In the 1990’s, Sage and I were vegetarian for several years. While Sage was experienced with it, having grown up in a bit of a hippie family in California, I was very much an omnivore. So when we first started being vegetarian, I tried my best to adapt what I was used to to a meat-free diet. This meant trying to make veggie chili, vegetarian “meatloaf” and other dishes like this. I would buy vegan ice cream called “ice bean” that was mostly tasteless and filled with ice crystals. Tempeh reuben sandwiches never tasted as good as the original did to me.
It took some months but eventually I learned my lesson. Trying to make meat-based dishes delicious without meat was almost always a disappointment. However, if I went for Indian food, Thai or Chinese vegetarian food, the food was delicious. There was no attempt made to imitate meat. And once we started cooking these foods at home we were so much happier with our meals. This is, in great part where my love for food from around the world and especially Indian food started.
Sage and I are big fans of improv comedy theatre. In this art form people get up on stage and based on the simplest of suggestions: a location, a relationship, or even just a simple word, they create scenes and relationships that get the audience invested and often end up being really funny as well. But with the pandemic, the venues where this happened closed and we wondered how long it would be before we saw enjoyable improv. After all, nobody would be sharing a stage or even a venue space for an undefined amount of time.
We found out just how long it would be last weekend when we saw the Adamant Eves, an improv group from Bangalore perform on Zoom with a friend of ours from Canada as a guest. When it was over, Sage and I couldn’t stop talking about it and tried to figure out why we loved it so much. The answer we came up with was the same as we found out about in 1994 when we stopped eating meat: Instead of trying to make a stage show fit in to a bunch of boxes on a computer screen, they looked at what Zoom offered and created a whole new way of performing. The ability to turn off cameras meant that people could be the voice of God or someone’s internal monologue in a scene. When they were “off stage” with the camera off they could quickly put on a hat, wig, or scarf they found in the room and have a new costume for their character. Props could be improvised with anything within reach. This was literally among the top shows I have ever seen – and I’ve seen so many. It was so entertaining that both of us really hope that in addition to doing regular shows post-lockdown, they also do other shows continuing to explore this new way of performing.
In the end I think this is something that’s able to be adapted to our whole life these days. We may feel sad that our life is not like it was in February and definitely not like what it was a year ago. It is tempting to try to find ways to make our current life feel like it did back then. But we risk being disappointed if we do that. By all means, create Zoom meetups with family to have dinner together when you can’t be in the room. But also look for new opportunities to do things that this new life offers or to take advantage of some of the technology that has now become ubiquitous. For example things we do include:
- Have a book club that meets regularly but include people from anywhere in the world. See what people outside your country are reading.
- Have an “online game show”. 1-2 times a week Sage organizes a Zoom meeting with friends where we play all sorts of different games – quiz games, group board games, Pictionary
- Take classes and enjoy the fact that the class can be even more diverse. Sage, for example, is taking an improv class that a year ago would have many of the same people we know from the Toronto improv scene. But today there are people from the US, Canada, and even Ukraine.
Yesterday I did a little bit of both – a mixture of old and new ways when I went grocery shopping thanks to a great new tool that is an immense help now and will be even after the pandemic: a purpose-built bicycle trailer for groceries. It seemed a bit frivolous before the pandemic but now, as we are encouraged to avoid frequent trips to the store and do curbside pick-up if at all possible, it is a huge help.
It’s a little bulky so you need to be a bit more conscious when cycling. I’m not as agile in traffic. However, it doesn’t feel particularly heavy and there’s one extremely big bonus. From behind it looks like a trailer I might carry children in. Drivers may not be as courteous for some random adult but they give a child trailer loads of space. Even on busy streets I had the space I needed.
I’ve never biked to this grocery store before though I’ve been many times on the bus. By bus it takes 15-20 minutes depending on traffic and timing. But by bicycle it is easy. Eight minutes after I started I was locking it up in the parking lot.
Then, after parking, and with about 1 minute of magic, folding the hitch up, putting down the front wheel and lifting a handle for pushing, I turned it in to a large shopping cart that I could bring inside.
And then inside I went. This store had many signs talking about their requirements: only one person per family should come, everyone should wear a mask, stay home if you feel ill, and of course as much as possible, maintain social distance. Inside a sign instructed us to wait patiently in the lineup to get in but there was no lineup at this time. In I went, picking up lots of necessities and many snacks as well. And still the cart was only half full. Such a luxury compared to our smaller push-cart. The workers were busy stocking shelves so navigating the aisles was challenging – there were many boxes being unloaded onto shelves. But unlike at the beginning of the pandemic, nearly everything was available.
At the checkout the floor was marked with dots indicating how far apart we should all stand. The days of jostling with one another to get our carts unloaded and on to the belt are over, perhaps only temporarily. The cashier was behind Plexiglas and wore a mask so interacting was a little challenging but we managed.
Outside again, I had a quick snack of mochi – pounded sticky rice filled with red bean paste and topped with black sesame seeds. Filled with carbohydrates so good fuel for cycling. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. Then, I hook up the trailer and head out for another stop.
This time the trailer is noticeably heavier. It isn’t too bad to pedal but I have to be extra conscious that with another 30-40 lbs of weight it’s going to take a bit more stopping distance.
At an intersection near home I notice a woman standing in the median. She’s holding a sign asking for money for food. It must be especially difficult these days. I rarely carried money before the pandemic but now, the idea of holding dirty money is even more worrisome. I hope she’s OK.
I get to another grocery store where we put in an online order for pickup. While the wait for delivery is incredibly long – sometimes 1-2 weeks, the wait for pickup is shorter, as few as 1-3 days.
I park my bike, not sure of how to manage it and I walk to the other side of the building where the line-up is to get in the store. This one is much longer.
It goes all the way to the other end of the store and is moving slowly. But then I notice that door on the left and I understand. People who pick up groceries don’t have to go inside. They just park their cars and it’s brought out to them. And, in fact, just to the right is the parking area for pickup.
I call the number and let them know I’m here for my scheduled pickup. They charge my credit card they have on file and I wait. The email notifying me my pickup was ready tells me to:
I have no trunk to pop, no windows to put up so I do the next best thing. I put on my mask, open my “trunk” and stand back from the trailer.
Soon a man comes out and puts all my bags in the cart. When he leaves I close the top of the cart and head home. Now it’s noticeably heavy as I go up the small hill to leave the grocery store and turn in to a headwind that takes me home. Still, it isn’t far and I’m able to make good time.
Back inside I go, disconnect the trailer, turn it back in to a cart, lock the bike up in the bike room and bring the groceries upstairs where Sage and Daegan put it all away.
And then, I take a grocery store gift card that we got as a reward from our bank in exchange for credit card “reward points”. I go downstairs, unlock the bike and pedal back to the intersection where the woman is still waiting, asking drivers for money for food and to help her children. I notice then that she is pregnant also. As I wait, a woman who looks to be her sister goes out with a sign of her own and they switch. When her sister comes back to where I am I give her the card. She is glad but also still wants some money to help support her kids and pay her rent. Whatever her and her family’s circumstances, I realize that this pandemic is being experienced very differently by people. Not everyone is having fun new adventures and searching for ways to appreciate the new reality. For many of the people I share the city with, they’re having to search for new ways to survive. And so, those of us who have the privilege to work on self-improvement, or start the day with a live show need to be even more conscious of finding ways to help others who are struggling.