coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, Florida, football, Politics

A pandemic diary: Un-unmasking

July 28, 2021

My daily life won’t be affected by the disheartening but necessary call for vaccinated people in many places to wear masks indoors again. I never stopped using an N95 in public areas, both out of respect for others and to extend my personal shield as far as possible.

I take no pleasure in knowing I was on the right track. The warning is driven by the finding that vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant can carry as much viral load as the unvaxxed, which means they may spread it to others. I’m not at all surprised that the CDC reversed course. I wish like hell that they’d done it before now. According to the New York Times, six weeks ago (June 14) my county in metro Atlanta reported 12 new cases and a seven-day average of 27. Yesterday we hit 282 cases with an average of 208.

Some accuse the CDC of flip-flopping or inconsistency. IMHO, the guidance should apply nationwide, not just where cases are surging, but it changed for a good reason: the data changed. This is natural. In my lifetime, there were serious people who claimed space flight was impossible because there was nothing up there for rockets to push against. You might recall that weather forecasters don’t keep predicting tropical-storm-force winds after the storm blows up into a hurricane.

Forget science: I’ll put this in the language of the least vaccinated part of the USA, the South or more precisely the the Southeastern Conference, stretching from Columbia, Missouri to Gainesville, Florida.* This language is football.

Let’s suppose Alabama’s new quarterback lights up the Florida secondary in the first half but in the second, the Gators’ edge rushers get into the backfield and he’s running for his life. Does Coach Nick Saban stick with the same blocking scheme? If you think so, you haven’t got the brains God gave geese, and he didn’t give geese much. (Nothing personal, y’all.)

Of course, we wouldn’t need masks if more of us got the jabs. That’s why, as a retired federal employee, I strongly support the vaccination mandate for the government. Like members of the armed forces and all civilian feds, I took an oath to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” This virus is our enemy but we can win. Take care, mask up, and be safe.

*The home of those Gator fans who never call. But that’s another story.

Covid 19 pandemic, Florida, life, Politics

A pandemic diary: Small, slow steps

Man offering hand to shake.

May 11, 2021

First actual handshake in fourteen months? Check, and it felt great. Unmasked conversations with other vaccinated people? Check. Go face-naked outdoors? Check. Feel a lot less paranoid about doorknobs, mail, packages, keypads, and waiting-room furniture? Double-check!

Toss the hand sanitizer altogether? Nuh-uh, not for me, not just yet. This also goes for indoor dining, theaters, and live music, even with distancing and reduced capacity. Though I’m vaxxed and local cases are down, the risk is still there, largely because Georgia is crawling with anti-jabbers who’ll likely stop us from ever reaching herd immunity.

I wish I could stop saying this, but after surviving the last year, I’m not risking my life for a meal or a movie. Not even Gulf shrimp, my favorite food in the world, or an IMAX double feature of “Bull Durham” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” could tempt me into an unsafe space. Speaking of which: a couple of malignant cretins recently staged a rally where a thousand people were jammed into a room designed for 400 to create the image of an overflow crowd. That’s the oldest trick in the political campaign book. Many in the over-55 audience are probably vaccinated. It’s still brutally irresponsible.

Grocery shopping in-store with a cart? Probably never again. Online ordering and curbside pickup save time, and more importantly, spare my aging feet from trudging over concrete floors. I don’t need to stand there pondering fifteen varieties of arugula, especially since I don’t even eat the stuff. (Tastes like grass clippings.)

Go back to the office? I’m retired, but if I had a full-time gig I’d want to WFH as much as possible. My last position was essentially virtual, with colleagues from Seattle to Denver to DC, and we always got the job done. (However, online chat can be more annoying and less productive than the water-cooler kind). Take care and be safe.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, Florida, new old age, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: All roads lead nowhere

December 15, 2020

Map of Cape Coral and Ft. Myers Florida.

It means very little in the big scheme of things, but my wife and I have had to postpone something we’d been looking forward to: a visit to Florida. We’d planned to head down to Cape Coral, far enough south to have balmy winters yet only a day’s drive from Atlanta. It’s known for canals, manatees, and nature preserves full of birds, just the ticket for a plague-weary pair like ourselves.

We found a nice place on a canal and booked a week in mid-January. Then we looked at how the case numbers have exploded since Thanksgiving, and remembered Dr. Fauci’s warning that Christmas and New Year’s could trigger another surge. To make things even more dire, this part of Florida is heaven for snowbirds, most of whom would arrive around the same time as us.

