In COVID World, daily disruption is the new normal

My gym is closed, so my house is now my gym. Welcome to COVID World.

Strange times, man. That’s the only way I can think of it.

I’m a creature of routines, and for the most part they’ve served me well. I get up roughly the same time every day. Eat breakfast. My workout times are set, and it all dovetails nicely within my work schedule. I set aside time to write, sometimes for myself, sometimes for those of you reading here.

But it’s different now. My routines have been disrupted. Hell, all of our routines have been given one big ole flat tire on the highway of life.

COVID-19, the lovely little coronavirus that up until a couple of months ago was a curiosity to those of us in the West, has overturned our collective apple cart. Like it or not, we’re all having to adjust to this janky new normal.

A lot of what’s been altered is a series of first-world problems that are actually deeper than the term implies. After my city ordered most public service businesses to shut down, I lost access to my gym. Goodbye squat rack, sayonara deadlift platform, adios bench press and all the big bars and plates that go with them. What I’ve got at home: A scattering of smaller dumbbells, one kettlebell and some TRX straps. There’s a place on my back porch where I can do chin-ups, and I have my bike. I’m making a go of it, but it’s off to a bumpy start.

Saying that, I know there’s more to this crisis than a loss of my gym membership. At work, we’re enforcing social distancing. Some people are working on another floor now. Others are working from home. We’re doing a whole lot of G-chat to communicate, and adjusting to a workflow that’s unfamiliar and a little clunky. I’m sure we’ll get used to it. But again, it’s more disruption.

Comparatively speaking, my issues are  small. Others all around me are suffering much more.

This week, thousands of workers in all areas of the hospitality industry lost their jobs. Gone like the morning dew in a matter of hours, all because public safety had to trump commerce, even if that meant folks losing work. With the downturn has also come serious hits to aerospace, the airlines and the oil business. Before you scoff at the losses of big companies, keep in mind that tens of thousands of people in my city alone work in these areas. So do family members of mine in Texas. Layoffs for them loom large as corporations face the grim reality that a sea of red ink is about to swamp their finances for months to come, if not longer.

Having been on the losing side of such job cuts in the last recession, I can tell you that I feel for folks who have already lost work or are about to. And yeah, I’m nervous for my own liveliehood, too.

And cutting to the heart of it is this: Community spread of COVID-19 — that is, the disease being communicated freely in the population — is here in Tulsa, and one person has died. The man was a healthy person in his 50s who was diagnosed with the disease one day before he passed.

And as you read this, I learned only hours ago that a man in my own neighborhood was diagnosed with the new coronavirus. He’s quarantined in his house, fighting it off at home so far.

As I see it, disruption is all around, and more of it is to come. Stricter measures have been laid down almost daily, and yet I know from following this story since December that the U.S. is about two months behind the curve in responding to it. It’s probably going to get rougher before dawn breaks.

So sure, I miss my gym. I miss the races that all got canceled. I’ll miss the restaurants that had to shutter, and the movies that won’t play at the theater. The city streets are quiet, spring festivals canceled and plenty of uncertainty and fear lies ahead. This storm seems to be just getting warmed up.

I can’t say exactly how to respond to all this, other than trying to do what the scientists say. I’ll keep working. I’ll read more. Binge-watch a few more shows.

And I suppose I’ll go out to my back porch and do my chin-ups. It’s the best I can do to salvage some of my routines, virus or not.

Bob Doucette

Getting priced out of the walkable life

A 1920s-era high rise, the 320 South Boston Building, reflected on a more modern glass tower. The contrast of old-style art deco and modern architecture is beautiful.

A 1920s-era high rise, the 320 South Boston Building, reflected on a more modern glass tower. The contrast of old-style art deco and modern architecture in downtown Tulsa is beautiful.

Imagine this little scene:

You’re standing at the corner of a moderately busy street. People are all around, walking or biking to wherever it is they need to go that day, sunglasses on, phones in hand, and otherwise preoccupied while darting from one place to the next. Bike couriers zip by, carrying packages or fast-food deliveries. There are a couple of beggars roaming around, but they’re pretty harmless.

