Commute in the Pandemic

Back to work in the office today (our branch of the government works with vulnerable kids and adults, so we’re essential) in downtown Vancouver. It’s been eleven days since I last made the journey.

Riding down in the elevator, a grizzled older fellow boards on the floor below me. “Jeez man, you ever seen anything like this?” I readily agree, I haven’t. “Never seen anything like this. I’m scared, man. I’ve got a messed up lung.” I tell him I’m sorry to hear that, and to hang in there. What else is there to say? When the elevator reaches the ground he leaves first; I hang back a bit. Force of habit dictates that he holds the building door for me as he exits. I tell him to let it go and I’ll get it myself. Can’t be too careful.

Four people on a bus that’s normally full. The bus terminal is deserted. None of this is helped by the return of the usual late March Lower Mainland rain and gloom after a week of sun and its attendant hopefulness. Two people have passed through the entry gate to the train in the ten minutes I’ve been standing here. Oh, wait…. there’s a third.

Social distancing does weird things to people. Swerving as we walk past others to maintain the recommended distance carries with it an odd little geisha-esque head bow, a bit of a shrinking into the scenery so maybe they won’t see you as you avoid them. Forget droplet transmission – meeting eyes with someone might spread it too.

I fell in love with the Velvet Underground’s first album a couple of years ago. There’s something suitably apocalyptic in it that struck me from my first complete listen. Can’t resist a spin now. It’s Monday, not Sunday Morning, but still.

There’s no shortage of seats on the normally full commuter train. Everybody has a row to themsel–

Ahh shit… did I touch the railing on the way up to the top deck? Think… nope, I had my hands in my pockets. All good.

Glad I put some music on – it covers up the fact that I’m ever so slightly sniffy this morning. Only for my own benefit, apparently; the lady in the empty seat quad across the aisle from me just moved a few rows forward. Or did she just want a different seat? We’re far too polite to say anything, or even to directly look at each other to express our disdain, so I’m drawing conclusions left and right. Anyway, her seat with an unobstructed view of the water is now vacant, but…. no. Who knows whether she’s a carrier or not. I stay put.

Thought for a sec that I might sneeze, but no. Would’ve been like a rifle shot to this crowd.

Lou Reed’s singing about shiny boots of leather and tasting the whip, while John Cale works the electric viola. Bloody hell, this was daring stuff back in 1967. Strikes me every time I listen. Now there’s the bit about sticking a spike in his vein, which never fails to make me squirm as a longtime needlephobe. Not sure how I’d make it through a lengthy hospital stay if I were to be one of the poor unfortunates whose lungs give out.

Crap, I touched the armrest. Glad E sent a pack of wipes with me. I dutifully use one on my hands. And the armrest.

The train approaches the station. Passing through Gastown, I see a line of disadvantaged people queueing for something. Maintaining six feet distance from each other.

I always put my hand on the escalator railing on the way up. Always. Not today – the armrest incident was traumatic enough to make me hyper aware from the moment I get out of my seat. Into my pockets they go for the ride up. Plenty of elbow room here besides.

I’m running out of synonyms for “empty” and “deserted”, so I’ll let the images do the talking.

Now, just where the hell am I supposed to get a coffee?