COVID restrictions

Post-COVID Disney Trip: The Changes

As I wrote last time, our last Disneyland visit was scheduled for the week after the whole world shut down. We returned this summer.

After an adventurous first day around the hotel and Downtown Disney (complete with 3:00 AM projectile vomiting!), we finally made our way into Disneyland proper. On Day Two, we went to California Adventure, and then back to what Floridians call the “Magic Kingdom” on day three. What follows are some of my observations. Today will be mostly COVID-related, while later this week I’ll post general “old curmudgeon in the Land of Forced Happiness” thoughts.

Openings and Closings and Maskings, oh my!

We went to Disney the last day of June and first of July, so take anything I say with a grain of salt. It seems to be in constant flux as they expand capacity. Rides that were closed one day were open the next. There weren’t going to be fireworks, but whatta ya know, at 9:00 on June 30, ka-BOOM! Too bad we weren’t in good position to see them. The next night, we made sure we could see the fireworks and then, wouldn’t ya know it, no Ka-Boom 😦

So if you’re coming here for guidance on what is open and closed, or where to find the best deals on… ha ha, just kidding, there are no good deals at Disneyland. But if your search engine sent you here because I referenced Disneyland COVID restrictions (I assume I must be within the top three results when googling Disney), then I apologize. But welcome! 

If, on the other hand, you’re here for snarky explanations of what it was like a couple weeks ago, then welcome back.

Nobody’s saying what the current capacity is. Before June 15, they were limited to 25%. After, they said they were “lifting all restrictions.” But they’re still not at 100%. Nowhere close. They have to hire back all the staff they’ve fired, for one thing. July 1 seemed a little more crowded than June 30, which might be based on a monthly payroll issues. Even so, I’d guess they were between 50-60% capacity when we were there. 

Many rides were damn close to walk-right-on. Most were in the 15-25 minute range, and even the biggies rarely popped above 45. As a result, even the longer lines were almost constantly moving. Forty minutes might seem a long time to wait, but the Space Mountain line is made to house a two-hour wait, so you don’t have those moments where you wait five minutes only to take two steps. Daughter will be forever ruined for future Disneyland visits.

Except for the Monsters, Inc ride, which strangely, is one of the slowest moving lines in either park.

Let’s see, what else? Monorail was closed. Lotta germy, germy spreading there, what with the five people riding it at a time. Or all day long. 

All the shows were closed down. Even shows that nobody ever goes to like the Hall of Presidents. 

The fireworks and water shows and parades were all down to prevent crowds. Except for when they shot off the fireworks. But if they don’t tell us it’s going to happen, we won’t congregate. 

Unless it’s the Matterhorn.

Almost all the rides were open. The ones that were closed seemed not for COVID reasons, but for regular “updating.” Sure, the park’s been closed for fifteen months, why not spend the first month after reopening to close down a major attraction like the Matterhorn. Can’t imagine some other time they coulda done that.

The good news is that the Matterhorn did a soft reopen our last day there. In the morning, it was still listed as closed for refurbishment, but when we hit Alice in Wonderland, we noticed it was running. Checked the app and, wouldn’t you know it, a 40 minute wait. Obviously we weren’t the only people who discovered it opened.

We stood in one of the longer lines, got all the way to the front, got IN the damn ride, were already released from the boarding station and were stopped right before we went into the mountain. Ride broken. Sixteen months well spent. At least we weren’t in the middle of the ride. About five minutes after we were taken out, they were still announcing for people stuck on the ride to wait patiently and they’d get them out. 

They were nice enough to scan a FastPass onto our ticket (the technology is still there) that we could use to go to the front of one ride, including the Matterhorn if it ever reopened, but at the rate the last reopening took, that would be October of 2022. Unfortunately, none of the FastPass entrances were open, so we were told to hunt down a ride employee to get to the front. Hopefully we wouldn’t have to stand in line to find one. Still, better to be us than those poor schlubs who were next in line, who had waited just as long as us, but didn’t get a FastPass scan out of it. 

In the end, the Matterhorn was only closed for a couple hours, so we used our FastPass on it, because ten minutes after it reopened, the wait was back up to 40 minutes. The Yeti’s been updated. Way more realistic, looks like he’s grabbing for you. Pretty solid, but I don’t know if it represents sixteen months of progress.

The only other ride that was closed was Jungle Cruise, but that’s racism, which might take more than a week or two to fix. Splash Mountain, however, was still open and still featuring Song of the South. I mean, we can’t expect Disney to close ALL its racist rides at the same time, can we? They’ve got a Yeti to upgrade! Even after they eventually change Splash Mountain, the recordings on the train and steamboat still reference “Indian shamans” and “savage natives,” and the train was closed while Star Wars land was being built, so they could’ve updated that within the past five years, but chose to keep the recording.

