There is a much over-used expression that states, “Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.” Well, here I am using it again because it fits like a glove to describe what the last few months have been like for all of us. Back in the halcyon days of December 2019 and January 2020, I had plans. Big plans. Scary, but exciting plans…
I wrote this a few years ago, but thought I would re-post it today for Mother’s Day:
Although I’m not a clinical psychologist and I recognized early in my career that I didn’t have the patience to deal with patients, I’ve been studying psychology for almost 40 years and teaching for over 30. From the original writings of Dr. Freud to the hideous array of pop psychology self-help books that abound in bookstores, a theme emerges all too frequently: whatever the psychological issue you are dealing with, it is probably somehow your mother’s fault. While I personally think mothers have been unfairly targeted in this argument over the root cause of our adult neuroses, I can definitively say that my mother is absolutely the reason for the fact that I am a self-diagnosed Travel Addict today.
As I’m sure is true for many of you, the last few weeks of sheltering in place because of the coronavirus has given me lots of time to think about and reflect on life: where I’ve been, where I am right now, and where I’m going….
Here we are at the end of March, and who could have guessed how quickly and dramatically our everyday lives would change even just 3 or 4 weeks ago? As the new year began, I’d made plans to travel to Italy over Spring Break, leaving on March 7 to work with colleagues at Mt. Vesuvius on a new study of volcanic risk perception. However, by early February, I was feeling too stressed by my upcoming retirement and move out of California to even think about going abroad for almost two weeks. In a move that surprised even myself, I reluctantly informed my Italian colleagues that I wouldn’t be able to come over as we’d planned. Never would I have imagined passing up an opportunity to go to Italy, but I really do have an awful lot on my plate.
As a consolation prize. I decided to go back to Massachusetts for Spring break and while there, to attend the Eastern Psychological Association conference in Boston, so it would be a combined business and pleasure trip. Of course, as Spring Break drew closer, reports about the coronavirus were starting to make headlines, and I watched in horror what was starting to happen in Italy. Colleagues from my university who were also going to Boston for the conference decided they were too worried about traveling at this time and cancelled their plans. I forged ahead, but as luck would have it, I came down with a cold or the flu just a few days prior to leaving. I knew it was not coronavirus; there had only been a couple of cases in California at that time, but as is typical at this time of year, my classes that week sounded like a tuberculosis ward with students coughing and sneezing their way through their midterm exams.
I flew to Boston on a red-eye flight on March 6. The airport was pleasantly uncrowded, as was the plane. I had an entire exit row all to myself. I felt lousy and was self-conscious every time I coughed. I tried to sleep, but the cabin was cold, and I could not get comfortable. It was a long night and I was dragging by the time I arrived in Boston. I got my rental car and headed into the city to meet my friend Carol for our usual day of fun: pastry and coffee at a bakery called Tatte, a movie, and a late lunch. But over coffee I realized I was really not up for anything. Carol said she had never seen me look so bad, and between feeling cruddy and the disappointment that was taking over as I realized my long awaited day of fun was not going as I planned, I could barely smile or converse. After about 20 minutes I told her to go off on her own and enjoy her day, while I arranged an early check in at my hotel. I got there at noon, slept for 5 hours, ran out for some take-out food, and went back to bed for another 17 hours.
The rest did me good, and I felt a lot better on Sunday, though my cough would follow me for the next two weeks. I saw some dear friends on Sunday and spent a relaxing day on Monday walking on the beach and resting at the small cabin in the woods that I rent often when I am home.
