We encounter the best fall color we have ever seen -- anywhere -- this fall in the Arrowhead Country of Minnesota.
During a visit earlier this month to Wisconsin, we watched the state struggle with a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the reaction of a population, particularly in rural areas, reluctant to face reality.
Since the state’s Supreme Court overturned Gov. Tony Evers Safer at Home order, on May 15, it has fallen on local officials to make decisions about confronting the pandemic up to local officials. Two months later, as the number of cases climbs dramatically, some communities, are being forced to confront the issue – often against vocal opposition.
Green Bay, Racine and Superior all passed mask ordinances July 22. Green Bay is in Brown County which has recorded the third highest number of Covid-19 cases, thanks in part of an outbreak at a meat packing facility.
After the Green Bay City Council passed the mask ordinance, every member of the council, the mayor and the police chief received death threats.
In Sheboygan County, where cases are surging, the Plymouth Common Council decided to study the mask issue, punting any decision until a meeting Sept. 8. How many residents will come down with the virus in the meantime?
An increasing number of businesses are taking the lead, requiring employees and customers to wear masks. Over the last two weeks, associates at the Fleet Farm in Plymouth have started wearing face coverings, and some customers had taking the hint.
The Pick ‘n Save, a unit of Kroger, has a well-established mask and social distancing policy. During one visit, we were pleased to see an employee at the entrance tell a couple they had to wear a mask to enter the store. The couple walked away, the man grumbling, “I guess we won’t have anything to eat tonight.”
A friend who was bicycling in the area recounted an experience he and a = friend had at an area bar.
A woman, in her 60s or 70s walked all the way around the bar to their table and berated them for wearing a mask. Didn’t they know wearing the mask would not keep them from getting sick?
True. But she missed the point. The mask keeps a wearer from spreading the disease to others – like her. And at any given time, we may be incubating the infection or asymptomatic.
We cannot help it wonder if this surge could have been avoided – or at least minimized -- if Wisconsin still had a statewide Safer at Home policy.
We recently passed a noteworthy mile marker on our journey through life.
John Lundberg’s death, June 27, is the 89th In Memory entry on our class website. For a class of 356, it means one quarter of our classmates have died.
These are the boys and girls we played with in our neighborhoods, in band, on sports teams, and competed against for the attention of teachers and cute members of the opposite sex. Never again will be able to smile as we talk with them about those “good old days” at class reunions.
Take a deep breath, and think again: the glass is three-quarters full.
We have aches and pains. We’ve gained a bit of weight. We see doctors more frequently and take medications. For exercise, we walk instead of run. Senior moments are more frequent and annoying.
But we also enjoy friends and family. A good number of us travel (or at least did before the pandemic). We have found new, meaningful activities to fulfill our days. We share stories on Facebook and here, and write of seeing each other at the next reunion.
That’s another mile marker just down the road: the 60th anniversary of our graduation from high school.
Will we? Dare we for our own health plan a reunion next year? Until there’s a successful Covid-19 vaccine widely available, we can’t answer that question yet. Maybe in six months. For now, just something to think about. The Class of ’61 could celebrate 61 years in 2022.
In the meantime, for our own sake let’s do our part by social distancing and wearing masks.
Take care of yourself.
The weekend of June 19-21 was slated to be the high point of the racing season at Road America.
The world class road circuit, nestled in the rolling Kettle Moraine hills about an hour's drive north of Milwaukee, has become a traditional stop on the IndyCar circuit, the pinnacle of open wheel racing in the U.S. The track is only about 10 miles from our Wisconsin getaway property, so the 2020 dates have been circled on our calendar for months.
Road America, June 2018
Drivers love the four-mile, nine-turn course with significant runoff areas. Fans love the place. The pits are accessible and the smells of roasting sweetcorn and broiling brats tempting stops at the concession stands. For Chevrolet and Honda, the only two engine suppliers, and the teams the challenge is to adapt to a long course with significant elevation changes.. Thanks to pandemic-related closings, IndyCar was forced to tear up its calendar. Road America was suddenly faced with an empty track on a premium week. (The track will host an IndyCar doubleheader July 11 and 12.)
So, the track opened its gates to race fans June 19 for a Friday Night At the Movies, featuring – how appropriately – the 2019 award winning Ford V Ferrari. The high whine of the Chevy and Honda turbocharged engines would be replaced the more guttural roar of 1960s-era Ford and Ferrari engines.