Most of the eateries were open. They encourage mobile ordering, but it’s not a requirement as long as you’re willing to wait an hour for your food. Most places had 3 or 4 mobile pickup spots and only one line, so the line stretched somewhere into the neighboring land. 

They seem to be on limited menus, too. For instance, I remember Cafe New Orleans serving a Monte Cristo sandwich, but it wasn’t on their menu. The Galactic Grill in Tomorrowland once had an extensive menu, but this visit it was pretty much burger or fried chicken sandwich. 

The limited menu helps, as nothing needs to be made to order. When the app tells you your order’s ready, that doesn’t mean it’s waiting for you. When you get to the employee, they look up your order, then go collect the disparate parts from various bins with dozens of the similar product. So I’m not sure why I needed to pick a specific time and then wait to be told it was ready. 

They had mobile orders for the Dole Whips, for chrissake! They serve one damn thing there. After the App told me my food was ready, I still had to stand in a line full of people whose orders were also ready. When I got to the front of the line, they asked for my order number, then handed me one of the twenty or so Dole Whips that were ready to go. I don’t have a problem with the mobile ordering. It’s so much easier than exchanging money at the sale sight. What I have a problem with is the ten minutes I had to wait before the app told me my food was ready if it’s going to be assembly line anyway.

Their mobile order system comes from the same laboratory as their…

Virtual Queues

The two new rides in the two new lands (Rise of the Resistance in Star Wars Land and Web Slingers in Marvel Land) use virtual queues. As I mentioned in my last post, I feel like Disney should’ve used most of the pandemic to implement virtual queues throughout the park. People could use virtual queues to pick a time to go on the ride, then go eat some food or buy some merch, sit for a spell, meet the characters. You know, enjoy the experience instead of spending the whole damn day with somebody else’s elbow up your ass. 

Instead of using the pandemic to go universal FastPass, Disney opted to to remove FastPass, which allegedly is going to be replaced by a pay-to-play system with surge pricing. Because of course.

Instead, Disney uses the virtual queues to drum up demand sounded the same as the Nanjago ride at Legoland. But if we DON’T drag our asses out of bed at 7:00 am, we’ll never know. 

There are only two times during the day you can sign up, 7:00 and noon. Obviously, the park isn’t open for the first one, but we’d heard a rumor you’re supposed to be near the park to be allowed in. Can’t confirm that, but the two times we stepped outside our hotel room (across the street), we got in. The day we didn’t, we didn’t. It’s okay. We got in at noon that day.

In fact, noon now has a distinct feel inside the Disney parks. People who missed the first virtual queue won’t get in any real-life line after 11:30. They all hover about, staring at their phones, waiting for 11:59 to turn over. A woman near the bathroom said it felt like the longest minute in her life. Then, precisely at noon, you hear whoops and cheers from far and near, like being in a sports bar when the home team wins. Followed ten seconds later by the groans of the vanquished.

One of the days we got the 7:00 am queue, I tried to double dip at noon. The app told me it was only one ride per person per day.

Once your virtual place comes up, though, it’s not like you walk right onto the ride. Far from it. This ain’t FastPass. The virtual queue only gets you past the bouncer, after which you get to stand in the normal ride line. Huzzah! Doncha feel lucky, punk?

To be fair, the Rise of the Resistance line still moved pretty fast. We zoomed right past benches and fancy decorations that were built to be enjoyed. So I assume at some point they’ll do away with virtual queueing and go to the standard American “line.” Why the hell did we switch to British when we went all fancy and “virtual”?

The Webslinger line after the virtual queue was still brutal. Well over a half-hour. Reminded me of the Monsters, Inc ride.

Reviews of both rides forthcoming.

Character “Meet-ups”

You’ve likely heard that character interactions have changed post-COVID. You can’t run up and give them hugs. No sneezing on them. No groping the princesses, although technically that was frowned upon before the plague, too. 

The “no hugging” isn’t only a suggestion, it’s a physical impossibility. No fistbumps or patting them on the shoulder. You can’t even stand next to them, much less breathe your nasty vaccinated breath upon them. They’re hermetically sealed like bubble boys.

They’re always behind fencing with a Disney employee acting as bouncer. The more popular the character, the more children aren’t able to control themselves, the farther they are removed from the populace like 1970s Elvis. Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy were only available on the landing behind the Main Street train station, twenty feet in the air, waving from afar.

