A Limited Peek – With More Good News Than Bad
On the Road – At Last
I noted a few days ago that we were about to launch on our first road trip since the pandemic broke out. As noted, we were careful all along the way, as this fearsome thing is not yet defeated. We were careful where we went, ate, and lodged.
By the end, we had travelled through four states, visiting about half a dozen urban areas and some seriously rural areas. We logged about 1500 miles, travelling in the South East and the Deep South. Our trusty electric-hybrid combo hummed right along, averaging 54 miles per gallon comparative use. I especially enjoyed that milage, as we noted fuel prices are on the rise pretty much everywhere. Looking forward to the day that gas stations are a memory, replaced mostly by charging stations.
As a scene setter for this posting, allow me to note what a large, diverse, and remarkable country this is. Travelling on highways and byways is a great way to be reminded of that fact. In so many ways, we are lucky to be who we are, where we are. I kept hearing Arlo Guthrie singing in my mind about Our Land (thanks, Bill J. for planting that song in my head – stuck with me the entire trip!).
More to Follow
There will likely be a couple more posts about this trip, but for now I would like to share with you four overall impressions we carried home with us. I know some of you are starting to venture out these days as well. Share with us your impressions, including any that may be contrary to what we found.
What I am about to share are our impressions from this one trip. I have no pretense that what follows represents all of America – but I bet a lot of it does. Time will tell.
Craving Normalcy – Social and Political
This was the overwhelming feeling we encountered everywhere. People are hungry for some sense of normalcy to return or to emerge. We noted some interesting variations in that desire.
First, a lot of people indicated they wanted a return to normalcy, meaning mostly social and commercial normalcy. But many also noted that the old normal was unlikely to come back fully. We are changed as a nation and what the new normal will be is a work in progress. Business owners in particular felt this way.
Second, this desire to get back to something familiar, even to do so a bit sooner than might be prudent, was evident and with historical precedent. Even a casual study of pandemics and plagues reveals that this is the pattern. People get tired of restrictions, start to abandon them a bit too early, and the disease gets one more resurgence. Hopefully, our vaccines will minimize that effect on this round, but the risk remains.
Third, people in general seemed really pleased to find something approaching normalcy in our political lives. Sure, we saw our share of Trump 2024 bumper stickers, but most people seemed relieved to see all the drama and tension out of national discourse to a large degree. The silence on Twitter is welcome. A calm and competent government that just does the work is being quietly celebrated. National polls reflect that as well.
My sense is that even people who are not core Democrats often appreciate the changes they see. Ask me again if that is still the case when midterm elections come around.
To Mask or to Unmask, that is the Question
Shortly after we began this trip, the new CDC guidance came out. It said, among other things, that fully vaccinated persons could unmask outdoors in some situations. Welcome news, but we were concerned that this would lead to a mass exodus from masking in general. And how do you know who has been vaccinated or not? I did hear a couple of people joke that they planned to stay masked anyway so no one would think they might be anti vaxxers in a protest mode. Heck, we said that!
Happily, this turned out to be a nonproblem. For the most part, lots of people chose to wear masks when they no longer strictly had to do so. Equally encouraging, just about every business we entered was maintaining standards, keeping signs posted, etc.
Yes, people are getting weary of all this and some corner cutting is evident. Yes, the idiots who have fought masks all along are still with us (those that have not died….). Yet, for the most part, people seem to be hanging in there. They know we are close, and they don’t want to be part of the problem. Goo on you, America.
Employment, Expansions, and Reopening
Everywhere we went, in every economic sector, the lack of employees was a major issue. It is worst in the food and services industries, but it is substantial in everywhere I have looked. This is a much, much more complicated issue than some would have us believe. The Republican governors who this week moved to cut off unemployment payments will find this moving the needle only slightly.
There is a fascinating range of social, medical, political, economic, and other factors feeding into all this issue. We will do an entire blog post on this shortly. In the meantime, know the challenge is real and will affect the “return to normalcy” to an important degree
Infrastructure, Up Close and Personal
Joe Biden is so right on this one. Not even counting the 21st Century components (broad band, childcare, etc.), infrastructure in the old, 19th Century model (see current Republican definitions) is in terrible shape. We are so far behind in investing in our country. Those of you who have travelled abroad in recent years know this is true.
We look increasingly like a third world country. Our roads, bridges, rail, and utilities are basket cases. Others are not making this mistake. China, for example, paves the equivalent of 6,000 km of new Interstate highway every year. We are at about zero. Pay me now or pay me later.
Put simply, we have failed to meet the most basic obligations of infrastructure. The kind of program Biden envisions is exactly what we need. Catch up on the old work, build the new, program the funds to keep it all in top shape. Great jobs are in the waiting on this. Equally important, we cannot hope to be a leading nation without getting this right
It was great to get out and mix a bit with our fellow Americans. It was equally great getting back home and reuniting with friends and neighbors. For those of you contemplating a trip soon, do so safely, please. Have fun.
Bill Clontz & His Trusty Traveling Partner
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