Every once in a while I’d turn on the news to hear the latest, ominous news about the virus. One night I found myself sitting up till the wee hours of the morning, unable to sleep. What did I find on TV but the Will Smith film, I Am Legend. It is a remake of the 1960s film Omega Man with Charlton Heston, a movie I saw as a kid that gave me nightmares for decades. Of course, the plot of the film involves a deadly pandemic striking the world, and those who die become vampire-like creatures that stalk the seeming lone survivor. I watched for a while, but too creeped out, I switched over to AMC and started watching a marathon of Fear the Walking Dead, a spin-off of The Walking Dead. For those who are not fans, these shows share the premise that a plague kills millions of people and they then re-animate as zombies. I mused that I should have brought along my copy of Stephen King’s The Stand, a story about a super-flu that kills millions, leaving survivors drawn to follow either an angelic old woman in Colorado or a demonic young man who leads his people from Las Vegas. If I’d brought the DVD with me I could have completed the “deadly virus trifecta”! If nothing else, my epidemic-thon made coronavirus seem not quite so bad. I had yet to hear about anyone re-animating as a vampire or a zombie, and I know that if that were to happen, our sensation-seeking media would certainly have told us by now!
On Tuesday I got word that my conference had been canceled because of fears of the virus. I was able to cancel two of the three nights I was spending in Boston during the conference, but could not get a refund on the third night with such short notice, so I spent one night at the Sheraton Boston on the 25th floor with a stunning view of Boston’s Back Bay and the Charles River. it was nice to be in the city for a night and I had some great Italian food and a relaxing soak in the hotel’s indoor pool.
Another day I went up to Maine and New Hampshire for an overnight. In the hotel one night, a woman who’d been smoking out in the parking lot came back in and got into the elevator with me. She was extremely drunk and disheveled and as she exited the elevator at her floor, she wished me “Happy apocalypse!” I swear that was a scene from The Stand.
It was rather rainy and cold up there, and people were beginning to shy away from eating out. I discovered a wonderful and reasonably priced local chain called the Lobster Boat and ordered a lobster roll and some fresh, healthy, perfectly cooked and seasoned broccoli as a side. I got them to go, drove out to the beach and enjoyed a delicious lunch as I stared out at the stormy Atlantic. I had a few more meals out with various friends and family while I was back in Massachusetts, so felt like I’d at least managed to salvage some good times from what had been a tumultuous week.
As the weekend approached, I began to get nervous about my return flight to San Francisco on Sunday. I was starting to hear rumors that they were screening people at the airports and that San Francisco International was a madhouse, with hours long waits to be screened and released. It turned out that this was only applicable to international flights. Boston’s Logan Airport was quiet and hassle-free, my flight was again half full and I had an entire exit row to myself, and I arrived at 12:30AM.
Because rumors of food shortages were making the news, I planned to head straight from the airport to an all-night supermarket, but I tried three of them and all were on reduced hours. I decided to head home, sleep for 4 hours and then showed up at my local Safeway grocery store when it opened at 6AM. The lot was already full and there was not a shopping cart to be had. I grabbed two baskets and decided I would fill them until I couldn’t carry anything more. There was of course no toilet paper, and no bread or eggs. The dairy case was almost cleaned out, and I snagged the only thing left: a half gallon of lactose free, low-fat chocolate milk! Desperate times call for desperate measures and it actually tasted pretty good on my cereal! I waited in the check-out line for almost an hour, as the line stretched from the registers to a side wall, up an aisle to the back of the store, and back down another aisle to the front of the store. It was amazing.
Later in the day I hit three more markets, finding regular milk and bread at one, eggs at another, and toilet paper! I had enough meat, fruit and vegetables to last a week or so. My timing was good, because that afternoon the counties around San Francisco gave a “shelter in place” order. We are allowed to go to grocery stores and pharmacies, to get take-out food from restaurants that are still open, and can go walking in parks or at the beach as long as we maintain at least 6 feet distance from others. I also got word from my University that we would be closed all week and would begin trying to offer our classes online starting the following week.
All of that was almost two weeks ago now, and ever since it’s been a surreal blur of spending hours upon hours to restructure my classes and learn the technology to be able to teach online, checking in with friends and family across the country, as well as in Italy and France, and somehow trying to keep my own spirits up.