Having grown up in Michigan, I know how desperate these people are to escape the Midwestern winter. I’m sure they’re also eager to escape social distancing, masks, and other flashpoints of tyranny that were forced down their throats by Communist despots in Lansing, Columbus, Madison, and St. Paul.* Between the out-of-state crowd and the locals, we could wind up in the middle of a hotspot.

This threw our “What if” machine into high gear: What if I break a leg or have some other medical crisis and all the hospitals and ERs are full? Or the grocery stores run out of essentials? Or don’t have enough staff to manage curbside pickup? Or things get so horrific that Georgia starts blocking northbound traffic? If you think I sound like Chicken Little, read what Maryland just did. These are, unfortunately, possibilities we have to consider, especially since being over 65 puts us at high risk by default. There’s no getting away from it, not now.

We decided the only sane thing to do is put off our trip until April. Assuming we make it, it’ll be our first travel in more than a year. We hoped to celebrate our 20th anniversary last spring on the Panhandle beach where we married, which of course became impossible. But I turned my disappointment into a story called “High Tide” that has a happier ending and was published by the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.**

That’s all any of us can do, play the hand we’re dealt and keep looking ahead. I’d like nothing better than to celebrate our 21st anniversary with a jab of Pfizer or Moderna. I hope y’all get yours very soon. Take care and be safe.

*Irony and sarcasm. In case you couldn’t tell.
**Yes, that’s their real name. This site even requires a Southern Authenticity Statement from all contributors. Mine invokes blues, Faulkner, and Alabama barbecue. Y’aaaiight with that?

2020 election, Covid 19 pandemic, Family, Florida

A pandemic diary: Of times and lives

November 13, 2020

Genealogy is fascinating for a lot of reasons, and I don’t mean finding out that your ancestor stood with the embattled farmers at Lexington. (If all the people who claim their relatives were there on that day are telling the truth, the farmers would’ve outnumbered the redcoats by about a million to one.) With luck and a little research, you can go beyond names and dates to get a feel for the lives your people led, and the choices they made.

Faded family photo with couple and two children, taken about 1870.
Some ancestors on my mother’s side

Thanks to a diarist in the family, I know my great-grandfather was a teacher and farmer in northern Illinois, who was “excepted” from service in the Civil War and courted a few women before settling down. He and my great-grandmother had six children, two of them dying in infancy and only my grandfather Hoyt Swan living past age thirty. From an obituary my mother transcribed, I learned that her great-uncle had been “sidetracked” and “back-slidden” from his faith, but was brought back to church by his wife’s prayers. My mother told me some of her other relatives lived in a house where, it was sometimes said, “Nobody’s talking to anybody today.”

Today, the whole country seems to have a long-term lease on that place. And of course, the trouble with probing the past is discovering that Aunt Nellie was fond of laudanum and Colonel or Captain Somebody fought on the wrong side. Speaking of wrong sides, I recently found that some of my ancestors enslaved Black people in New England in the 1700s. According to family histories and a list of tombstones in a Connecticut cemetery, there were at least four of them, known only as Cato, Cuff, David, and Dinah. There could have been others. I’m pretty sure there are more enslavers whose crimes I haven’t documented yet.

These people never dreamed that future generations would reach back into their lives as easily as reading a newspaper. Because I don’t have children, nobody’s likely to be tracing me on some 23rd-century But 2020 will be a milestone for everyone.

Some of our descendants will find we wore masks, stopped hugging, stayed indoors, and generally took care of each other. Others will see their grandparents’ grandparents proudly packed like sardines into Trump rallies, bars, and college parties. Some will read “Black Lives Matter” in their forbears’ files; for others it’ll be “All Lives Matter,” which as historians will point out, means nobody matters unless they’re white. We’ll all be reviled for doing so little to stop climate change, which will leave Earth far different, far sooner than we think. But those who called it a hoax will earn a special place in our children’s vision of hell.

For anyone who’s looking me up a few centuries down the line: I hope you’ll give me credit for acknowledging some ugly truths about my heritage and keeping a sense of humor amid the pandemic. If it’s still the present, take care and be safe. (PS to the future: I loved my wife, music, and beaches. I hope the water in the Gulf of Mexico is still that color.)

Dave on Gulf beach, 2017.
coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, Fiction, Florida, Writing

A pandemic diary: My new short story

September 1, 2020

While this blog keeps me busy and helps me cope with the pandemic, I also write fiction. I recently turned out a story called “High Tide,” which is about the virus, beaches, life, and most of all, love. It’s just been published by the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Click on the image to read it.

Dead Mule School of Southern Literature logo showing mule on his back.

