Preamble: I write this in my sweatpants.
Actually they're kinda more pyjamas, but they work as sweatpants too. They're red, though, and the little tyrannosauruses on 'em with Santa hats make them more pyjama-y. Erika got 'em for me for Christmas and I've been working in them, most mornings; some days, during this strange time, I just leave them on, sleep in them, and then work in them again. (I do try to launder them more frequently, though, rest assured).
In a few hours, the plan is to trade them up for real pants and take a long walk - not a Richard Bachman-sized Long Walk, but a long walk nonetheless. See, I've been thinking of Lou Reed, listening to a fair bit of him, and, tho' it is slightly irresponsible at the present juncture, there are these remastered Lou albums at Neptoon I want (Coney Island Baby, Street Hassle, and Berlin), plus a few other items; but I don't want to take the bus there. That would be my usual mode of transportation on a day like today, but at present, I fear the bus: fear that, as the official mode of transport of the people least likely to be able to insulate themselves from the effects of this virus - it will be like a petri dish on this sunny day. With air blowing around an enclosed space, and possibly sick people inside - no, thank you. I don't care if it's free. So is suicide, but I ain't into that, either.
However, I see a way of killing several birds with one figurative stone:
1. I am getting less exercise than I need, since I no longer have to leave the house for work. Exercise is good. Cardio is good. My excess weight is definitely not.
2. Walking is my usual mode of listening to music, which means that, not having to walk or take transit, I am suffering from a rare music-listening deficit.
3. Google maps tells me that I can walk to Neptoon Records in under two hours. I can do that! I've taken longer walks, in fact. As long as I pack some fluids, wear good footwear, and pace myself, a two hour walk sounds kind of idyllic right now. And there's something really appealing about the idea of walking from Burnaby to Vancouver - a walk from one city to another. Unless you count a late-night walk I took from Maple Ridge to Pitt Meadows about 30 years ago - which may not count, since some people think of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows as part of the same area ("Ridge Meadows") - but was really interesting, actually, especially when a posse of 2AM skateboarders came down the barren highway on the same route, their sound pricking my ears from miles back, piquing my curiosity, making their actual appearance pretty impressive - it's not something I've ever done before. I'll pack some hand sanitizer, a snack or two...
...and I'll take a long nap first. I won't write about the walk, I don't think, but I might take a few photos. Why not? Here's the first one:
And here is my playlist for setting out, made especially for this occasion, so you can know my mood; and a follow up, because I figure I will dawdle. It seems here to Neptoon is just over my supposed daily allotment of 10,000 steps, so what the hell!
The photos: in which I discover a much nicer entrance way to Burnaby Central Park (the Trail of Hope than I had previously known (I didn't spot the Marissa Shen memorial til afterwards, with a dead battery, when I got my wife to join me for her own walk in the park, because she needs the exercise, too, but RIP, Marissa). After that, I take a socially distanced walk in the park, photograph various squirrels, make a few pitstops, and make it as far as Nanaimo - kind of blown away how easy and doable it is - before I start thinking about crapping out and taking the bus, because my GPS tells me I won't make it to Neptoon in time if I don't cut some time off my route. I'm glad I did, because my calves sure hurt for awhile later last night.
Getting into the city I start to really feel how many more people there are. I realize for the first time that I am feeling grateful to live in the suburbs. I am amazed at some of the things I see folks doing, like it's normal or wise (smoking cigarettes in a respiratory pandemic? Fuck me, folks, I cold turkeyed off tobacco 20 years ago and haven't looked back. Surely you've noticed that some of the people taken by this disease, like John Prine, were smokers? If you set your mind to it, if you get really clear that it's what you want to do, YOU CAN QUIT, and this is a hell of a good time to do it. Even going on fucking patches or gum or such makes sense to get your lungs a bit stronger; you can have your nicotine and breathe, too). The longest lineup I see is outside a liquor store, and I feel judgmental (I realize I'm walking around in a marijuana-leaf shirt, but really, seriously, much as I have found value in pot over the years, I bought the shirt because it fit and was comfy, not because it had weed leaves on it; I'd just as rather it didn't!). Standing in line of twenty or more to buy alcohol, now, makes no sense to me at all. Some of the sidewalks are narrow, too, which is very noticeable when there are two or more people on them: at one point, I have to get off the sidewalk to allow a woman in a motorized cart to pass by (with a friendly nod and smile from both of us, befitting a general mood of all-being-in-this-together). And some people don't give a damn for social distancing, like the guy with the giant Super Great Pizza box who passes quite close to me. I feel myself bristle. Once I find myself on Kingsway, it ceases, quite literally, to be a walk in the park, and yearn to be back where population density is a bit lower, even though the streets of the city are mostly empty, compared to the pre-pandemic bustle.
Note the gas prices! (And that's actually not the bus I ended up getting on; a 25 turned the corner just as I finished taking this pic).
