academic Perch, will be just as boring, stilted and ultimately useless delivered via Zoom or some other digital personality vacuum as it would have been via personal recitation to people struggling to maintain consciousness in folding chairs in some hotel ballroom.
You and your CV are just going to have to come to grips with the fact that it’s a net wash.
4. The Endless Line at Home Depot or Your Favorite Hideous Big Box
Two revolutionary words here: “curbside pickup.”
Yes; we know not everything that comes from a hardware store (especially) is thought out enough in advance to merit online ordering and pickup. But let’s face it: Anything that circumvents the modern big-box retail standard (namely: one checker per every 800,000 square feet of retail space) is a very good thing, indeed.
5. The Casual Pop-In
Clearly a handful of people out there actually enjoy having friends, associates, neighbors, casual acquaintances or even (God forbid) relatives show up at the front door, unannounced.
Clearly something is deeply, deeply wrong with these people.
Fortunately, their psychosis can now be relegated to therapy sessions, thanks to the elimination, for health reasons, of the casual pop-in, which now must be conducted only under strict guidelines and with the express written consent of both the Centers for Disease Control and the National Football League.
And yes; we say this with full acknowledgment of the down side, which is: the loss of the one remaining fear factor that scared most of us into cleaning the bathroom and checking the TP status at least once every seven months.
6. The “Hey-You-In-the-MAGA-Hat-Please-Pass-the-Gravy” Celebratory Holiday Meal
This has always been a sort of societally sanctioned pop-in — one that presumed mutual consent of all parties — which, let’s face it, rarely existed. (Although, in full disclosure, and not even for legal reasons, let it be known yours truly loves, and enjoys the company of, his own in-laws. No, really.)
It’s one of the great relationship traps, in fact: How does one tactfully suggest that the notion of spending a perfectly good holiday with the parents, siblings and other clingers-on related to the other partner is about as appealing as searching for a leak in a 12-foot-deep water main with a garden trowel?
Answer: One does not, at least unless one wants to literally revert to “one” status, thus losing commuter-lane privileges (see above).
Sadly, traditional bonds of family, forced or natural, likely will lead to the resumption of these holiday gatherings once a chunk of the world gets vaccinated. But there’s always a glimmer of hope that the respite might have convinced folks on both sides of these battle lines that interfamilial connections resulting in plate-passing can be purely optional.
7. In-Person “Speed Dating”
This horrible construct, thank the gods, already had fallen out of favor before the pandemic. But the big virus scare should be the final nail in its compostable cardboard coffin.
For the unfortunate victims of this practice, no explanation is necessary. For the rest of us: Imagine a world in which a large number of the people you’ve found objectionable simply by viewing their imagined selves in online profiles were sitting there, in front of you, all smelly, revved up and excited, and had you as a captive audience for, say, five to 10 minutes that you’ll never, ever get back.
8. Food Sample Cart-Jams at Costco
Never really understood this. At all. Huge backup of carts/bodies over by the refrigerated section, almost always traceable to a pleasant senior person in a white smock and hairnet, holding court behind a small, cart-top oven and preparing to deliver for the waiting masses a rarely seen delicacy known as … toast.
Yes, toast. Like: hunk of white bread with butter. And what a remarkable concept this is, based on the literal salivation evident among the dozen-bodies-deep lines of shoppers and their 14 children waiting to partake of this delectable taste treat.
Sample text message: “TOAST! MY GOD, MARGIE, THEY’RE GIVING OUT 3X3-INCH TOAST SQUARES AT THE END OF AISLE 12. STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING, AND GET OVER HERE!!”
Today, any toast deemed worthy of public display is safely contained behind a three-sided Lexan shield, fully out of reach for the toast-starved masses. And even though the same kindly sample technician is standing there, explaining the many values and useful properties of toast, shoppers rush right on by, with a look that says, “Yes; I would’ve stood here for 15 minutes to actually partake of toast, but I sure as hell am NOT going to slow down my beeline to the cat-litter section for any weak-substitute toast discourse.”
This is exactly how God intended toast to be sold. Let’s stick with the current program.
9. In-Person Visits to the Doctor’s Office/Germ Factory
Ah, the memories.
Your “appointment” was at 12:45. It’s 1:37, and the kid next to you is carefully constructing a Harry Potter Wizard Village made exclusively of his/her own chunks of snot.
Once home, realizing you have ingested a germ infusion comparable to swimming laps in the basement of an outhouse at a roadside rest stop in suburban Gary, Indiana, you exile yourself into a hermetically sealed 14-day quarantine. But, by George, you’ve checked the box to keep from getting screwed quite so badly on next year’s health insurance, thanks to your company “wellness” plan!
If you’re sick, by all means, go in. If you’re not, stay that way, and do it via remote.
10. Take-A-Number In-Person Driver’s License Renewals
For anyone who’s been there, done that, got the bug-eyed mug shot, this requires absolutely, positively zero discussion.
11. The REI “Garage Sale”
Oh, Lord, this one.
It’s nice that NW folks are incurably outdoorsy, and that they have a local cooperative co-op, REI, to supply their necessary gear fixes. But we long ago became alternately fascinated and repelled by the twice-annual (roughly) tradition of the Saturday “Garage Sale,” a means of reselling returned gear at highly discounted prices.
It went thusly: Local REI stores would let slip word of the sale a week or so in advance, often through signage in the store. Shoppers would begin lining up outside hours in advance — some even overnight, on the sidewalk, as if attempting to score tickets to see The Who in the Kingdome. (Kids: Ask your grandparents.)
When the doors open, true Target-on-Black-Friday mayhem often ensued, with a mob flowing into the store like cheap syrup over an overcooked Bisquick pancake, grabbing, clawing, elbowing and burrowing into giant bins of returned gear.
Some folks even adopted the strategy of just grabbing as much stuff as they could possibly hold in their arms, then schlepping it to a store corner to sort out what it actually was, read the tags describing what was wrong with said item (“customer says the boots ‘gave them an odd feeling,’ ” and so on), then buying the one or two things they wanted before dumping the rest of it back into the maw.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
It was an unsightly consumer feeding frenzy at best, and a sad commentary on “tread lightly” mankind at the worst. Sane minds should be most pleased to see it stay gone.
12. Skinny-Tie, Front-Porch Proselytizing
Have you seen a tract-wielding missionary at your door in the past year? Even one?
So heavenly. Praise be, and keep it going. Those of us seeking spiritual guidance generally know where to find it. Pay this peaceful retreat of the sect armies forward, please.
13. McDonald’s Playland and Other Fast-Food Jungle-Gym Atrocities
Now we know: It never really was possible to achieve the Zen buzz you were looking for — assisted, of course, by a vanilla shake and large fries, extra ketchup — while seated next to the bit of architectural upchuck known as the kiddie playground in the front of your local burger franchise. Deep down, we always knew this. Yet we endured the primal shrieks and cringe-inducing sounds of young skin sliding across thermoplastic surfaces as if wasn’t really there.
Make it finally so. Mr. McDonald, tear down that slippery slide. The planet is tight on space, and this was wasted. Try again.
Honorable Good Riddance Mentions: The ridiculous spectacle of in-person pro sports drafts, of any kind. The “Super Buffet,” with all-you-can-eat canned goods and saliva rockets. Big weddings. Cross-the-desk, oral-surgery-comfort performance reviews. Frisbee-sized pagers announcing a sliver of space at overcrowded, overpriced restaurants. In-classroom parent-teacher conferences, never much popular with parents, teachers or definitely students, for whom these were literal hostage situations. And, oh, yeah: malls. Sorry, but nonessential, writ large.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.