The other characters, the Chips and Dales and Plutos that nobody gives a shit about, are behind a smallish barrier. Ironically enough, the characters we got closest to, maybe only three feet away from, were Jasmine and Moana, two characters who don’t have the added barrier of a mascot uniform to protect them from our bad mojo. Then again, I’m guessing those clunky costumes have shitty air circulation, so they’re probably sitting in a cesspool under normal conditions. 

Since they can’t interact with the public, their job includes a lot of waving and posing. They do a marginal job of posing seven feet behind the barricade while you yell at your child, “Just look at the camera and pretend he’s right behind you. No, don’t look at the character! Look happy, dammit!”

But overall, the characters look bored. There’s only so many ways you can wave. If you can’t pat a kid on the head or point to their shirt or, gasp!, give them a hug, then what are you going to do? At one point, Jasmine and Genie looked at each other, shrugged, and then started dancing either the hand jive or the Macarena together.

I feel sorry for the Disney employees. I grew up in Orange County, where being hired by Disney was basically a five-and-a-half month prison sentence. You won’t see your friends, they’ll work you to the bone, then they’ll fire you right before you start getting six-month benefits like reduced-price tickets. Add in the fact that it’s often ninety degrees and those characters are freaking saints. So maybe a little boredom is good for them? Or maybe it makes a tediously long day longer. I hope it’s the former.

Opening Times

The last change I can presumably tie to the COVID opening was the actual opening. By which I mean when we first entered the park.

I feel like when I was growing up, Disneyland always had the same hours of operation. Whether it was a Tuesday in November or a Saturday in July, it was open till midnight. There were fireworks at 9:00 and the electrical parade at 11:00. Or maybe those two were reversed?

Nowadays you need an advanced degree in abacussing to figure out if there’s enough time to get on one more ride, much less when you’re allowed to come back tomorrow. 

The first two days we were there, the park opened at 9:00, the third day at 8:00. It’s okay if you can’t keep track, though, because on Disneyland time, 8:00 and 9:00 openings are the same thing. 

Let me explain. 

Both of the 9:00 am days, they let people into the park before 9:00. Not sure how early, but I’m guessing 8:00 because by the time we got there at 8:30, people were meandering down Main Street 

This isn’t uncommon. Disney’s always let people onto Main Street early. Better to get some early shopping done. Our first long line of the day was the “coffee shop.” I put that in quotes because, despite looking all olde tyme signs denoting “roastery,” it’s a fucking Starbucks. Good thing, too cause I wouldn’t trust some 1950s soda jerker to make my upside down triple latte.

In the past, though, you couldn’t go beyond Main Street before the official opening time, leading to body-crushing mobs against the rope barriers and doors into the various lands.  But this time, when we finally made it past the Coffee Ride to the end of Main Street, nothing prevented us from getting into the lands. I guess letting us stroll in promotes social distancing. Better than the mad Black-Friday-esque stampede that one normally experiences at Disneyland opening. Less chance of COVID and less chance of trampling.

Of course, once the masses are allowed into the various lands, what’s the first thing they’re going to do? Get in line for the rides, of course. So it stood as no surprise that there were already twenty minutes or so of people in line at Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland when Daughter decided to veer toward Fantasyland instead of our pre-draft strategy of Adventureland. In her defense, the Castle was closed off last time we were there.

When we finally joined the line at Alice in Wonderland, which seems to have an hour wait anytime of the day so might as well pull off the band-aid early, it was maybe 8:55 and the ride was already running. Did my eyes deceive me? Did they shit-can the “Magic Morning,” where people paid to get in an hour early, then do it on the down low and not charge extra money for it? That seems very un-Disneylike.

The next day, the same thing was happening at California Adventure, so we made a beeline for Radiator Springs, a ride that normally requires either a FastPass or really, really strong bladder. You can watch the entire “Cars” movie while in line. Maybe the sequel, too. 

They didn’t let people into the Radiator Springs line until 8:40, but we figured even if they didn’t start the ride until 9:00, that’s only a twenty minute wait. Barely enough time for the coming attractions. But they actually put us on the ride. I think we were off the ride before the park was even open. We pressed our luck, heading over to the Toy Story ride, which also usually has an hour-plus wait. Walked right on, then doubled back and did the same for Incredi-coaster.

It was 9:30 and we had already ridden three of the longest lines. At this point, we were on borrowed time. We could’ve gone back to the hotel and called it a day, and nobody would’ve faulted us. Or we could go ride Guardians of the Galaxy three times in a row. Not the most step-economical course through the park, but who the hell cares when the lines are all ten minutes long?