Since my stuff has already appeared in another fine regional outlet, the Birmingham Arts Journal, I believe I may now call myself, without fear of contradiction, an official, certified, no-two-ways Southern Writer.

Which is good, because the Deadmule folks require a Southern Legitimacy Statement from all contributors (seriously!). Here’s mine.

Though I was born in upstate New York and grew up in Michigan, my Southern leanings began to emerge in college, where I studied blues, jazz, and Faulkner. I’ve now lived for almost twenty years in the South and have earned regional citizenship by virtue of loving and marrying a Southern woman. Of course, they don’t give out green cards to us northern expats. Somewhere I do have a card for a free fried apple pie from the very best barbecue place in Alabama. Will that suffice?

As always, take care and be safe, y’all.

coronavirus, Fiction, Florida, Pandemic diary, Writing

A pandemic diary: Independence

Beach at sunset with waves and people on sand.

July 7, 2020

You had the perfect Fourth. Everything was great – the beach, the weather, the fireworks, and most of all, just hanging out and being normal again. You’d almost gotten used to the six-foot bullshit, and the mask when you absolutely had to, but no more. From now on you’re free.

Just like old times, the weekend fell into place. Ashley got an awesome deal on a condo right on the beach. Your special restaurant, the Captain’s Cabin, had reopened and you sat on the porch eating grouper and shrimp, all the outdoor tables full, everybody drinking and laughing. The server, Rosa or Rosita or whatever, didn’t look happy, though. She probably made more money from unemployment than working.

Your old UGA friends Chris and Beth were at their place up the coast, and Ashley’s friend Sarah had come down with her husband Jason, so you threw a party. Beth’s sister came, Jason brought a couple of his golf buddies and their girlfriends, and you invited the two couples staying next door, so there must’ve been a dozen, maybe fifteen people. It got a little crowded in that small living room.

So what? Everybody was young and like Sarah said, if it was that dangerous we’d all be dead already. People didn’t even talk about it much except when one of Jason’s friends, who was pretty hammered, said he didn’t wear a mask because he wouldn’t take orders, “from some Black Lives Matter mayor.” The room got quiet but then came the pop! of the first fireworks, and everyone headed for the deck and that was that. Actually, he seemed like a nice guy.

And Beth. Damn, she looked so, so great. It’s been six years, she’s with Chris now and of course you’re with Ashley, but when she walked in, right away you felt the old spark. Later, after the fireworks, you drifted out to the deck and there she was in the corner, no one else around, her eyes telling you she felt something too. You grabbed each other and started kissing really hard, her hands in your hair, yours around her back, pulling her close, only for a minute but unbelievably hot. You tried not to think about her when you and Ashley went to bed, and almost succeeded.


It’s Wednesday and Ashley’s running errands. You’re in the home office, wishing your Zoom call was over because you’re congested and feeling crappy. This happens sometimes during allergy season but it hasn’t been this bad all summer. Your throat’s a little scratchy and your usually mild sinus headache is more like a migraine.

Your phone buzzes. You don’t check it until the Zoom session ends and you’ve finished the report that’s due by COB. You play the message and hear Beth’s voice.

It’s me. I got your number off Chris’s phone. I– oh God, I can’t believe this. I’ve got it.

There’s a long pause as she tries not to cry. Then she says I felt sick Sunday and just got the test results. I haven’t even told Chris yet. I’m not blaming you. I don’t know how it happened, I just – A barely stifled sob. I don’t know anything. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.

Now your head and heart are pounding. Time seems frozen as you sort out all the scenarios. She could’ve caught it from someone at the party. That doesn’t mean you or Ashley did. You try to remember who you talked to and how long you were outside where it was safer. You may be okay. Or Beth might have been sick already and not had symptoms.

As you sit, breathing rapidly and staring at nothing, it registers that you could be the one who infected her — and maybe the whole crowd. You frantically Google Captain’s Cabin and don’t find any news about cases. You know you still have to tell everyone.

You try to console yourself with the thought that you might have gotten the virus even if you and Beth hadn’t made out. You don’t have to tell Ashley about that. It’s not relevant.

But what if Beth tells Chris? He was talking about his guns at the party. He’s always had an awful temper.

You hear Ashley’s car outside.

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coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, Florida

A pandemic diary: I didn’t say I told you so, but…

June 17, 2020

Because my wife and I used to own a beach home in Florida, I’m keeping a close and worried watch on the pandemic there, especially the deluge that started when the state reopened. Doctors, scientists, everyone with a few active brain cells warned it was too soon. Now they’re setting records for new cases every day. Bars that just got back in business are shutting down again for deep cleaning.

