An Archivist’s COVID-19 Journal, Part IV: The New Normal

The first three posts in this thread have focused on how the pandemic has altered my work routine.  If you will indulge me, I would like to provide some random thoughts on how this has dramatically affected my time away from the office.  With coronavirus ravaging New Mexico and the state’s economy in freefall, it would be tone deaf if I failed to acknowledge how lucky I am to feel secure in my health and stable in my job.  Unfortunately, many cannot say the same and that certainly gives me much to think about and act on.  What follows is an accounting for the sake of history recognizing that much of what I write are just inconveniences in a world on hold until a better collective response to the pandemic emerges.

Paper products aisle, Albertsons, March 11, 2020

Paper products aisle, Albertsons, March 11, 2020

The first lesson of a COVID-19 world in Las Cruces came in the hoarding of toilet paper and bottled water.  I get the cleaning supplies and canned goods flying off the shelves, but the panicked shop hopping for paper products made no sense to me.  When I went to the Albertsons on Lohman Avenue on Wednesday, March 11th, to honestly resupply, I had clearly arrived far too late in the day to snag any of my preferred paper.  Fear-of-missing-out on toilet paper or legitimate panic buying?  Ugh, I disliked shopping before but now I would clearly have to put more thought into this chore in order to make buying trips as productive and quick as possible.  Signs notified customers at Sprouts, Albertsons, and Target – my Bermuda Triangle of shopping – about limits to the number of paper and cleaning products one could purchase at a time as these seemed the hardest items for the supply chain to keep in stock.  One needed to get to the stores early in the day, with lines forming at socially appropriate distances before the stores even opened, to snag scarce products.  Once in the stores, newly placed one-way signage on the floor directed your shopping path and when ready to checkout, one hopscotched through the newly Plexiglas protected check-stands as the line of shoppers and grocery carts moved through the payment process.  I noticed over time the increased use of face coverings, by employees and shoppers, as governmental mandates became more pronounced and strict. I bit my tongue when I heard fellow shoppers complaining about their rights, sans mask, tried to be as courteous yet distant to others fulfilling their shopping lists, and rightfully thanked those stocking and staffing the stores. The first time I wore one of my hiking buffs as a face shield while shopping at Sprouts, I startled a colleague who failed to recognize who I was until I said my name.  For me, there is only one drawback in wearing a mask in public, the loss of serendipitous conversations while out completing chores.  We either fail to recognize our friends and acquaintances or are perhaps fearful to stop and talk.  I later bought cloth masks from Organ Mountain Outfitters that made me look less of a stick-up man.  Perhaps that was the problem all along?  Thankfully, I can supplement my fresh produce needs by visiting the scaled back Las Cruces Farmers Market, just a couple blocks from my apartment, and thus only have to grocery shop every two to three weeks since I am only buying for myself.  My occasional forays into clothing and sporting goods stores have all moved online since March.  Overall, my spending is way down and those unspent funds have now found their way into my savings, undoubtedly a positive.

A new definition of “cancel culture” took root as nearly everything in my formal social calendar was either scratched outright or postponed to some (often unknown) point in the future.  “Out of an abundance of caution” became the statement accompanying most of the announcements of these cancellations. A short-list of cancelled, postponed, and rescheduled programming that I planned to participate in included:

Other one-off events cancelled included a March campout with library colleagues at Point of Rocks, a housewarming party for a former neighbor at the end of March, and a family reunion in south central Utah over the week of the 4th of July holiday.  As March drew to a close, invites no longer materialized as my family and friends were all following distancing recommendations.  With these activities no longer an option, it became much easier to stay home as the temptations to leave my abode no longer existed.

COAS Books social distancing sign, March 27, 2020

COAS Books social distancing sign, March 27, 2020

Once social distancing policies became the norm, worksites sent employees home, and families were encouraged to shelter in place, all social activity around town ground to a halt.  Klein Park, a downtown greenspace across the street from my apartment, normally active with little league practices, children playing on the playground equipment, and families barbequing on the weekends, became a ghost town by the end of March when the City of Las Cruces ordered the parks closed.  I admit to missing hearing the sounds of that space when activated and cringed when I saw that the city had hired private security to keep people away from the park during the Easter and Mother’s Day holidays.  My favorite hangouts in the city felt the economic effects of the shuttering – Beck’s Coffee temporarily closed and moved to a subscription model; COAS Books and Eyeconik Records shut their doors; and Bite of Belgium, Habanero’s Fresh Mex, and Little Toad Creek Brewery all struggled to operate within the changing rules for eateries.