In any direction, you’re within a 10-minute walk from work, your favorite restaurants, a performing arts center and a convenience store. Also within a few hundred feet from your doorstep are destinations like your gym, neighborhood bars, pizza joints and all sorts of street-level businesses selling anything from jewelry to photocopies.

Once the work day ends,things quiet down, but life doesn’t stop entirely. Many of the buildings that once housed offices have been converted into apartments, evidence of which is seen by the mix of dog walkers mingling with kids skateboarding emptied sidewalks and lovers taking photographs by a colorfully lit fountain or a rustic brick wall.

Looming overhead are office towers: some modern, some boasting 1920s and 1930s-era Art Deco stone fixtures that are distinct to my home city.

This is my neighborhood, or it least it was. I moved here more than four years ago, taking a new job and a radically new tack toward how my daily life would look, snagging a reasonably priced apartment tucked away under the shadows of nearby high-rises.

For more than 15 years, I joined tens of millions of you who hop into metal boxes on wheels and while away hours every week to go to work, burning time and gas while fighting increasingly crowded highways and decreasingly patient fellow travelers. It was an expensive endeavor that went anywhere from 70 to 100 miles a day, depending on which job I had at the time.

In my new home, things were different. I took advantage of a new trend here in Midwest, one in which developers turned empty spaces in downtown districts into living quarters. My 90-mile-a-day driving habit turned into a two-minute walking commute.

I learned more about Tulsa when I moved downtown. You get to know your community so much better on foot than you do behind the wheel. All those places you breeze by while driving are much more vibrant when you stroll by, unencumbered by the barrier of metal, glass and rubber. Walking or running, this fit into what I hoped life would become — more active, more outdoors, more connected. I grew to love it.

And so did a lot of other people. So much so that there are 13 other downtown residential projects underway right now, with almost every existing apartment in downtown Tulsa occupied, and a year-long waiting list for some of the more sought-after addresses.

Property owners, being the savvy entrepreneurs that they are, see the potential for making profits. One area where I run by often, called East Village, has a number of apartments and townhouses going up. Those townhouses have a starting price of $875,000. We’re not talking Denver, Chicago or even Houston here. This is Tulsa, of all places.

I have a hard time believing that someone would pay that much for a house here, but I should have also realized that someone smarter than me sees something I don’t. And I should also have seen what signs like this would mean for me.

All these people seeking what I sought — a walkable neighborhood, surrounded by all the good stuff to which suburbanites have to drive — would do what I did. They’d downsize, leave the ‘burbs and head to the city’s urban heart.

I’m a middle class guy. Not rich, not poor. A few bills, but nothing big. No extravagant habits and no car payments. But like most folks, I live paycheck to paycheck while putting back a a few dollars here and there. Saving some money on driving far less (I drive maybe once or twice a week) was one of the appeals to living here, mostly because I used to drop $250 or more on fuel every month. There were added costs — monthly parking fees, for example — but for awhile, it was a wash. Having 90 minutes of my life back was worth it.

But then it happened. And by it, I mean capitalism. Supply and demand. More people wanted to live here than could be housed. You know how this story ends.

In this case, it concludes with rent hikes (four in a year) and increased parking fees, as well as a few other ways that we all get nickel-and-dimed to death. With half a month’s salary disappearing into that cozy 650-square-foot pad on the 10th floor, it was time to go.

I won’t lie, it was sad. I came downtown to live in a place that had been, residentially speaking, forsaken for decades. White flight and the boom of the suburbs had robbed downtown areas across the country of people, and reclaiming that became a trendy, and in my mind, positive thing to do. A lot of us loved the idea of fleeing the sameness of the suburbs and opting out of the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses lifestyle that permeates the white-picket world. We wanted to own less stuff and live a little more. Walk more, and burn fewer dinosaur bones.

I should have known a lot of us would eventually get priced out. It would be a wicked irony if people like me, hoping to save a buck by being able to walk to work, would get beaten back into suburbia by high rents and an arsenal of other rising costs.

