What a year! Our first global communal experience. We each experienced it differently but it was unusual for sure. For 13 (long) months I stayed home. My life consisted of my apartment, with weekly expeditions to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods and very occasional meals at 4 local outdoor restaurants (when they were open). What used to be a very big life, full of flights, hotels, restaurants, events, and people became very, very small. I’m lucky. While I know many people who contracted Covid 19, I didn’t get sick and thankfully, my friends and family who did, all survived. My women’s club (The AllBright) that had opened 6 months prior to the pandemic did not. My local nail salon, gone. I suspect this is just the beginning. Initially we were concerned with our health. Staying safe. Following the rules. And now comes the hard part. The return to… what exactly?
It’s not a return to normal. Whatever that was. Let’s not kid ourselves, while we’re all excited about a return to the Before, we’ve changed. Maybe for good. So let’s agree that before the After comes re-entry. The transition. The finding our footing once again in a world that isn’t the same as the one we left in March 2020.
I went out of town on business last week. My first outing. I wasn’t ready to fly so I drove the 5+ hours from LA to San Jose. I started with a one night stay at my cousins’ home. I’m fully vaccinated as are they so it felt safe. Plus, I needed to see family. Be with other people. And it was amazing. I know they thought it was weird that I hung around them the whole time. I simply didn’t want to be alone. 13 months was long enough. I craved conversation IRL without masks. And homemade food that I didn’t make.
The next day I checked into the Hotel Nia in Menlo Park. It was new and shiny. And totally empty. I counted 6 guests during my 4-night stay. While the room was beautiful and clean, they no longer clean the room daily and the restaurant was only open for dinner with a limited menu. They did have croissants as the only choice for breakfast so now I have to head back to the gym… While it wasn’t the typical hotel stay, I loved it. Mostly because I had a change of scenery. And there was always someone at the front desk to say hello to.
I had 2 shoots in Mountain View on Monday. The first in a green screen studio where I pre-recorded a speech. It was amazing to be around a professional team again. It’s been hard not having an audience for my virtual keynotes, and so it was nice to see them nodding or laughing, even though their faces were partially covered. The second shoot was for a corporate documentary. This was a sizeable production and my first encounter with a Covid Compliance Officer. The large crew was also fully masked but here too, it was nice to have reactions to my comments. It’s been really hard talking to myself for an entire year.
I spent a few extra days in Silicon Valley because I wasn’t ready to go home. I can’t say it was normal. I usually pack my days with meetings, lunches, dinners and coffees (tea for me). Not this time. I saw 2 (vaccinated) friends for dinner and froze on the rooftop of a restaurant on what felt like the coldest evening of the year. We laughed so hard that I forgot about my chattering teeth. I had lunch with another friend at the Stanford Golf Course the next day. Outside, of course. It was lovely to catch up. But none of these meals or gatherings were “normal”. We still wore masks except when we ate. We still talked about the lost year, stolen time and what comes next.
I spent time in Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Mountain View over 4 days. These usually bustling towns now seemed to function in slow motion. Many places were closed. The streets were fairly empty. There was parking! And the tech world was shut down tight. Or at least the campuses and buildings were ghost towns. While there were some cars on the road, the usual traffic jams (which, let’s face it, I didn’t miss) were also absent.
My drive home took me through small towns until I made it onto the I-5 and encountered the large volume of trucks. My sister used to live in the East Bay of San Francisco so I’d made the trip dozens of times. This time there seemed to be twice as many trucks. It didn’t seem “normal” either.
Once I got home, I felt closed in again. It was as if I had a short window into another life. Not the life of the Before. Not lockdown life. Something different. In between.
I’m ready to travel. Ready to get back on stage. But I don’t think the world is quite there yet. This re-entry is going to take some getting used to.