Hiking around Adan Crater, April 19, 2020

Hiking around Adan Crater, April 19, 2020

I regularly venture out into New Mexico’s amazing public lands.  With many of the state and national parks and trailheads closed, and with elected officials asking people not to travel, my options became limited.  Thankfully, the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument lies in our backyard, and I took full advantage by hiking trails on Tortugas Mountain/“A” Mountain, Pena Blanca, Rabbit Ears Massif, Adan Crater, and the Kilbourne Hole, either solo or with two other friends.  I took the state’s health orders as seriously as possible and turned down several offers to hike and backpack with others when the plans contradicted these health edicts.  The challenge lay in the differing guidelines issued by Texas, where my friends lived, and New Mexico, where I lived and where we planned to recreate.  Later when some restrictions eased and services began to open back up I did overnight backpack with several friends in the Aldo Leopold Wilderness along the Mimbres River and in the San Pedro Parks Wilderness along the Rio de las Vacas.  We each drove our own car and socially distanced ourselves when hiking and in camp, ever thankful to be back in the great outdoors with its sights and smells.

Backpacking along Mimbres River, May 24, 2020

Backpacking along Mimbres River, May 24, 2020

My morning walks and jogs also became a real lifeline after spending most of my waking moments within my apartment.  I’m an early riser and enjoy being outside as the dawn breaks.  There are other morning people out as well and we do our best to be both friendly but also respectful of social distancing when we pass each other.  I take no offense if they waive to me before crossing to the other side of the street well before we intersect.  It’s just the times.  While getting my daily exercise, I enjoy a route that takes me through core of the city of Las Cruces – the downtown, the Mesquite Historic District, and the Depot-Alameda Historic District – where I follow the route of the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro past historic and architecturally significant businesses and homes.  Since the pandemic, I have taken to snapping photos with my iPhone of how businesses and non-profits in the commercial districts communicate with their patrons about their changed operating parameters.  The signs display various levels of graphic design skills and communicate either subtly or outright their owners’ feelings about the current situation.  I plan to donate these images to the Archives and Special Collections’ COVID-19 collecting project.

When I moved to Las Cruces back in January 2019, I felt like I had found a great place to live at a reasonable price.  The historic and recently renovated adobe building checked all the boxes of what I wanted in a living space.  Rarely venturing out for the past 90 days but feeling okay about it confirmed that the layout and features of the apartment helped me successfully shelter in place without too much difficulty.  The neighbors I’ve gotten to know since moving in have all taken to looking out for each other, doubly so in the pandemic.  Indeed, in April I rushed my 93-year old neighbor to the emergency room after he knocked on my door seeking assistance.  My Xfinity internet service allows me to binge-watch television (The Wire and Ozark) and documentaries (Artifishal, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, and The Booksellers) when I feel like it, while consuming podcasts (Criminal and Modern Love) and audiobooks (Enlightenment Now and The Making of the Atomic Bomb) at a more thoughtful pace.  I’ve always loved the published word and thankfully acted on the recommendations of others to read Homegoing and Where the Dead Sit Talking, among others, during this period.  One enjoyable thing I have discovered is letting the YouTube algorithms suggest new videos to fall down the rabbit hole.  Who knew I’d end up enjoying videos about milling your own lumber, free solo climbing nature’s big walls, a family of eight thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, and become a fan of the Life Uncontained channel? I cannot say I’ve even been remotely bored with access to so much information.

While I have been isolated, it is amazing all the tools one can use to stay connected to family and friends.  Video chats via Zoom and Facebook Messenger have led my five siblings and me to check-in with each other each Sunday evening.  They have allowed me to make reconnections with high school friends when about 10 of us Zoomed one evening in May.  For several hours, we each shared updates about our families and careers and then reminisced about the fun we had 25 years ago in our native Idaho.  Even dating continued successfully for me with these apps, and while not exactly traditional, the ability to communicate over video chat proved anything but awkward.

One final change brought into my life because of the pandemic – I smartly followed up on a recommendation and installed a bidet.  No longer am I worrying or scrambling for toilet paper!

Read An Archivist’s COVID-19 Journal, Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here.

Mural, southwest corner of May Ave and Solano, May 9, 2020

Mural, southwest corner of May Ave and Solano Drive, May 9, 2020


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