Fortunately, the new home is about a mile from the job. I could walk it if I chose, or bike it. So I won’t get sucked into the suburban maw just yet.

But I hope that the dream of living in a walkable community here in the heartland isn’t dead for people like me. I don’t begrudge the well-heeled for wanting to live where I lived. It’s a healthy, interesting an engaging way to do life. But if that life is reserved for the higher levels of the middle class and up, it would certainly feel like a loss.

Bob Doucette

The government shutdown and public lands: Deeper reasons why this matters


By now a bunch of people have weighed in with a ton of opinions related to this week’s government shutdown. You know the drill…

The tea party GOP is at fault for forcing this crisis…

Barack Obama and Sen. Harry Reid are at fault for “not negotiating.”…

Everyone in Washington is at fault because they all stink.

OK, whatever. Whole lotta views and finger-pointing going on, including some by me (I have family deeply affected by the shutdown) which won’t go anywhere near this space. That’s a promise.

Obviously, there are a ton of repercussions. Being outdoor-minded, one of the first I noticed is how this affects public lands. You know, national parks and stuff.

The refrain that I’ve seen is that “public lands belong to us; I don’t need the government to help me take a walk in the woods.” Or something to that effect.

You know what? That’s true. There isn’t much that can stop you from going into a national park on your own, shutdown or not. And please feel free to do so. It is, after all, your lands.

But that’s also not the point.

What is?


Lots of federal workers are being told they cannot report to work, and are not being paid. Depending on how long this drags on, that’s going to affect their households quite a bit. And before you drone on about “lazy government workers,” just stop. There are good, hard-working people in every sector, and they vastly outnumber the bad. Denigrating other people’s professions — and the service they provide YOU, the taxpayer — doesn’t do anyone any good. I’m grateful for the people who work to maintain and protect our public lands, and if you use those spaces, you should be, too.

Conversely, we should also feel some compassion for people who might not know how they’re going to pay their bills and put food on the table this month.

The “essential” workers are on the job, but they’re not getting paid, either. So those rangers, law enforcement officers and others who patrol public lands are working for you — for free. Hopefully that status changes soon, and hopefully they get their back pay.

But this goes beyond the government workers. Plenty of businesses exist within public lands, and those places have had to shut down, too. Hotels and lodges, restaurants, tour companies, and more; small business owners and their employees are getting hurt.

Closures of parks means fewer visitors to nearby towns. Businesses in those communities are going to feel the bite, and quick. Will they be forced to cut their workers’ hours? Lay people off? That possibility looms large.

And still there are others — outdoor/travel writers, guides and more — whose livings are tightly bound to legal access to public lands. They can’t afford to have their permits yanked by disobeying closure orders. So for future considerations, a lot of these folks are forced to bite the bullet now — and pray they can survive one hungry month (or more).

What’s my point? It’s this: Go beyond how the government shutdown directly affects you and your access to public lands. Think about the people whose lives are tied to these wonderful spaces; to the people who keep them safe; to the folks who build and maintain the trails you hike; to the heroes who save the lives of folks who get into trouble in the backcountry; to the researchers who help preserve the wildlife we long to see out in the bush.

Your access is not the main issue. The entire system is. This land is, indeed, your land. But it’s also my land. And everyone else’s. You should give a damn because a lot of the people charged with caring for it aren’t allowed to go to work, and the many others who make our stays enjoyable, fun and comfortable when we visit these great spaces are hurting.

I can’t tell you what you should do from here. But maybe you should think about doing a little more than “poaching the parks.” Call your congressman and senators. If you know folks who are off the job, show them some kindness. Write the president. Vote.

Because in reality, this ain’t just about you. We’re all in this together.

(One small side note: Plenty of people have already paid for permits to vacation in places like the Grand Canyon, and in cases of white water rafting, have been waiting for years and spent a lot of money. This really stinks for them, too; hard-earned money going down the drain. I feel for you.)

