Next to normal


An eerie peace has fallen upon the Upper Haight, and I was able to truly observe it for the first time this morning as I went out in search of a cup of coffee. It’s my first couple of days back from sheltering-in-place at my boyfriend’s house for the past four and a half weeks (which we both miraculously survived in one piece… though barely). Now that I’m home, things feel calmer and more normal. I am surrounded by my own clothes, mugs, books, taking work calls in my own bed. Last night, in my own bed, I watched Julie & Julia while scarfing down $40 worth of Chinese takeout and two large glasses of wine. Life here is not much different from before the shelter-in-place – I had built such a comfortable space for myself that I never went out much anyway.

But this morning, Haight Street told me its story. Wasteland, one of my favorite secondhand shops, is boarded up, along with nearly every other store down the street. Stanza Coffee was closed and guarded by an ominous, locked iron gate. My next choice, Cafe Cole, was also closed. I felt guilty and disappointed, then guilty because I was disappointed. Of course they were closed. Maybe if I had been here the past couple of weeks I could have, I don’t know, bought coffee from them every morning? Help them stay open? Guess I’ll never know if that would have even made a difference.

So I trudged my way up Cole Street toward Peet’s. Passed more businesses that were either closed or only open for takeout. Looked up and saw a girl working from home, her Macbook open against the street-facing window. A woman and her dog trailed (presumably six feet) behind me. The thing is, this neighborhood is usually quiet around this time; most businesses don’t open until 11 a.m., which is when everything springs to life. But in the dull gray of morning light, the quiet felt different. It was like I was being followed by a whisper: Walk quickly. Get what you need. Go home. I saw others out walking their dogs, getting coffee, picking up breakfast, and wondered if the whisper was following them too.

On the same street as the girl in the window came a bus that had been converted to the N-Judah Muni service. The regular Muni on this line, which serves most of the commuters in this city, including me, was gone. I can’t remember my last ride on public transportation, what it had been like. I mean, I know the exact date, even the time of day – but I can’t remember it. 

I took the name of this blog post from one of my favorite musicals; it’s about how, if you can’t live a normal life due to things outside your control, then it’s okay to settle for not-quite normal. Life goes on in this neighborhood that was once so full of it. Tomorrow, I’ll stand in line at the Haight Street Market, combining two things I absolutely dread: lines and grocery shopping. (On my list is coffee beans from a local brewery. No more Peet’s.) Maybe I’ll do an at-home workout, since my Pilates place has shut down. Maybe I’ll wash my hair. 

What I know I’ll do for certain, though, is simply carry on.

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