As for teaching, it feels like I’m designing new classes totally from scratch. I have had to totally revamp the class schedules and requirements because we’ve lost a lot of time already and because things cannot be done in the same way now. I’m trying to arrange to have guest speakers who were to visit one of my classes do their visit via online chat and am delivering lectures online as well. This is a special challenge, trying to ensure that the camera and microphone are working properly and trying not to throw the laptop across the room when it freezes for 30 minutes at a time because it can’t handle the software I’m using. When I am lecturing online I try to pay attention to students’ expressions and reactions and be alert for raised hands, but I have to balance that with referring to my lecture notes on the same screen. Often, when I need to scroll down to the next page in my notes, I find that I have instead zipped down another 20 pages in my notes, and then have to find my way back to where I left off. At these moments I’m again tempted to throw the laptop across the room. Meanwhile I’m fielding dozens of e-mails a day from students and colleagues, all of whom have good questions, but I feel as if I am making up all the answers as I go along.
We heard from the administration that online instruction will continue for the remaining 6 weeks of this semester, and that graduation is cancelled. If I am being honest, I can’t say I am sad about that, as graduation for the faculty is one of the most painful events of the entire academic year. They pack us in like sardines on unbelievably uncomfortable metal chairs that make a middle seat in the Economy section of a a plane seem luxurious! Faculty are seated on stage behind the speaker’s podium facing the students, but strangely, all of the speakers are turned toward the students, so what we hear back in our area sounds like a really bad speaker at the drive-thru of a fast food restaurant. It’s impossible to understand anything the speakers are saying, so I sit there wrestling with claustrophobia, my ears ringing from the deafening applause and screaming of the students and their families and pray that the three hours will end quickly.
That being said, I feel so bad for the graduating seniors, many of whom are in my classes. What a letdown this must be after years of hard work. Some of them have shared with me how discouraged they feel, and one of my favorite students, Ellie, who has been a work-study student in our department for the past four years said, “I can’t believe that after all this time, I may never see any of you in the department again in person.” It is hard to fathom.
It is also a strange way to end my 27 year career at my university. Three separate end-of- -the-year parties/retirement celebrations have been canceled. The thought that when I walked out of a class the week before Spring Break was perhaps the last time I’ll step foot in the classroom is incomprehensible. Meanwhile I have an office packed with 27 years of accumulated stuff that must be sorted through and thrown out, but we are banned from coming to campus unless we get special permission from the Vice President and security. I got permission to go as long as no one else will be in the area when I do, but I will need days to sort through everything.
I’m grateful that all of my friends across the country are safe, though some have lost their jobs and others are having to work harder than ever to figure out how to work from home. My heart breaks for what Italy has gone through, but thankfully all of my friends there are fine, though some have family members who were hospitalized with the virus. Some of the most touching moments during this crisis have been watching videos of the flash-mobs of Italians (and people in other countries now too) who gather at certain times of day on their balconies or in their windows and sing and play music together. It’s beautiful and it has moved me to tears.
I’m lucky to live in a very private apartment with a wonderful view out over the city and the bay. If one must be in “prison”, it’s a very nice cell. Other than the grocery store and one trip to a laundromat, my only recreation has been to go to the beach that I love about 10 miles south of the city in Pacifica. There I can walk the length of the beach, find a solitary patch of sand and a warm rock to lean on, and bask in the sun as I listen to Hawaiian or Italian music on my headphones and dream about these places that I love and miss so much.
I’m genuinely trying not to focus too much on the future or let my anxieties overwhelm me. Like so many others, I’ve lost a huge chunk of change from my retirement account and it seems my planned exodus from California, which was scheduled for May 31, will be pushed back a bit. How am I ever going to orchestrate my move in the midst of all this? Oh well, I’ll just have time to sit and reflect on everything and rest. It’ll be OK. May 31 is also the date when my university medical insurance coverage ends. What am I going to do? I really don’t know. Oh well… we’ll see. You’d think that all of this should be enough to keep me awake nights, but I’ve developed a strange, calm feeling of “take it one day at a time” and a resignation to the fact that there is nothing I can do to change anything. My barber is closed into May, so I wonder just how long my hair will grow by then or how bushy my beard will be. My eye doctor appointment next month is cancelled, and my overdue dental cleaning may be canceled too, so I guess I’ll have to continue to live with my current glasses and try and floss more. Travel-wise, I have a ticket to Maui in August and wonder if I will still be able to go and had tentative plans to go to Europe in September. Oh well, maybe it will all be over by then and maybe there’ll be some great travel bargains. Again, there’s nothing I can do about any of this, and I know everyone else is in the same situation. It will be interesting to see if I can hold on to this attitude once the crisis has passed. I sort of hope I can.