The buses have done various things to enforce social distancing. At one point I get so intent on trying to capture a photo of the "rear boarding only" sign at the front of the #25 bus I get on, that I try to get on at the front. Luckily I catch myself, feeling a bit sheepish: I've read the sign, but didn't apply it to my actions. At Main, I have an amusing exchange with the driver, asking if I can *leave* by the front, since there are fewer people ahead of me (just the driver, behind plexiglass) than behind (about five other passengers, including a young couple having a busy conversation in what I think is Tagalog). But no, unless you need the ramp, you exit by the rear. In the end, I cut forty minutes off my hour-and-forty-six minute walk with the busride, and feel glad to have added it to the experience, even if it feels kind of high-risk, relative to other parts of the journey. It was fun to realize, though, after so long and unfamiliar a walk through my own neighbourhood that I actually knew the route for the bus I was on, had ridden it before, which made it feel a little less strange (first busride since my emergency dental work of mid-March!).
The rest of the walk down Main - past a few businesses like SushiMania and Bob Likes Thai Food that are open for business, but doing take-out only - is easy and familiar. Dave Gowans has told me that Red Cat is closed even for pick ups, but I think about poking into Carson Books and Records to see if they remain open - it's always fun to check in with Al Mader, AKA the Minimalist Jug Band, who works there in the evenings, and they had been open a bit later into things than some businesses - but I elect not to; I'm on a clock, since Erika is supposed to pick me up around 7pm... At this point, I've been out of the house for two and a half hours, and am starting to feel it in my legs and, uh, chest, which makes me mildly paranoid (except I can breathe fine; it's the muscles that are a bit sore).
Tim the Mute, who is working at Neptoon, hands off the records to me and we have a nice chat. I tell him about seeing Lou Reed in Tokyo, touring the Hal-Willner-produced Ecstasy (which is the Lou I was really hoping for on vinyl), and impulse-buy, with my remaining $10, a 7-inch single put out by Tim's new band, which I have yet to spin. He thanks me for taking a chance on his record (because tho' Rob has mentioned him, I haven't really listened to any of his stuff before). Later, as I sit on a rock around the corner, he re-materializes, and I ask if he's washing the money I handed him. He explains no, but he's sanitizing his hands. He's off to the post office, carrying a few Neptoon bags like my own, to mail out a few special orders, and we have a pleasant parting of the ways.
Waiting for my wife on a rock on 20th - I'm sitting on a rock because I don't trust that the Main Street benches aren't covered in viruses! - I contemplate the trip. What if I picked up the virus? What if I'm asymptomatically carrying it? What if I got it on my hands when I handled money? Was this trip actually worth it, a good idea? Besides the walk in the park, I have to concede that NO IT PROBABLY WASN'T. There's no need for new records right now, better things to put money towards - even the plight of the sick and poor - and the good done by the exercise is counterbalanced by the needless risk of maybe picking something else up on the trip. But then again, I now have six new Lou Reed albums - including brand-new remasters, supervised by Lou himself, of Coney Island Baby, Street Hassle, and Berlin to explore. Well, anyhow, it's done. I look down at my bag and realize Rob has misspelled my name.
This reminds me that I was thinking about the various ways people have misspelled my name over the years. Eugene Chadbourne tends to "Alan" me. I got Peter Stampfel to sign a bunch of stuff and he actually went back and forth from "Alan" to "Allan." McGuinness is a common enough variant - I have a Real McKenzies album signed by Paul where he puns on that, writing, "Is that My Guinness or Yours?" I'm glad Lemmy spelled my name right when I got him to sign my White Line Fever...
I find myself thinking, as I sit on the rock and wait for Erika, of my mother - of a specific day in the final week of her life, where I'd wheeled her out to the back garden of Maple Ridge hospital and we sat in the sun and breeze and watched a squirrel and shared a banana, and Mom told me - in simpler words, because of her aphasia, but this was the jist - that it was such a beautiful, peaceful moment that day, sitting out there with me, that she could accept it if it was the end of her life. She was still pretty clear headed that day, though the bypass grafts keeping her heart functioning had started to fail by then, probably, as a result of the stress of the infection her body was experiencing (it all started with a gallstone...). She would die about a week later, and with each of her quintuple grafts failing (I assume), she got less clear headed, but I always felt on the one hand grateful that she had that moment of graceful acceptance, and on the other, wondered if her accepting the possibility of death meant it was easier for her to let go - if she might have lived if not for that moment, you know? (Probably not - her system was badly taxed). If I catch COVID-19, I will be battling the same pneumonia that ended up as her technical cause of death, according to the hospital. I take a few deep breaths, sitting there on my rock, to check that there's no shallowness of breathing... My chest still feels a bit sore, but I've just taken a longer walk than I have in a month, so it's very likely nothing. Can I - should I? - cultivate that same sort of acceptance my mother had on that day, to soak in the beauty of my surroundings and how blessed the moment feels, how lucky I feel to be alive in it...? A lot of people are less blessed right now. I breathe, and try to feel grateful, and wait for my wife to come pick me up.
Then we go to the same trail I was on earlier, and we take a walk together, then sit at the pond (the benches there feel less dodgy) and watch carp and ducks and chickadees. We'll go back there again today, maybe. It was pretty great.