Over 50 years ago, I worked for the Federal Trade Commission, on Pennsylvania Ave in Washington, DC. It was before Metro — the area subway system — and like many others I drove into work from Maryland each morning. I discovered that if I could get there around 6:30 I could usually find on-street parking within four or five blocks of the FTC building. Fortunately, the building would be open that early, but between getting to work so early and having lunch hour, I had a lot of non-work time on my hands. But they had a wonderful library, and I enjoyed browsing through it. One of the books I remember was a slim volume written by C. Northcote Parkinson in which he laid out his three laws. I don’t remember the second and third other than that they were extensions of the first. His first law is usually rendered as something along the lines of “Work expands to meet the time allotted for it.”
I hadn’t thought about my time at the FTC or Parkinson’s book for years, but I realized the other day that his law applies not just to bureaucracies but to life itself. Over the past year of enforced idleness brought on by the pandemic, we’ve gotten into the habit of eating breakfast more than three hours after we get up in the morning, filling the time with enjoyable routine.
Now, with the vaccinations we are beginning to feel safe enough to venture out. We have begun planning a road trip for June. I wondered if I should plan on covering the same distance each day as on our previous trips. But if we don’t get on the road until well more than three hours after getting up each morning, it’ll mean shorter traveling days and fewer miles.
Also, we both feel we have less stamina than we did 18 months ago. Is that only from sitting around for over a year? Or is it part of the aging process? And does less stamina mean fewer daily miles?
In the past, we knew pretty much what to expect during a road trip. We may go to new places, but we knew the conventions and kinds of things that would be available. But on this trip, the pandemic has affected everything. What will be open? What will be available? Will we get our food only from take-out and grocery stores? Here in Portland, after some weeks of being able to sit in restaurants, things have closed down again with only outdoor seating open.
Will we get into a hot spot, perhaps where most local people ignore the precautions because they believe the lie that Covid is no worse than the flu? In 2019, flu killed about 22,000 people in the U.S. The U.S. death toll from Covid is approaching 600,000. That’s a big difference — not just more, or double, or triple, but many times more. Covid is not the flu.
I’ve always had a fair dose of inertia. It can be hard for me to get myself going, but once going it can be hard for me to quit until I’m done. With experience, I’m better at judging when I need to abandon the current project. I don’t know that I’m any better at getting myself going, though.
After all this time of sitting around, it is nice to plan a trip we might actually take. We yearn to see friends and family and just be on the road. It’ll be different, but we don’t know how different. And at any point we can turn back and come home. (Although if we abandon it at the farthest point, it’ll still take more than a week to get back home.) If nothing else, it’ll be an adventure. And the last year has been sadly lacking in pleasurable adventure.