Road America got a good turnout. The cars were carefully spaced, one for every two spots. Pull up a lawn chair, sit, sip, watch the sunset and then enjoy the movie.
In a nutshell, spurned in a bid to buy Ferrari, Ford executives, decided to beat Ferrari at its own game by winning the most prestigious road race on the planet, the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966 – and do it in three months. Ferrari had won the race six years in a row and Ford did not have a serious racing program. So, it turned to Carroll Shelby, who had won Le Mans for another manufacturer in 1959. When a health issue forced him to stop racing, he turned to building race cars. Besides racing, the film is full of corporate intrigue and has a nice family dynamic. (More here: https://time.com/5730536/ford-v-ferrari-true-story/)
But this blog is not about the movie, it's about the setting and nice gesture by Road America. (Kudos to the person who came up with the idea.)
A very fun, different experience.
The pandemic became very personal at the end of April when cousin David Reisinger, a River Grove, Ill., paramedic/firefighter died after he and his ambulance partner contracted the virus from a patient.
David, my only Tatro relative in Chicago, spent a career in emergency medicine as an ER nurse and paramedic. For many years he was the EMS coordinator at Stroger Hospital, a major Level 1 trauma center in Chicago. After his retirement he continued a relationship with the River Grove department.
When we exchanged emails in mid-April, David said he had made a trip to a local hospital for chest x-rays, but was not admitted and seemed on the way to recovery. He promised a later email update. He died April 29.
The Cook County medical examiner's office lists cause of death as a stroke. There is little doubt, especially based on more recent research, it was COVID-19 related. He was 57.
When I emailed news of his death to Tatro cousins in the Carson City-Reno area, who did not know him, one shared the emotional struggle her 29-year-old daughter is going through. A second-year anesthesiology resident at a hospital on Long Island, she is administering ventilators and intubating COVID-19 patients -- most of whom die.
In mid-May we decided it was safe to get out of Chicago and retrieve our RV from winter storage in a barn near Evansville, Ind., and move it to Moraine Elaine, our Wisconsin getaway property.
As we traveled through mostly rural portions of three states, we got a new perspective on what life is like outside our urban hotspot. If you don't know of any COVID-19 patients in your community, it's understandable why residents in rural America chafe at a governor's stay-at-home orders – even if it's in their best interest. And why they are less like to wear face coverings or social distance.
From Evansville we stopped in Danville, Ill., and met friends in the local farm community. Sitting around an arrangement of tables in a machine shed that permitted four couples to social distance, one observed that until I told him of David's death the pandemic was distant. Now he had a new perspective.
On this trip we also gained a new perspective – of the gulf between the rural and urban perspective.
The Navy’s Blue Angels flew over Chicago today, part of its America Strong campaign, a tribute to healthcare workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
We were good and stayed home. We had hoped to see formation from our yard because we live less than a mile from Lake Michigan and two blocks from a Level 1 trauma center. We didn’t even hear them.
But friends who live in high rises overlooking the Lake, like Patty Coen who took this beautiful picture, did.
All of this is very nice. But the best way for us to pay tribute to health care workers is to wear a mask and practice social distancing. In that manner, we might make their jobs a little less stressful.
With the Corona Virus Pandemic keeping us at home, this is a perfect opportunity to research and write yours. You will do your loved ones, a reporter or anyone trying to write your death notice, and yourself a favor.
Reporters and funeral home employees may be asking your loved ones for information that might not be at the tip of their tongue at a time when they are grieving and trying to make arrangements for a memorial service. The exact date and location of your birth? When did you graduate from high school? College? What degree? What was your most remarkable achievement? A turning point in your career?
Perhaps you can appreciate why every now and then a newspaper columnist urges readers to write their own obituary. Reporters appreciate accurate information and the ability to obtain it with minimal intrusiveness at an emotional time. It may also give your loved ones an opportunity to say something like "What I really loved/admired/appreciated about him/her was …."
I write this as a journalist interested in helping you accurately fashion your last message.
I do not write this because of my age and, at 70-plus, greater risk of death from the Pandemic.
