Saturday, April 4, 2020

And now it's April

March was a blur.

I was, dimly, aware of the COVID-19 issue way back at the end of December; interestingly, I learned about it from my son (!) who pays a lot more attention to certain things than I do. I remember being in a meeting at work and taking a text message from Dan, and my co-worker asked me what had so distracted me, and I said something like: "my son just asked me what I thought about this new disease in central China", and my co-worker said something like: "you know, most people don't have sons like yours."

True that!

But after that I dove back into work, and sadly was paying only casual attention. One of my habits at work is to take long mid-day walks every day, and so I walk all over downtown SF. Often I walk by Moscone Convention Center, which is just 2 blocks from my office. One day, as I was walking past the convention center, with the streets full of attendees scurrying to lunch at the local restaurants, I read about 2 upcoming tech conferences that were being cancelled because of concerns about all the international visitors coming and going to and from San Francisco.

Suddenly it was like a slap in the face: what am I doing?

The next day (March 4th) was my last day commuting into in my office in San Francisco.

Two days later, my company suggested that all employees who *could* work at home, *should* work at home. Two days after that, the company asked all employees to *please* work at home. Two days after that, the Bay Area went into the shelter-at-home protocols.

All my life in California, we have discussed shelter-at-home protocols. I can still remember when we first moved to California. I was 9 yrs old, and I remember the "duck-and-cover" drills that we did at school. I was 11 when I was in my first major earthquake (the 1972 Los Angeles quake). I remember the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta quake which re-shaped the entire Bay Area, destroying bridges and freeways and entire neighborhoods, and I remember the terrifying 1991 Oakland firestorm just a few miles away from our house. Much more recently, the horrors of the 2017 and 2018 forest fire seasons are still vivid, and, in fact, when they told us last month that we might want to wear a mask, it turned out that we still had a pair of pristine masks that we'd bought when the air in the Bay Area was filled with choking smoke.

But all the evidence indicates that the disease came to the U.S. on January 20, right here in the Bay Area, and six weeks later I was still calmly enjoying my mid-day walks around downtown San Francisco.

That was not smart of me.

I got very, very lucky.

To be honest, I remember very little of the rest of March. I threw myself into work, working 14+ hours a day, seven days a week, because at least it kept me from hitting "reload" on over and over all day. Donna and I made a whirlwind two day trip down to Los Angeles to check on my parents, returning home to the Bay Area only one hour before Governor Newsom announced that he was expanding the Bay Area protocols to the entire state.

As the shock and panic faded, it became clear how unbelievably lucky I am. I have a wonderful job, with great co-workers, and I'm in a field where I actually can be very effective working at home for weeks at a time. I hope that one day I will return to being a regular office attendee, because I think that the vast majority of my job is actually to be "present" for the other members of my team.

But, increasingly, I'm learning how to be present without actually being present.

If that makes any sense.

I am convinced that this approach works. I think that you can find fault with anything if you try, but I think it's extremely notable that (a) Mayor Breed of San Francisco was pretty much the first government figure in America to take vigorous action regarding the crisis, that (b) CEO Marc Benioff was pretty much the first large company CEO to completely pivot his company to respond to the crisis, (c) the Bay Area as a whole was the first place to demonstrate that shelter-at-home actually works, and (d) Governor Newsom led California to be the first state to embrace the practice state-wide. Here in the Bay Area, at least, the curve was flattened, and with every passing day we are living the example that proves it can be done.

I've said this many times before, but my experience from living in California for almost 50 years is that: new things happen first in the Bay Area. As goes the Bay Area, so goes California. As goes California, so goes the United States. People around the world are different, and nothing is simple, but the Bay Area has been leading the way for half a century, and it's been fascinating, if at times exhausting, to live in the middle of the greatest change engine on the planet. Every few years everything changes, and we change too, and this is how the future happens.

I don't know what comes next. I hope everyone can do everything they can to work together on this. Which will be hard, but the alternative is so much worse.

In the meantime, in my house, we're listening to a lot of music, binge-watching the Great British Baking Show, playing Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order and The Outer Worlds, taking the dog for plenty of walks, failing to exercise adequately but getting lots of sleep and drinking lots of water.

And working. Working, working, working.

May your hunkering down be safe and uneventful and unexpectedly productive, like mine has been so far.

Best wishes.

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