I’ll admit that I am feeling pretty isolated, even though I am typically content with living alone. It is hard to have no one to really go through this with, I’ve tried to turn to social media like Facebook, but I’ve found that there are still people out there who will use any and every excuse to try and start a political fight or focus on the negative, and I simply cannot go there or wallow in it. I posted a photo the other day from the beach with the caption, “Fridge is stocked, managed to do a load of laundry, and now having a walk on the beach… feeling grateful.” Someone from my university – who had never once ever commented on anything I have ever posted – swooped out of nowhere and pointed out that although I was grateful, the homeless in San Francisco are NOT doing well right now. It seemed to come completely out of left field. I replied that the homeless have not been doing well in San Francisco for over a decade, how appalling that is, and how our city’s leaders inexplicably seem not to care. That just added fuel to the fire, and I got so frustrated that I simply deleted the entire post and am maintaining radio silence for a while.
So this is how I am surviving the “apocalypse” – doing the best I can and grateful that I don’t have to contend with zombies or vampire creatures, or Satan taking over Las Vegas as the protagonists in those end-of-the-world disaster/horror films do.
I hope all of you reading this are safe and well. Feel free to post comments to let me and others know how things are from wherever you are. Take care.
My first cross country drive was in summer of 1976 at the ripe old age of 18, and since then I’ve actually lost count of how many round trips I’ve made from coast to coast to coast, but I do know that it is over 40. One of those trips actually took me from San Francisco to Texas to Virginia to Massachusetts to Alaska and back down to California… a mere 10,000 miles. Many people can’t understand why any sane person would opt to drive for 6 or 7 days rather than taking a 6 hour plane flight, but these pictures may give you a glimpse of why I crave the open roads. Here’s a compilation of photos I’ve taken along the way over the years. (I first posted this in 2016, but have made significant updates since then.)Let’s hit the road!
Just a half hour east of Memphis you’ll find the truly charming town of Collierville, Tennessee. A walk around its picturesque central square, and the myriad little shops and restaurants that surround it, will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to an innocent 1950s or 1960s sitcom back lot. Visiting earlier this month, with the square decked out in Christmas lights and decorations, I would have sworn I had been transported into a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie!
While visiting town, I met my dear friend, Daniel, for an amazing lunch at a small restaurant facing the square called Raven & Lily. Housed in a lovely brick building, the restaurant has a warm and inviting atmosphere, and as soon as I started to peruse the menu, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of items I wanted to try. One appetizer that caught my eye was roasted sweet potatoes with carrots, house bacon, onions & Danish blue cheese. But because this is the south and I love traditional southern dishes, I opted for the fried green tomatoes with a lemon caper remoulade, and a cup of a nicely spicy, hearty corn and shrimp chowder. It was a tough call, though because shrimp and grits and seafood mac ‘n’ cheese also called to me. My friend Daniel ordered an enormous fried chicken sandwich that was impossible to eat without the aid of a knife and fork given its enormous size. He said it was fantastic, as were my dishes.
I made sure to save room for dessert, which was yet another difficult decision. The menu included lemon curd and shortbread with berries, a brioche cinnamon roll with cinnamon ice cream, and a caramel-vanilla bread pudding. Oh the humanity! But I decided on the made-to-order dark chocolate souffle with vanilla anglais. I have had souffles in Paris itself, and this one held up against anything I’ve tasted there. It was a truly deep, dark chocolate, and knowing that Daniel is not really a “dessert person” (I love him despite this character flaw!), I thought it was safe to offer him a taste. His eyes sort of rolled back into his head in a way that made me think he was about to faint. I may make a dessert person out of him yet!
So, if you find yourself anywhere close to the Metro Memphis area, I’d urge you to make the effort to head out to Collierville for a calm respite from the city and an absolutely gourmet-quality meal at Raven & Lily. I know I will be returning; there are a whole lot of dishes yet to be sampled!
