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The A-Zed Blues

I had just about a week or so to enjoy the fact that I had received my second vaccination and it was all done. I was officially a double doser. Then the NACI completely spoiled my fun. And, as you well know, there has not been much fun of any kind for a very long time.

In a statement on June 17th, the NCAI, or National Advisory Committee on Immunization said “…an mRNA vaccine is now preferred as the second dose for individuals who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine.”

Now preferred? Now you’re freaking me out.

Both of the doses I had were the AstraZeneca. It’s just mean to encourage us with “you should take the first vaccine you are offered” and then say “Oh, wait, not THAT one.” It’s not like a piece of clothing you bought that you can exchange when you change your mind. “Oh, I prefer THAT jacket.”

No. Now it’s too late.

Not long after that shocker, Bruce Springsteen literally left me dancing in the dark when he decided that those of us who were vaccinated with AstraZeneca wouldn’t be allowed to attend his concerts. He has since changed his mind. But now I’m really wondering what we AstraZeneca double dosers are going to have to face in the coming months. Or as I like to refer to us, the AZeders.

Will we be shunned in other venues? Will they have specialized AZed dog sniffers at the malls causing a commotion when they corner us? Security guards yelling “Put that down, ma’am. Back out of the store slowly and go home.”?

Will border guards be checking our vaccine passports to assure themselves that we’ve taken the “preferred” vaccines? “Eh, zed? Go back to Canada!” How humiliating.

I understand that these are extraordinary times. None of us alive today has been through anything like this before, so we are just feeling our way, especially with the vaccines. And those in authority have the double duty of not only getting the right information out there, but battling all of the MIS-information.

But I also think there is such a thing as too much information. Because a lot of us are not smart enough to know what to do with it anyway. And we’re already over-anxious as it is, so it’s not a great idea to make us even more so.

I have never before thought to ask where my flu vaccine comes from, I just trusted whatever was put in my arm. It would be nice to feel the same way about the COVID vaccine, but it’s already too late for us AZeders. We took what we could get, with only the intention of protecting ourselves and each other.

Our aim was true. So please don’t Astra-cize us.

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Cycling – One Driver’s View

“Never argue with a bus!” my Dad used to laugh. He was a bus driver in downtown Vancouver for more than 40 years, and he’d pretty much seen it all.

Other vehicles were always trying to outrun or outmaneuver his bus, sometimes to their peril. They weren’t thinking about the fact that a bus is a heck of a lot bigger and heavier, and that a small vehicle would not fare well if the two were to come into contact. All they could think about was getting ahead of the bus.

I was reminded of that the other day when I was in my car right behind a cyclist at a stop light. The cyclist didn’t gesture his intentions, but when the light turned green, he immediately fumbled his way out into the intersection and turned left in front of an oncoming car. All that cyclist was thinking about was beating the car.

Fortunately, the car driver saw what was happening just in time and hit the brakes. And honked.

In the last couple of years, especially since COVID-19 has come into play, there have been a lot more people out there cycling. It’s one of the few things a person can do these days that’s enjoyable and healthy. Unless you make a sudden left turn in front of an oncoming car, that is.

Cycling stores are literally running out of bikes because of the high demand. More and more bike lanes are being built, creating corridors into the downtown Victoria area.

Now, a lot of drivers will roll their eyes at the news of yet another bike lane. But I think they’re a good thing.

A few years ago, my husband and I were in Copenhagen in Denmark and I marveled at how co-operative and respectful cyclists and drivers were with each other. Pretty much every main road in Copenhagen has a bicycle lane with its own signs and signals. Drivers and cyclists alike know the rules and, for the most part, stick to them. Except for children, you don’t see too many people with bicycle helmets. Far fewer 2-wheel-versus-4-wheel incidents, I’d guess.

Cycling has been a big thing in Denmark since the 1880s, and these days, 9 out of 10 Danes own a bike. But it’s also a small country, and mostly flat. Victoria and Vancouver Island don’t have that advantage.

Back in the 1990s, like many families, we had a big van. For the most part I was used to its berth, but passing a cyclist was another matter. One day, long before cycle lanes had come to town, I had to pass a cyclist on a busy street. I got past him okay, and then came up to a red light.

Well, I guess he didn’t like how close I’d come to him when I passed. Or maybe it was something else. But he pulled his bike up along the sidewalk to the right of me as I sat at the light, came around to the front, and spat on the hood of the van. Have a good day.

To this day I still get nervous when I drive up behind a cyclist on a road with no bike lane. Especially on a certain stretch of Bay Street that is particularly narrow. I want to give them lots of room, but if the road is busy, that’s not easy to do. And then there’s the collection of cars coming up behind me to contend with. Sometimes they get impatient waiting for me to make up my mind and lean on the horn. Gimme a break.