I write this because my wife and I, enjoying traveling across Oregon in our RV last September, came across the cleanup of a head on collision involving two RVs. Both drivers were killed and their wives critically injured. Death can come at any moment.
A draft of my obit is in a secure place, and won't be posted as a template. Don't want anyone to inadvertently announce my death prematurely.
The format for a well-written obit is rather simple. In the first paragraph, who you were and your most noteworthy achievement. Like any lead, a reason to read on.
In the second or third paragraph, who announced or confirmed your death, with date and cause of death.
Next tell a story about yourself. Be sure to include your birth date and location, the full name of your parents, your spouse's full name and date of marriage.
Keep it to 350-500 words. Keep it simple. Keep it accurate.
It's your last chance to immortalize yourself.
Read a few newspaper obituaries from your local newspaper or The New York Times, which has elevated it to high journalism.
While looking for things to watch during this period of sheltering at home, check out "Obit," a short-lived, feature-length film about the obituary unit at the New York Times. It's available for online rental.
Search the Web for "write your obituary."
Our trip to witness the spring wonder of thousands of Sandhill Cranes flocking to Central Nebraska turned out to be akin to keeping an eye on a wall of tornado-threatening black clouds rolling across the plains toward us.
Based on guidance on March 15, we decided we were comfortable traveling 650 miles, most of it on I-80, from Chicago to Kearney, Nebraska, to see an annual marvel of nature that had been on our bucket list for years. When we left, the only Corona Virus advisory was to avoid large groups. That soon changed.
On Sunday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, upset at St. Patrick's Day weekend revelers, order a closing of Illinois bars and restaurants. No problem, Illinois was in our rearview mirror.
On Monday, at our destination in Kearney, restaurants were open. Viewing the Sandhills did not require social distancing. It was easy enough to keep distance from other birders. We grabbed an early dinner, splitting a slab of ribs, at Skeeter Barns. Little did we know it would be our last sit-down meal in a restaurant.
Tuesday morning, after watching the Sandhills depart their overnight roosts at sunrise, we decided to head home. The Nebraska rest stops were open as usual. The next day most were closed. People were stealing the toilet paper.
Tuesday afternoon, we learned Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds had order the closing of all bars and restaurants at Noon. Where would we eat tonight in Iowa City? Time to be creative, and rely a bit of knowledge of the area, thanks to ties to the University of Iowa. Monica's, a popular Italian restaurant in Coralville, was not far from our hotel. Elaine upgraded our hotel reservation to include a table and sofa and we did pickup at Monica's. Good dinner, with wine and beer, in a comfortable setting. We were still ahead of the wave of shutdowns.
Wednesday, home, ahead of the next round of even greater restrictions. Those threatening clouds never quite caught up to us.
Scotts Bluff towers 500 feet above the surrounding plains of the Nebraska Panhandle, just east of the Wyoming border.
For scientists, it's a natural marvel. The cap rock at the top dates back 22 million years, revealing millennials of years of history for geologists to study.
For pioneers heading west in the 19th Century, it was a milestone on their trek west along the Oregon Trail.
Between 1841 and 1869 an estimated 350,000 people joined wagon trains formed along the Missouri River. They followed the North Platte across Nebraska in search of a better life (homesteaders in Oregon), religious freedom (Mormons in Utah) or fortune (gold in California). Scotts Bluff was milepost 500 -- one third of the way to their destination.
At the Scotts Bluff National Monument, visitors can get a glimpse of the Oregon Trail (paved in the photo, it was little more than ruts worn into the dirt). Displays dispel at least four myths about how the West was won.
1. No horses. The wagons, loaded with a ton or more of family possessions and food supplies, required the far sturdier oxen who could survive eating poor quality grass.
2. No Conestogas. Eight feet wide, they were freight wagons pulled by six animals. The typical wagon used by settlers, sometimes called a Prairie Schooner, was only four feet wide by 11 feet long. Imagine putting all your possessions in a half bath.
3. No passengers. Everyone walked to lighten the load and make room for precious possessions.
4. No serious Indian threat. In fact, some actually helped the settlers by offering food and working as guides. An Indian killing a pioneer was extremely rare. Most deaths were accidental, at the hands of another member of the wagon train.
Scotts Bluff, sometimes called Nebraska's Gibraltar, offers great views of the Western Plains and what settlers endured looking for a better way of life.