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

My own story of The Great Recession


It’s been a rather trying week in many ways. Family medical issues, a wonky work schedule, forced trips out of town to take care of lingering and pesky business. It came to a head in ways that have put a serious crimp in my training.

As of this writing, I’ve lifted once and put in one three-mile run. That’s it.

And there’s a good reason.

If you read this blog much, you might think that my life is all about great hikes, trail runs, epic sessions at the gym and fantastic summit views. That’s definitely a part of my life.

But there is a lot more to it than that. The life that builds “the life” has been far from ideal.

At this point, I’m going to get pretty real with you. And way off topic from what I usually write about in this space. I want to talk about the recession. The Great Recession.

I’d say my life is a good metaphor for what this country is going through right now. The U.S., in short, went through the most traumatic economic downturn since the Great Depression, and years after the financial crisis hit, we still haven’t dug out from underneath the avalanche of woes that buried us. I don’t want to talk about blame here, in terms of our lengthy and painfully slow recovery. Let’s just agree that it has been slow, painfully slow, and we’re not done yet.

When the Great Recession hit, I was working in a totally different city. I had a good job, a modest home and a career path that seemed to be stable and rewarding. Soon, though, the layoffs hit. I survived the first. And the second. But the second led to a change in jobs (a demotion, through no fault of my own, I was told). And months later, a third layoff in the same company.

I didn’t survive that one.

After 10 years, I received a nice lunch and a rod-and-reel set from my employer. Two years later, while visiting my terminally-ill brother in another state, I got a phone call telling me my services were no longer required.

And that’s where my journey through recession really began. I was unemployed for four months, kept afloat by a severance and unemployment insurance benefits from the government. It all went fast.

When it ran out, I was fortunate enough to find a new job. No small task. I applied for scores of jobs all over the country. I got two offers. One was for less than half what I made.

The other was much more, but still a pay cut and would require a move to a new city. I snapped it up gratefully, and it has turned out to be a pretty sweet little gig.

But we in the media often live paycheck to paycheck. For every high-flying media star making millions, there are a hundred-thousand getting by on working-class wages or less. Things like car repairs, new tires, replacement appliances or medical bills not covered by insurance don’t fit in the budget. They end up as debt. That is where I was before I was laid off in 2011.

The new problem — selling a house in another city while renting a new home in a new city, and still having to manage old bills and everything else on an income not strong enough to pull all that weight. Renting the old house out only slowed the bleeding. Two offers to buy over two years fell through. The bills continued to pile up to the point where I cannot say for certain that everyone I owed was going to get paid. Solvency was in question. Thank God for friends and family who helped along the way. We wouldn’t have made it otherwise.

It is only now that I can say my recession nightmare has ended. Well, sort of. The unwanted out-of-town house is sold (at a sizable loss), but the patient is finally in the recovery room, so to speak, with the hemorrhaging finally stopped. That one transaction made a lot of other dominoes fall in a positive direction and it no longer feels like the boot heel of debt is smashing down on my neck.

I’ve told you all before that my runs in the city or on the trails were about escape, and it’s true. A couple of hours weaving my way through the trees did wonders to keep me sane as endless hours of worry and a lot of sleepless nights passed by over a period of 28 months.

I’m not sure why I’m writing this here, in this space, other than to say that behind the facade of every blogger or writer you see, or anyone else for that matter, are real-life stories that are not glamorous, victorious or otherwise idyllic. I’m a real person who felt the sting of “the new economy” in a pretty bad way, one that didn’t end when a new job was found two years ago. A lot of others have had it far worse and will continue to struggle for quite some time, even if they find work.

Be good to each other. Recognize that a whole lot of folks are under the weight of enormous national events that weren’t an abstract realization that comes from reading a headline or watching the news. They lived it, losing a lot (losing it all?) through no fault of their own. We’re not “takers.” We’re not looking for a hand-out or even a hand up. We’re just trying to escape some seriously rotten circumstances. We, like our country, are still recovering from that trauma dubbed “The Great Recession.”

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088