I hate to see this in a place where I spent so many happy times. But the things that make it special — the beautiful beaches, the sun, and the loose, easy atmosphere — often lead people to shed both their inhibitions and their common sense. The ones who packed the bars and restaurants are like the unfortunate soul who drowned last week, a few miles from my old house.

SANTA ROSA BEACH — A 47-year-old Texas man died Tuesday after he was pulled from the Gulf of Mexico in South Walton County, officials say. Michael Willard Bratcher was in the water just west of the Walton Dunes Beach Access when several bystanders noticed he was in distress, Beach Safety Director David Vaughan said. Double red flags were flying at the time. That means the water was officially closed because conditions were too dangerous, and he went in anyway. This happens all the time during tourist season.

I’d like nothing better than to be back there now, swimming, walking along the shore, sitting under the stars at night, and having a great old time. That is, nothing except living a while longer, not putting anyone else at risk, and enjoying the things I still have, including my writing.

As much as I love a plate of Gulf shrimp and a cold beer, you couldn’t drag me into a saloon in Florida. How’d you like to be one of the sixteen friends who all tested positive, and maybe infected others, after a big night out? The beaches will still be there after we have a vaccine, folks. Take care and be safe.

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coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, Florida, life, Trump, Uncategorized

A pandemic diary: Notes from the bullseye

April 30, 2020

Another grocery pickup today. We found toilet paper with no trouble but didn’t get all the meat we ordered, which is ominous in light of all the recent warnings about shortages. We at least came away with two big fresh whole chickens. Even they might be in short supply in Georgia soon.

Our sanitation protocol goes like this: Gloves on to go through the bags and verify the order. Gloves off before I touch the wheel and the dash. Gloves back on to carry everything to the porch. Gloves off and wash the hands CDC-thoroughly to put the goods away after they’ve been wiped down. Wash hands again. Repeat as necessary and sometimes when it isn’t. This routine drives me nuts, or as Damon Runyon might have said, more than somewhat cuckoo, but of course the alternative is much worse.

There seem to be a few more people wearing masks at the store. Traffic on the roads has clearly surged since the governor started reopening the state against the advice of damned near everybody, even Trump. Sometimes when both sides are on your case, it means you’re doing something right. Not now. All the scientists say there’ll be a second round of infections, and unless we keep our distance it’ll be faster and deadlier.

Think of the plague like a hurricane. One of the eyewalls has just passed over and we’re sitting in the eye where the winds are calm, but the other eyewall is just waiting to blow in. Hurricane Michael (below) devastated the Florida Panhandle and came frighteningly close to my beach house. I’m staying in my shelter.

Florida, life, nature, new old age, retirement

Farewell to a friend

The dragonflies were coming out at the beach last week, a new cycle of life beginning with the season. For my wife and me, a stage of life was ending, as we cleared out and sold the beach house we’d owned and cherished for the last sixteen years.

Beach house

Growing up in the Midwest and not being the imaginative type (think Lake Wobegon), I never dreamed I might someday have a home by the water. I spent lots of summer days swimming in lakes, but never went to Florida for spring break. I had no clue that the world’s most gorgeous beaches lay on the Gulf of Mexico in the area once called the Redneck Riviera, now the Emerald Coast.

Then my girlfriend and I visited friends there and were entranced by the white sand, the balmy turquoise-blue water, and the cool, laid-back vibe. We bought a condo, got married on the beach, and a few years later traded up to a house, where we spent the best times of our lives. Swimming in the Gulf as little fish nibbled our toes. Riding our bikes to get ice cream at ten a.m. if we felt like it. Floating in our pool with Pat Metheny on the outdoor speakers. Kayaking in the rare dune lakes all around us. Eating sweet Gulf shrimp on the beach at sunset. Joining our neighbors for a Fourth of July pig roast, complete with a New Orleans funeral procession for the pig, then watching fireworks all along the coast. Catching beads at Mardi Gras in Panama City.

The Mardi Gras parade in St. Andrews, a few years before the hurricane

Of all those moments, the very best were the clear nights when we lay in our deck chairs for hours on end, marveling at the Milky Way and the planets, talking, and just being together. My wife’s creative spirit and loving heart touched every corner, from the wreath on the door, to the screened porch she had put in, to the nature photos she took and hung on the walls. We could go down anytime and find everything as we’d left it, waiting for us like an old friend.

