Amy Roberts: Back before the sickness came
My family visited this week. They drove from Omaha to Park City, which is a long, boring road trip for anyone, particularly a 5-year-old. Luckily, the promise of a scenery change, coupled with some quality aunt time, was enough to sustain my niece most of the duration of I-80 westbound. She was insanely excited for the trip. Which isn’t hard to imagine given she has been pretty much cooped up in Nebraska with my parents and sister since March.
I always enjoy spending time with my niece, Addison. She adores me because I spoil her rotten and give her a much longer leash to experiment with the trial-and-error part of life than the other adults she’s around. I adore her because she’s adorable. And innocent. And is the only person on the planet who wants to know what my third favorite color is.
This visit was a little different than others, due to COVID-19. Given my parents are in their 70s, we were all pretty cautious. There was no eating out, no going to the pool, no museums or zip lining. Which my niece seemed to understand. When I explained we couldn’t go on the roller coaster — her favorite thing to do in Park City in the summer months — she replied, “I don’t like the coronavirus.” Same, I thought.
We spoke about life before the pandemic. She told me about her friends that she misses and how much she loved going to the playground. And Target. There were concerns about her upcoming birthday and the very likely possibility of not having a party. “Back when there was school, before the sickness came, I got to do fun stuff,” she said. She wasn’t looking distantly out a window at the time, but it didn’t matter. The way she said it, forlornly yet matter of fact, made me realize that if nothing else, this pandemic is creating an entire generation of future dystopian novel writers.
To give her some semblance of a summer vacation, we substituted our typical activities for those considered less risky. We hiked almost every day. She loved exploring new trails, seeing wildflowers, looking for moose poop, and making it to the top of a mountain where she was rewarded for her hard work — both in snacks and views. She was thrilled to raft down the Weber River, fill the hummingbird feeder, and help me tend to my garden. Which I know, also sounds a bit like the contents of a dystopian novel: Simple pleasures, scary times.
At one point I was on a call and must have mentioned that I needed to “hang up” the phone. “Why do you call it hang up?” Addison asked me. I realized she had only ever seen people touch a button to end a call, never actually hang up a phone. This got me thinking about other things my niece will likely never witness or take part in: Finding your crush’s number in a phonebook, making a mixtape, waking up at 5 a.m. to watch the news and see if your school was closed for a snow day, carefully determining picture worthy moments based on how much film you had left, paying a Blockbuster late fee, asking for directions, camping on a sidewalk so you could be first in line to buy concert tickets, running full speed from the kitchen to the living room as the commercial break ends and your sibling yells, “IT’S ON!!!!”
It’s hard to believe these archaic inconveniences were a staple of life just a couple decades ago. And now, they’re entirely obsolete. Replaced with insta-info and purchases, streaming services and pause buttons. I can’t say I long for those days again, but damn if they didn’t build character.
I can only hope this current situation of social distancing and creating new opportunities for entertainment and fun will do the same. Life won’t be normal for a while, but we still have it better than any character in a dystopian novel.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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Columnist Amy Roberts asks whether we are so far removed from reality and the natural world that filing a police report seems like an acceptable course of action after spotting a moose in the mountains.