Let’s face it; there are good and bad drivers, and the same goes for cyclists. But the reason we have rules for the road is so that nobody gets hurt in the process. And I’m going to need all of you drivers out there to pay attention and do your best.

Because, you see, I’m planning on getting myself a bike one of these days. Maybe a nice e-bike to give me some help up those hills. Because I’m old.

So I’ll need you all to be prepared for that stupid left turn I’m bound to make right in front of you.

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Lost In Space

It was the middle of February 2020, just before COVID-19 changed everything. My husband, daughter and I were at a luau in Hawaii, celebrating my daughter’s birthday.

Just after the outdoor show began, an hour or so past sunset, somebody at our table pointed to the western horizon. “Look at that!” Flying low in the sky was a series of lights in a straight line. There were maybe 10 or 12 of them. We’d never seen anything like it. Were they birds? Were they shooting stars? Was it the second coming? What the heck??

We asked some of the hotel staff “Have you ever seen this before?” No, they all answered. We watched until the string of lights slowly drifted out of sight.

The next day our astronomer friend, who was also visiting Hawaii at the time, gave us the explanation. Only a few days before, SpaceX had launched 60 Starlink satellites. What we saw were a few of them still following each other in the same orbit. Eventually, they would drift apart and orbit on their own.

When I think of it now, it seemed like a strange omen. We didn’t realize then that this would be our last trip for a very long time.

Just the other day, May 4th, known as “Star Wars Day”, SpaceX launched another 60 Starlink satellites. A string of them were visible in the night sky here on Vancouver Island for a short time.

There are roughly 6000 satellites orbiting around our little blue planet at this time, with more coming. Some of these satellites are not even operational. Space junk.

They float along with lots of other bits and pieces like old bolts, equipment fragments, fuel sludge and paint chips that have been orbiting for years. One of the main concerns is the possibility of collisions with important working satellites.

The International Space Station is constantly adjusting direction in order to avoid this space junk. At a high velocity, even the smallest bit can do great damage.

Environmental issues, it seems, are not just confined within our atmosphere. Believe it or not, there are “space debris experts” out there trying to sound the alarm and to come up with ways to safely remove space junk before something catastrophic happens.

Why, at the very moment of this writing, there is a 10-story, 23-ton piece of rocket about to crash to earth, with no one knowing for sure where it might end up. Alert the “space debris experts.”

It could splash harmlessly into the ocean, but it could also smash into a populated area. Some of it will burn up on re-entry, but not all 23 tons of it.

Back in 1969, I remember watching the blurry image of the first step onto the moon. I was at my best friend Shirley’s house and we watched this incredible event on her black and white TV. “The Eagle has landed.” Looking at the moon that night, I was amazed to think that people were actually up there walking on it.

Now we’ve got NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance roaming the red planet, looking for past signs of life. The technological advances in space exploration have been astounding, and we keep learning more and more, not only about our solar system, but also about our home, the earth.

And, as my astronomer friend would point out, a lot of that technology and research has also benefited us as individuals too.

Oh, oh, watch out!

Phew…

Just figure out a way to get rid of all of that space junk, will ya?

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A Game Of Tag

Sometimes when I’m out on my daily walk, I find hopscotch boxes or messages drawn in chalk on the sidewalk that make me smile. In the first few weeks and months of COVID-19, there were a lot of messages, especially positive and encouraging ones. Sometimes you’d even find goofy Dad jokes. It was graffiti of the best kind.

Graffiti has been around for thousands of years, discovered on the walls of caves, in ancient Egypt and Greece and the Roman Empire. Most of it was in the form of etched inscriptions or figure drawings. In fact, the word “graffiti” comes from the Italian word “graffiato” which means “scratched”. The things you learn, eh?

Although it was also found in abandoned buildings and bombed out areas in Europe during World War II, what we think of as graffiti today was mostly born out of popular culture and the political movements of the 1960’s and 70’s.

It is not necessarily the same as street art, but the word “graffiti” is often used for both. These days, graffiti is usually word-based, where as street art is image-based. There have been wars between some street artists and graffiti artists for years, especially because street art has been accepted and even invited in certain sections of cities and towns. In most places, however, graffiti and street art are both still illegal. Some of you will recognize the name Banksy, a very famous, British-based street artist whose real identity remains unconfirmed. If you’ve never seen his documentary “Exit Through The Gift Shop”, I highly recommend it.

In and around my neighbourhood, graffiti of the not-so-great kind seems to have become more abundant lately. Tagging, which is more of a way of marking territory, is especially noticeable.

I really don’t like it. I mean, I get it. Freedom of expression and all that. But to me, it’s just plain ugly.

Tags show up on walls, street signs, utility boxes, on buses, fences and pretty much any blank surface outdoors. The tags themselves mean nothing to most of us, only to the small community of people who do it. And the illegality of it doesn’t seem to phase the taggers.

