Opinion: Life in isolation could be a much-needed time to slow down and reflect

No sports on television. Movie theaters and malls closed. Events canceled.

I don’t smoke weed, but thought about ordering some just because it’s one of the few precious things we’re still allowed to do.

Our first weekend of being collectively grounded brought moments of panic and a little bewilderment and petulant self-pity, not at all unlike being 15 again and unjustly banished to my room for something I’m sure I didn’t do.

Between working at the Post (I’m one of the lucky “essentials,” and I don’t mean that with a trace of sarcasm), I took advantage of loopholes in the city’s health order that became effective Friday: I went for a run on the beach path, and ventured to the market.

After editing stories this week about the rush on local grocery stores—did you see that video of the line at Costco?—I was braced for combat.

But there was no chaos. It felt more like the ordinary opening of a horror movie: It was calm, yet something was definitely off. Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” played in the background as a few dozen of us ambled up and down aisles like we’d just swallowed a handful of quaaludes.

I was in the produce area thinking about the prospect of painting my own toenails when an unshaven man in a polo shirt sidled up a little too close. I flinched without trying to hide it.

He has it. OH MY GOD HE HAS IT.

I snatched a disinfectant wipe that I’d waved away earlier, but now desperately needed. (For godsakes, I’m essential.)

I grabbed a few carrots, some celery and an onion—soup sounded good—only to find there was no broth to be found. No dairy or meat, either. The pandemic was forcing me back into veganism, even though that eating phase is now two months behind me.

Since the bread section was similarly ransacked, I resolved to make my own, only to find a robust selection of almond, coconut and rice flour, but no regular bleached white all-purpose. So now I’m gluten-free again, even though that eating phase is a solid two years behind me.

I found a can of hearts of palm on the shelf and grabbed it, then put it back on a later pass because I don’t know what hearts of palm is. I also returned a package of dry pasta, remembering I had loads of it in my pantry.

I settled on whatever frozen meals were left (the ones with tofu), and waited in the lone checkout line, which looked a lot longer than it was given the 6-foot rule. When it was my turn, I had an urge to give the beleaguered checker a $20 tip.

A few hours later I met my usual running gang for a trek along the beach path. (Stop judging; it’s allowed.) We set off in Belmont Shore, running down the middle of the street without a single honk or middle finger, then made our way around Horny Corner. People sat on patios a reasonable distance apart, reading books, chatting on the phone (with their kids, I presume) about this thing called “Zoom,” smiling and nodding at people like us.

I ran into four people I knew: One was playing volleyball, two others walked along the path, and another drove by slowly enough to make quick small talk. The water sparkled and sky was bluer than I’d ever seen it.

We ignored our watches and allowed ourselves unlimited walk breaks, and when we finished, the three of us stood on the street and chatted for a solid 30 minutes, because where else were we going to go: One is a Realtor who has no work right now, and the other is a professor at LBCC who is thrilled to be working from home.

During the day I got messages from three people, a call from my dad who wanted to know if I was OK, a call from a friend whose daughter is sick, and I called a woman who I see every week at a large gathering but have never talked to for more than 30 seconds. Turns out, her dad is dying. I didn’t know that.

This thing we’re going through is strange, indeed. We’re stuck in our rooms like teenagers with no television and no phone.

Back then, when the tears and whining stopped, I’d start thinking up ways to skirt the rules: Trips to the mailbox would take a circuitous path to my friend’s house across the street; I had a class assignment that required watching “21 Jump Street.”

When those plans failed, I’d eventually get bored enough to reach for some book I’d been meaning to read, only to find that it was actually quite good.

Maybe it’ll be OK to slow down. Not that we have a choice.

Do you have an experience to share? The Post accepts submissions, called People Posts, and we’d love to hear how life has changed for you over the last few weeks. Please email Tim Grobaty at [email protected]

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Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.
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