The New Normal

Every so often I come up with an idea for a cartoon, and my friend, the talented Chad Essley will often illustrate it for me.

Here is one that jumped out of my brain recently:

It’s been interesting living through the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. Personally I haven’t been affected by it as much as others. I have a job that let’s me work from home, and for the last 20+ years I’ve lived out in the country on a horse farm, so I have plenty of space to spread out while still social distancing.

Others aren’t so lucky. I love to drink cocktails and eat good food, so a number of my friends are in the restaurant business. One of my bartender friends has been out of work for a couple of months now. Another friend of mine had to lay off his entire staff and it is just him and his wife keeping the business going through take out. As I write this a record 38.6 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in the US.

But it seems the leadership in Washington, whose slowness to respond to the outbreak got us in the mess in the first place, just wants to act like everything will just go back to normal now. That isn’t going to happen.

For example, my company does pretty well working from home. Our lease is up in June, and since we don’t expect it to be safe to return to an office environment this year, we are not renewing. As a plus to the economy I rented a storage unit to use for our office furniture.

But here are the minuses:

First, rent. Our rent was much more than the rent for the storage unit. That is taken from the economy.

Second, utilities. Add on top of rent electricity and internet access. Gone.

Third, meals. We liked to eat lunch as a group, and thus visited a number of local restaurants every week. Not going to happen now.

Fourth, commuting. If we don’t need to leave the house, why drive a car? So no spending on fuel or maintenance. We’ve even considered getting rid of a vehicle in our household.

Finally, all of the tangential spending that went along with an office, such as janitorial services, drinks and snacks, etc. And this doesn’t even begin to touch on the fact that several of us on the company used to travel quite a bit (I often spent more than 100 nights a year in hotel rooms). Not happening.

And that is just our company. Multiply that times the hundreds of tech companies in the area and you can start to see the impact. This is a sea change – I don’t think we’ll ever really get back to normal. This is the “new” normal.

Even though restrictions are easing in my home state of North Carolina, my behavior won’t change in the near future. Dealing with a viral outbreak is pretty straightforward: isolate, test and track. Rinse and repeat. We as a society haven’t really done much past the isolate part, and we did that poorly.

Of course, the stock market is rallying this week, so what do I know. I am not a medical expert, but I doubt I’ll feel comfortable being around crowds or out in public until there is an effective vaccine for Sars-COV-2. With increased globalization this is just the first of several pandemics to come in my lifetime, and based on our track record with this one I am not filled with optimism.