Spray paint has been their medium of choice for many years because of its portability and permanence. It is a pain in the butt to clean because it’s mainly oil-based, so painting over the graffiti is often the only way to clean it up. I’ve seen the same wall of one corner store graffitied and tagged, then painted over and repaired time and time again. It has become some sort of “game of tag”. As soon as the mess is cleaned, they’re at it again.

At one time, Canada Post boxes were one of the blank surfaces constantly targeted by taggers. But you may have noticed in the last few years that mailboxes are now plastered with a jumble of postal codes on all sides, meant to make tagging less visible. Not only that, but the postal codes are actually on an adhesive, which can be peeled off and replaced if it gets too messy. Very clever!

Utility boxes have also been a tagger temptation. But the City of Victoria has started “wrapping” these blank boxes with photos and other scenes to discourage graffiti. Box wraps have also made an appearance in the Burnside/Gorge area, with the Burnside Gorge Community Centre inviting members of the public to come up with designs for utility boxes there. I’m sure this idea will soon become commonplace in most communities.

A “wrapped” utility box in the Oaklands neighbourhood of Victoria. (Irene Jackson)

Not only are the box wraps nicer than graffiti, they are also interesting. The photo on the utility box above is the 2800 Block of Scott Street here in Victoria, circa 1947, with its brand new wartime homes. A lot of those old homes are still standing!

A neighbourhood mural in the works (Irene Jackson)

In my neighbourhood, the wall of one small block of retail stores is now painted with a colourful mural depicting “What Makes A Community”. A group of neighbours started painting it last summer and it is now complete. So far, the taggers have left it alone.

And so it seems that one way to beat them at their own game is to simply be a step ahead of them.

Nothing is going to completely stop taggers from defacing property. In a perfect world, they would have a place where they can legally make their mark, and stay away from everything else. But I think taggers are far more rebellious than that.

Maybe we can convince them to try chalk?

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Has It Been A Year Already?

Well, happy anniversary everyone! We are now officially past the year mark since the W.H.O. declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. And it’s been a year like no other.

Back on March 11, 2020, we couldn’t have imagined what we were in for. COVID-19 was a mystery, and we had no idea what to expect. The phrase “new normal” suddenly became popular.

Our initial reaction to the big shut down was positive, sometimes comical. We can DO this! We hoarded toilet paper. We baked bread, made Quarantinis, and we stood outside every evening at 6pm and banged our pots and pans to honour our health care workers. We laughingly wore pajama pants during video calls. We put hearts and signs of support in our windows for our front line workers, and donated money to local charities like Rapid Relief.

Businesses that sold them, ran out of hot tubs. Gardens flourished, home renovations abounded. We found heroes in people like Dr. Bonnie Henry, whose calm and compassion gave us much comfort. A global pandemic wasn’t going to keep US down!

Then reality kicked at us a little harder. The novelty began to wear off. Day after day we somberly donned our masks, washed our hands, and kept our distance from each other. Well some of us did. Others screamed in protest. Tempers flared. And all the while, more and more people were getting sick or dying.

Our hair grew long, beards became unruly. Zoom calls that started out as great fun, began to wear on us. Living and working and learning at home got more and more boring and intolerable for many. Not being able to see or hug our family and friends was depressing us. In fact, anxiety and depression was on the rise in all age groups, but especially in young people. We were exhausted. And all of this happened before winter had even hit.

As we said goodbye with great relief to 2020, COVID continued its ominous advance. New cases and new variants sprang up everywhere when a second wave hit. Long, dark days with no end to this pandemic in sight, left us mourning and miserable.

But there were some small hints of hope. Pharmaceutical companies around the world who had been working around the clock to come up with a vaccine, started to have some success. A few countries that were initially hit hard by the pandemic, were beginning to see their COVID numbers level off, or even come down as a result of shut downs. There was just a little bit of light appearing at the end of that very long tunnel.

And now spring is almost here. As of March 12th, almost 3 million vaccines have been administered in Canada. We have, most of us, adapted to this new reality, to the shut downs, the social distancing, and the masks. Handwashing and sanitizing is more habitual. But we are so looking forward to the day when we can actually spend time together in person again, and that day comes ever closer. Still, as the expression goes, the last few miles of a marathon are the hardest.

I know, I know. Kilometers.

So what have we learned from this past year so far? I would venture to guess it will take a long time to completely assess that. Businesses, governments and communities will gather their list of lessons learned. As individuals, we will each write our own epilogues. Ultimately, you might say that we are forever changed.

But in spite of it all, babies were still being born and people were still marking milestones. All this time, life was forging ahead and hopeful. And now, here on the west coast, the trees are starting to burst new buds, robins are laying their eggs, and cherry blossoms are blooming.

And vaccines are here. At long last. Ah, spring.