This New World We Live In

Jul 16, 2020   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

I’ve always been known as an optimist. As a matter of true fact, after my former roomie Lance McCord introduced me to Barbara he told her, “Bob is the most optimistic person I know.” I’m not sure I’m really all that, but I’ve rarely been a pessimist. I guess I’d describe myself as a guy who tries to see the positive side of life, and strives to get there, but at the root of it I’m also a realist. Of all the chances I’ve taken in my life, and those of you who have read my book “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” know all about that “plow forward” mentality, I never really took any of those leaps unless I thought there was at least a chance for it to work out well. When I can see the brick wall and know there’s no way around or over it, I’m a realist.

Right now, I’m being a realist. I don’t want to bring anybody down, but frankly if you’re not a little down about all that’s going on you might want to reevaluate your position. Life, as we know it, is now very different. If we thought this would all be over by April, or May, or June, or July, we misjudged that fly ball so badly it’s still flying completely out of the ballpark while we’re trying to find it again in the sky. It’s a new world. And damn, we really have our work cut out for us. Just look at Florida, Texas, Arizona, and all the other new hot spots. We’ve never had a handle on this. Well let me clarify that. I think a LOT of us have individually had a handle on it. Barbara had a handle on it back when I was still slightly skeptical. We’ve done our part. We’ve been careful. But that hasn’t been close to enough. Bottom line: We were too late to act and too early to “reopen” and pretend it was the old normal again.

With such a disjointed and disorganized message coming from those who are supposed to lead us, and I mean that from the local level (in terms of both government and business owners) to states, and all the way to the White House, too many people are politicizing health. Imagine that! Politicizing health!!! When a pandemic like this strikes a large group of people, such as the United States, the final result will land closer to the lowest common denominator, not the average, and certainly not the best. A huge percentage of us can do everything right, but when the foolish and belligerent break all the common sense rules, we all end up in that sinking boat together. It’s tragic.

I have four members of my immediate Wilber/Doyle family who work directly in the the medical industry. I have another who works with the medical industry to help keep it running. I’ve heard the stories. It’s horrible. Their lives have been changed and scarred. If we ever do somehow get over this, they will never forget what they’ve been through. And, in one case where a niece volunteered to leave her family to be right in the middle of it in New York for two weeks, she will never forget holding the hands of dying patients.

I have four, five, six (I’ve lost count) friends or colleagues from the racing world who have come down with Covid-19. Their stories are just as horrific, if not even more so. These are people I know and respect. I’ve read the words “at that point I just thought it would be better if I died” from more than one of them. I’m so thankful they’re all still with us. It was damn close for more than a few.

It scares me that this didn’t make me sad. It actually made me happy. (Click on any image to enlarge)

It hit me yesterday that I’m adjusting, and that scares me. I’m no longer pining for the good old days. The realist in me knows they are a million miles away in the past and likely another million in the future. I sat out on the screened porch last night, with my laptop, to watch the live-streamed broadcast of an intrasquad game the Twins played at Target Field, in preparation for the planned 60-game schedule MLB is expecting to play, in empty ballparks.

Just to hear Dick Bremer and Justin Morneau announce the game. Just to see the players playing hard and trying to get ready. Just to see it, meant so much. Barbara came over and sat right next to me. We watched four innings together. We missed it that much. But it all seemed “new normal” way more than I ever thought it would. If I’d seen this on March 1, I would have thought “Oh that’s ridiculous. I can’t watch this.” Yesterday, I just soaked it in and appreciated it.

They were talking about how different it is at so many levels. The players don’t all use the same clubhouse. They must be spread out. They can’t sit around before a game and just play cards or shoot the breeze. They can’t use the regular weight room. They can’t even all sit in the dugout or bullpen together. If they are reserves who likely will not play, they sit above the dugout in the stands. It’s a new normal. And yet… Once they were on the field it was baseball. Some odd protocols were in place, but it was baseball. Grown men playing a little boys’ game. It was lovely to see.

Not a scene we ever expected for mid-July

In terms of those protocols, if more than three different hands touch any ball, it gets thrown out. So both of the catchers just threw the ball back to the pitcher after a strikeout, instead of throwing it around the infield. Masks are optional, but a lot of guys were wearing them. One of the first-basemen kept his around his neck, until a runner got on. Then he’d pull it up and put it on. And I got used to it.