In prior postings I’ve described my time in Athens and on the Greek Islands of Santorini and Mykonos. Now I want to share with you my visits to some of the lesser-known of the Greek Islands, each of which was a unique and wonderful experience in its own way. So settle in for a tale that will take you to four other Greek islands: Naxos, Milos, Rodos and Symi.All aboard for Naxos!
During an overnight stay in Dover, New Hampshire I was looking online for a good place to eat dinner, and my google search led me across the border to the town of South Berwick, Maine where I discovered an unassuming little restaurant called Fogarty’s. Immediately I liked the atmosphere of this casual, cheery place, but the impressive array of homemade desserts and baked goods that greeted me as I entered the restaurant “had me at hello.” Is it wrong to long for dessert when you have yet to eat dinner? Fogarty’s will do that to you.
One of my favorite meals at any time of the year is a traditional turkey dinner with all the fixin’s: stuffing, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, cranberry sauce, gravy. I spied a turkey dinner on the menu and ordered it. Little did I know it would be, to date, the only entrée I have ever ordered at Fogarty’s after at least a half dozen visits! When you find something this good, it’s hard to stray from it. I have eaten a lot of turkey dinners in my time, and I have visited countless restaurants, but never have I encountered a meal that is so beautifully well-prepared, generously portioned, and most importantly, so delicious. First off, the turkey itself is often my least favorite part of a turkey dinner, but not here. The turkey is tender, moist, and so satisfying that I often eat half of it before I even sample the side dishes. The turkey is accompanied by a huge portion of savory stuffing, the mashed potatoes are delicious and the butternut squash is seasoned perfectly… not too sweet, but just sweet enough. Everything tastes completely fresh and homemade. A picture is worth a thousand words, so here you go… judge for yourself!
Now keep in mind that Fogarty’s has an enormous and eclectic menu! You can get a Maine lobster roll and fries or other local seafood, like fried clams, scallops or Atlantic salmon. There are pasta dishes, beef, chicken and pork entrees, burgers, sandwiches and someday I sincerely intend to try some of them. I have made a little progress in that direction, recently trying their shrimp and corn chowder, a butternut squash and cranberry bisque, and a clam chowder that could win an award; it was almost the consistency of a stew given the huge amount of finely minced clams that far outnumbered the chopped potatoes it contained. But as far as the entrees are concerned, my heart still belongs to the turkey!
Fogarty’s also has an impressive array of homemade pies, and again, I have become a creature of habit, ordering their chocolate cream pie every time I visit. The chocolate pudding filling seems to be a darker chocolate than is typical, and is not too sweet. It’s sandwiched between an excellent pie crust and real whipped cream. I have also tried the strawberry cream pie in the summer, but while it was different and very good, I am still firmly caught in the gravitational pull of the chocolate cream, though I typically have to take it to go after devouring such a big meal.
If you are anywhere near Maine or New Hampshire’s popular seacoast areas, take a 15 minute detour north to Berwick and check out Fogarty’s. And if you try anything other than the turkey dinner, please let me know how it is!
One place that I’ve neglected to say much about so far in my travel blogs is Greece, and in particular, the Greek Islands. My first trip there was with faculty and students from my university back in 2003 when I saw a Athens and spent time on the islands of Mykonos, Santorini and Crete. A few years later I returned with another student group and saw much of the mainland before returning to Santorini for a second time. Since then I’ve made several more trips on my own and with friends, often returning to Santorini and Mykonos (which I did talk about in a prior blog post). I’ve also visited the islands of Naxos, Milos, Rodos, Symi and Corfu, so I thought it was time to share some of my experiences and show you why Greece is probably, after Italy and Hawaii, one of my very favorite destinations. To avoid an overly long post, I’ll talk about Athens and Santorini in this blog and follow up with another blog about some of the other islands soon, so stay tuned.
On a road trip to southern California a few months ago, I stumbled across the Cher Channel on my Sirius Satellite Radio and spent a few hours of that long drive listening nostalgically to an extremely diverse collection of Cher’s music.