But eventually, managing the place became a struggle. Meanwhile, our historic beach town was ruined by a plague of mini-Trump Towers, hideous new houses that blocked our Gulf view and were full of obnoxious tourists. These are the kind who bring their guns on vacation, then forget and leave them for the next group of renters (or their kids) to find. They overran our formerly uncrowded beaches, tore around the streets on golf carts, and shot off tons of fireworks even when it was nowhere near the Fourth.

We fought back. When some jerks got raucous in the house behind ours, we fired up the stereo and introduced them to John Coltrane at top volume. But it just wasn’t paradise anymore. And when Hurricane Michael slammed Panama City and came within twenty miles of us, it was time to sell and move on.

I know it’s the right decision. I still feel like I’ve torn out part of my heart. Little things remind me of the place all  the time: no more beach house keys on my ring, several beach-related bookmarks to delete from my browser, the storm forecasts I don’t need to follow anymore.

But we gave our home a proper farewell. We donated lots of household goods to people who’d lost everything in Michael (and didn’t need the National Hurricane Center to tell them it was a Category 5). On the last evening, we walked down to the beach with boxes of shells we’d collected over the years and cast them back into the sea.

Our last sunset

Like Hemingway’s Paris, the beach is a moveable feast, a state of mind. We can see the same stars and planets from our porch in Atlanta. It’s spring and this Sunday is Easter. The dragonflies will be back soon.

Dave closing door.
Florida, football, humor, life, Uncategorized

The ATL for Yankees and Gator fans

Greetings to all Michigan Wolverines, Florida Gators,* folks who got on the wrong plane, and everybody else who’s bound for Atlanta and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl! This is part of that delightful American holiday tradition in which we celebrate with family, give to the needy, humbly honor the rituals of our faith, and resolve to be better people in the New Year, then scream ourselves into an aneurysm and throw bowls of clam dip at our brand-new mega-screen TVs when a “ref” decides a young man from Our School “didn’t get his foot down in bounds.”

I’m talking about college football bowl games, approximately 8,395 of which are played every year, including the aforesaid Peach Bowl, which pits the Universities of Michigan and Florida against each other (again!). As an Atlanta resident, a U-M grad, AND an official Florida Man with a home on the Panhandle, I am uniquely qualified to answer all the Important Questions for visiting fans! Like these here:

Q: Is the traffic in Atlanta as bad as everybody says?
A: That’s just fake news. It’s worse. Think Midtown Manhattan and I-94 in Detroit are hellish caverns of misery? Down here we have the Perimeter, which winds around the city like chicken wire, is under construction 24-7 / 365, and moves at the speed of a dying garden slug. If Sherman had taken the Perimeter during his march, he never would’ve made it to the sea; the South would have won the war while he was stuck at the exit to I-20 East. By all means avoid the conflation of interstates we call Spaghetti Junction, which also resembles a nest of rattlesnakes but isn’t as friendly.

Q: What is the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl?
A: First and foremost, it’s not to be confused with any of our myriad** “Peach” and “Peachtree” names and places. Buckle up and listen, ‘cause we got us a Peachtree Street, West Peachtree Street, Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, Peachtree Battle Avenue, Peachtree Corners, Peachtree Circle, Peachtree Plaza, Old Peachtree Road, Peachtree Millennial, Peachtree Pothole, and PTSD, Peachtree Stress Disorder. This game is also not to be confused with a playoff game but we already knew that!

Q: Where will the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl be played?
A: At Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Q: Why would anyone who drives a Mercedes-Benz eat at Chick-fil-A?
A: They got lost over on Peachtree and couldn’t find a Waffle House, though there’s one on every corner. Lest y’all think we get by on grits and hog parts, we also have restaurants where delectables like sustainable catfish, hakurei turnips, and evoo are on the menu.

Q: Huh?
A: “Evoo” stands for Extra Virgin Olive Oil. However, if I were a server and a customer told me to “hold the evoo,” I’d call the vice squad. And how is the catfish sustainable if you’re going to devour it?

Q: Are grits groceries?
A: Boy Howdy! If you don’t believe it, just ask Little Milton or maybe Wet Willie, who were from Macon, GA, not to be confused with Makin’ Whoopee down on Peachtree, or more likely on Piedmont Road. (Note: the patrons of this fine establishment aren’t actually “Gentlemen.”)

*Over the years there’s been a lot of chatter on sports-talk radio about how “Gator fans never call.” Since I never listen, I have no idea if this vague rumor is true. But using my regular standards of accuracy and integrity, I’m going to assume it is! So Gator guys and gals, please continue this practice and DON’T CALL ME to complain about this article, ask for directions etc.
**Greek, Middle French, and Late Latin for “godamighty, that’s a big ol’ mess of ‘em.”