When Nelson Cruz and Max Kepler went deep, we cheered. There was no crowd there to go crazy, but the Twins were working out the kinks on all the new “sounds package” MLB is guiding them through. From what I’ve heard, all the teams have been issued new iPads loaded with a wide variety of “reaction sounds” whether those are modest cheers for a hit or a strikeout, or roars for homers. And in between, they have a “white noise” sound that is really just the noise made by 30,000 people who are simply sitting in the seats and talking. I haven’t heard if there are sounds of vendors hawking items, but that would be a great add if not. It sounded pretty good, and is way better than the eerie silence of an empty ballpark.

So, you ask (you didn’t but I’ll answer it anyway) what does this positive thinking realist see in the future? Hopefully I see a vaccine. That would really help. What I don’t see is many of the morons who are out partying and congregating like they’re bulletproof (see Miami Beach for current photos that will make you lose your faith in humanity) suddenly seeing the light and understanding the issues.

Some of my Wilber/Doyle family members and their colleagues who work in hospitals or medical facilities spend as much time getting dressed and prepped as any football player does, and then with multiple masks, shields, suits, and gloves they’ve worked 12-hour shifts. But Bubba won’t wear a mask to go into 7-11 and buy a six-pack because he can’t breathe. I wish that stunned me. I’m numb to the idiocy now.

Entertainment is a huge part of what is missing. We have to admit we spend far too much time in our lives watching sports, going to concerts, seeing movies or plays, or just being entertained. That’s gone for the most part, unless it’s on our TV in the comfort of our own secluded homes.

How long until we see something like this again? I wish I knew.

The racing industry is making inroads, and NASCAR just allowed 30,000 people into the cavernous Bristol track this week. Let’s wait a week or 10 days before we call that a success. In terms of racing with no crowds, or limited ones, racing has the advantage of having their “players” (the drivers) isolated to do their work. The pit crews and officials are another story. They have to have the discipline to stay with the protocol, and watching bits of the recent NASCAR races I’ve seen that slip quite a bit on pit road. They have their masks on, but they seem to be reverting to old habits a little. Between the NASCAR deal and the NHRA race from Indy last weekend, I was impressed by most of the attention to detail, but by the end of the day I saw more than a few masks sagging down below the nose and social distancing going out the window. It’s going to be hard to keep up what needs to be done. And again, let’s wait to see if the idea of 30,000 people at Bristol was a safe one. At Indy, they allowed a few thousand in the east side grandstand and they seemed to do a very good job of staying spread apart. I hope they keep it up. I wasn’t there, but everything I’ve heard was that NHRA did a fantastic job with crowd control, temperature readings as fans entered, sanitizer stations, and informational signs that told the fans and racers what needed to be done. What <HAD> to be done in order to put that race on.

Most of the NBA is now down in Orlando, secluded into one section of the Disney World sports complex. They actually call it “the bubble” because the teams have no in-person access to the outside world and vice-versa. They will play in an empty arena.

The NHL is practicing now. They will go directly into their playoffs at selected “hub sites” around North America, but again with no fans.

MLS is doing what the NBA is doing, also in Orlando. They’re playing games that count in the standings, but with no fans. And it’s brutally hot there right now. I did enjoy watching our Minnesota United boys pull off a miracle win in extra time the other night, against Sporting Kansas City. By then end of the first half, the whole set up was the new normal for me. I couldn’t conceive of 20,000 rabid Loons fans at Allianz Field in St. Paul, with arms around each other’s shoulders, swaying back and forth while singing at the top of their collective lungs. Seems impossible now.

A pretty decent indicator of how far your breath travels, and this is just on the bench!

The NFL seems oblivious at the moment. I hope they’re not. Maybe they aren’t, but the only words I hear coming from the league and the teams seems to be who is signing a new contract and who is unhappy with the one he has. Do those guys really think they’ll start earning money this fall? The realist in me is very skeptical. With the exception of boxing and martial arts, no other sport that I can think of features a hundred or so instances, per game, where huge winded men are smashing into each other, often face to face.

I hope there is talk of coming up with some sort of new plastic shield inside their face masks. But those 300-pound guys do need to gulp a lot of air. We’ll see. The skeptical realist wouldn’t put a $10 bet on there being a full NFL season, and I mean on the field as well as in the stands. Would I go to US Bank Stadium to watch a Vikings game with 60,000 other people right now? No way. Not on your life, and not on mine.

Would I go to a movie? Maybe, if the management convinced me how much they’re sanitizing before anyone comes in, and if they stagger the seating to keep the blubbering guy behind me from sneezing all over my neck. And masks must be mandatory. But who polices that during the movie? It’s not like we have ushers roaming the aisles with flashlights like we did when I was a kid. And why was that, by the way? Were we that unruly? We must have been. Anyway, if you think it’s possible some moron will immediately take off his or her mask as soon as the lights go down, you’re on the right track. It’s more than possible.

