Wednesday, March 3, 2021



What's "normal?"

As Covid-19 vaccination slowly progresses in the US and worldwide, I keep hearing the question, "When will we return to normal?" But what's "normal," and are we sure that's what we want?


It seems a long time ago, although it's only a year or so, since I last went to an in-person meeting. These took place in formal settings or over coffee, lunch, or dinner. All that was fine, but my main beef, especially in a place as sprawling and traffic-ridden as Los Angeles, was that a one-hour meeting didn't seem worth a round trip travel time of 2-3 hours on the freeway. Very often, the return trip lasts even longer than the inbound if you hit afternoon to evening rush hour, which is exactly when you're dying to get home.

Los Angeles traffic (Shutterstock/egd)

Studies indicate that when cars wait in traffic at an intersection, large amounts of particulate pollutants can enter the vehicle if the windows are open and/or the fan is drawing air in from the exterior. 

Apart from this, we're all aware how traffic jams can grate on one's nerves. I think it's generally agreed that it is not good for us mentally, and physically it's not the ideal either: sedentary hours sitting in one place takes a toll on the body. Take a look here at the bad list.

A social date is one thing, but for business meetings, I am quite comfortable on Zoom or any of the equivalent platforms. If you want to get me across town to meet up in person for a business meeting, there had better be a compelling reason.

Book discussions

I won't pretend virtual book clubs or bookstore signings are just as satisfying as in-person appearances. They lack the same kind of human warmth and interaction that a "live" event has. Additionally, the pleasure of physically signing books while meeting old and new readers at a book launch can never be duplicated on a Zoom, e.g. it's great to finally meet in the flesh people who have been following you or communicating with you online. 

On the other hand, let's face it, you can do two or more Zooms in a week without having to get in a car or on a plane or train or having to check into a hotel somewhere. In this way, I quite frankly saved a lot of money during 2020. One of my last in-person appearances before lockdown was on February 26, 2020, at the Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, where I had a lovely book meeting hosted by the bookstore and our own Sujata. It was great fun, and no virtual event is ever quite as good.

A group of readers with Sujata and me, Feb 2020


Many years ago, I was a regular movie-goer. However, even pre-Covid,  I became squeamish about the state of cleanliness of the theater seats. Sometimes the theater smelled a little stale, and since it's half dark in there, there was no telling how clean the place really was. Do they wipe the seats down? If so, what do they use as a cleanser? Since Covid-19, that icky factor has grown 10-fold for me. I doubt I'll be returning to movie theaters for a while--certainly not in the manner I used to. So that's one "normal" I'm not really going to miss. I don't know about you, but when I look at this photo of a packed movie theater, I can't help automatically cringing somewhat. It's a learned reaction response. Where're all y'all's masks?

Movie theater in Thessaloniki, Greece, 2014 (Shutterstock/Ververidis Vasilis)


It's true that some cities have marvelous public transportation systems and that in many cases you don't even need a car the way one does in Los Angeles--I think of London, New York, Milan, Paris, Tokyo, Stockholm, etc--and in fact it's sometimes much cheaper and less of a hassle not to have a vehicle. 
I've long admired cities with excellent public transport. But in the future, will I be willing to get on one of those subway trains? It depends. This one looks fine:

Tokyo metro with distancing and masks (Shutterstock/Fiers)

This one, not so much. Maybe with a mask and full vaccination.

Crowded London Underground train December, 2020(Shutterstock/Yau Ming Low)

Restaurants, bars, etc.

I feel sorry for establishments that depended mostly or exclusively on eat-in dining and have had their businesses gutted by the pandemic. Many have adapted, while others have been unable to do so for one reason or another. I'm not much of a restaurant-goer, but I'll be more than happy to return to my few favorite restaurants if they have outdoor seating or indoor spacing with good ventilation. Some places have spent a fortune making these adjustments only to be shut down again with a new set of city or county rules. It's been tough for them.

Diehard fans of bars will likely return to "normal" because they never actually changed their behavior in the first place. Throughout the pandemic, a breed of hardcore party people, who would rather be killed than never party again, has failed to become extinct. Remember those wild Hollywood pandemic parties?

Handshakes and hugging

The handshake is one I will not miss. Why did people shake hands anyway? You can bow your head, nod, smile, wave, anything. But stop with the handshakes. Well, there's one handshake that's still fun: the 
Ghanaian one.

As for hugging--well, okay, I'm not the touchiest-feeliest kinda guy, but seriously, I think it was getting a bit much, don't you? Embrace your immediate family or bf/gf, but everyone else? They'll be fine. In general, lower your hug quota, i.e. you don't have a lot to go around, kinda like advance review copies.

Anything you will miss, or not, post-pandemic?


  1. Right now, I miss a LOT of things, Kwei. Theater, the opera, dinners with friends, the subway, TRAVEL, especially trips that bring me to my friends. But the thing I want now, that not even being vaccinated has yet been restored to me, is the physical presence of the people I love. I grew up in a culture where we greet each other with hugs and kisses even after the absence of a day. In one week, it will be a year since I have been in a room with a person I could touch, During that time, I have read numerous articles about the health effects of isolation. I cannot wait for the world to get to POST pandemic. There is absolutely nothing that this crisis had brought that I will miss when it is over. NOTHING!

    1. Fair enough, Annamaria! It's a crucial issue to people for whom hugs and kisses are an integral part of the culture. Thanks for that--I'd love to hear what others feel about it.

  2. Hugging and kissing among friends is so integral to the Greek way of life, that I seriously wonder how that will change in post-covid days. On the other hand, I think many of us made so attune to the contagion risks, will adapt our pre-pandemic behaviors flying with a mask, wearing a mask to the theater, and avoiding huge gatherings where caution is thrown to the wind. We shall see.