So lucky to have seen this when we did. Pure brilliance.

And the world of theater is crushed right now. Thanks to meeting some blog reader dude named Buck Hujabre when he was in “Jersey Boys” I have met and been introduced to other Broadway actors. They’re wonderful people, truly among the finest group of thoughtful and talented individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet and get to know. And they can’t work. And I can’t fathom a guess as to when the lights will go back on.

The fact Disney rushed the new film adaptation of the play “Hamilton” and got it on Disney Plus six months before its due date, was remarkable and brilliant. Even for a musical that happens to be that enormously (historically) popular, there’s still just a tiny percentage of citizens who’ve had the chance to see it. When the touring company came to Minneapolis, tickets were damn near impossible to get. I remember there being some sort of lottery just to get a chance to buy them. Now, I can’t count the number of friends I have who finally did get to see it on TV. Most signed up to pay for Disney Plus just because of the show. They all loved it. It’s good for the soul, and our souls need good things right now. I feel so fortunate to have seen it, in Chicago, with Barbara back when we couldn’t imagine this Covid nightmare. I’ll never forget it.

Nor will I ever forget seeing “Jersey Boys” three different times. It was just as riveting and impressive each time, and it afforded me the chance to become close friends with Buck and his family. Thanks to Buck, I met Nathan Scherich and Aaron DeJesus, and I’ve kept in touch with both of them via social media. Great people. Barbara and I had the rare pleasure to get together with Nathan after enjoying every minute of “Beautiful” when he was in that terrific show about Carole King, on Broadway. To have him meet us backstage and give us a full behind-the-scenes tour before heading home to his wife and kids was incredible. As he said “You gave me the same sort of tour at the NHRA race in New Jersey. It’s the least I can do.”

Queen with Adam Lambert at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. So communal, so fun. So hard to believe now. And yes, that’s Brian May in a Minnesota Wild jersey!

And concerts. My gosh what a hole in our lives. Barbara and I are both devoted music fans and equally devoted to live performances. Whether it was an intimate show at the Dakota Club in Minneapolis, a theater show like Evanescence or Kansas at the State Theater, or a mega show like Rush, U2, Springsteen, or Queen with Adam Lambert, in a huge sold-out arena, we wanted to be there and we often were.

Again, I have no idea when that will happen again, and I worry for the artists, the management companies, the record companies, and the venues. The Dakota Club has been a treasure for us. Fabulous food and big-time acts only steps away from our table. I don’t know how they have survived, and can’t imagine how their business model would work if they attempted to socially distance the audience. How can you make any money when you’re paying the acts what they deserve but have to cut your sold-out crowd from 250 to 100? I hope they make it. I hope we get to see another fabulous show there.

And finally, how about The Boyz? We hear from a lot of people who ask how Boofus and Buster have coped with these last four months of this new normal. At first, I think they were just confused that we were always around. It is, after all, their house. We just live in it. Over time, they’ve become so accustomed to this new normal I’m afraid they’d really go nuts if we went back to traveling or working outside the home. Even though they sleep like cats (seems like at least 14 hours a day, but maybe more) they love to be with us. If I’m in the living room, Buster will no doubt be near me on the couch, even if it’s just to sleep. When I come downstairs to watch TV in the home theater, he’s right behind me. I can barely sit down and recline my seat before he’s on my lap. Right now, he’s sound asleep right next to me, snoring delightfully.

Buster is by my side, making sure my manuscript doesn’t get away.

Boofie is the Momma’s boy. He’s as glued to Barbara as Buster is to me. Maybe more so. He does love hanging out on the screened porch during a beautiful afternoon like we’re having today, but he spent the morning in her office, on the floor in the sunshine. That’s how every day goes.

They’ve adapted. They no longer seem surprised that we’re nearly always here. If I run out to do some errands, Barbara will often say “Buster stood by the garage door and cried for you the whole time you were gone.”

We’re a family. We make each other happy.

We stay safe. We don’t cut corners. We mask up. We do it for ourselves and for everyone else.

I just don’t have any reason to be optimistic that we’re anywhere near the old normal. I’m not sure we’ll ever get back to that, and with every passing day it seems more like an ancient improbable memory. Maybe even a myth. I’ll have to be a realist. I hope we get there. I think we can. But I have to be realistic.

Stay safe out there friends. Stay very safe. Err on the side of caution. I worry about all of you.

As always, there’s a “Like” button just below and it would be great if the word “like” represented how you felt about this blog installment, even though it’s not a happy “it’s all going to be fine by next week” type of thing. If so, I appreciate every like we get.

Take care!

Bob Wilber, at your service

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