Me. That’s “who the hell cares.” Or would care when I was on my third straight day of 24,000 steps. But at the time…

Our third day, the park opened at 8:00. Fortunately, we were back at Disneyland where we’d already ridden most of the rides, because we didn’t want to get there at 7:00 am after closing the park two nights in a row. Good thing, because when we walked up at 7:50, nobody was allowed in the park. Not even onto Main Street. They were holding everyone at the ticket stands.

Starbucks would have to wait. 

So whether the park opens at 8:00 or 9:00, it seems to open at 8:00. Not sure how long that’ll continue, but use that as my one guide, your one reward for muddling through my 10,000 words of Disney drivel.

Don’t fuck with closing time, however. I tried to go back and buy that Iron Man drink holder at 9:02 pm and things were closed up tighter than a nun’s coochie.

I’ll be back on Friday with some non-COVID reflections on Disney 2021.

Post-COVID Disney Trip: Downtown Disney

Last March, we were scheduled to go to Disneyland. Daughter’s Spring Break doesn’t line up with mine, so we’d already signed her up for a week of complicated kindergarten independent study, with tasks like “look for sight words” and, I don’t know, color inside the lines of the kid’s menus? 

Then the whole fucking world shut down. Disneyland and the NBA shut down on Wednesday and Daughter’s school followed suit on Friday. She’s now at the end of first grade and still technically has perfect attendance, because there’s nothing easier than attending a Zoom call, despite what my own high school students would lead you to believe.

After waiting sixteen months for Disney to come back, we jumped on it. They were still at 25% capacity when we booked it, but we knew that wouldn’t last because our trip would be after Herr Kommandant Newsom’s magical 8-ball date of June 15. Good news is we were able to use our old tickets, so that saved us a year of Disney Inflation (significantly higher than regular inflation, which has been bad enough). Bad news is we’d paid for the FastPass, but that’s currently not operating. One would think things like FastPass would help facilitate the whole social distancing thing. If only they had been closed for 15 months recently when they could’ve implemented virtual queues for all their rides. I mean, I’m no Disney executive, but it seems to me the less we’re standing in line, the more we’re buying their overpriced food and tchotchkes. Of course, many of their eateries and shops are on limited capacity. Don’t be surprised if 2022 rolls around and, voila!, virtual queues everywhere. 

Downtown Disney

We tried to plan an off-day in the middle of the three-day parks adventure, but since they were at 25% capacity when we booked, we took what we could damn well get. So our nice and relaxing day ended up being the first day of our trip, when we didn’t really need nice and/or relaxing. Then again, going to the pool twice with a seven-year old who is marginally “water safe” but nowhere near a swimmer is neither nice nor particularly relaxing. 

Then there were the two trips into Downtown Disney, a purgatory where the unfortunate souls denied entry into Disneyland can still pay the company our indulgences. Downtown Disney is a strip mall with only two types of business: shops, mostly owned by Disney, and restaurants, which presumably only pay rent. But if the hour-long wait to eat on a Monday night is any indication, the rent they’re paying is exorbitant. There used to be an ESPN Zone restaurant there that went out of business. I’m not sure how any restaurant could go out of business there. Even settling for our third and fifth choices for dinner necessitated a fifteen minute wait.

Too bad. The ESPN Zone had the best chocolate chip cookie sundae in existence. Put the Pizookie to shame.

Daughter, of course, wants to buy the entire Disney store in preparation and/or celebration. Stuffies and t-shirts and mouse ears, oh my! 

Have you seen the selection of mouse ears? Oh my! They’ve got glitter ears and sequin ears, rainbow ears and unicorn ears, Captain America ears and Homer Simpson ears. Okay, the Simpson ones weren’t official (one of the few intellectual properties left unowned by the Mouse), but the pink sprinkled donut ears are a pretty obvious homage. 

You could get your rainbow ears in the Pride or non-Pride variety. Disney has a horrible track record with LGBTQ representation. But boy howdy, if there’s a buck to be made off of it, then they’re the most gay-friendly company in history. As long as you’re not wearing a knock-off rainbow flag. Then they’ll whitewash you into straightness worse than Elsa and Grenda.

The good news about the ears was that Daughter was content to purchase just one. As opposed to the…

Pins, Pins, and more Pins

Whichever exec came up with this racket deserves a gold star and a private parking space. Maybe a lifetime supply of cocaine.

The variety of ears pales in comparison to the pin selection. What’s your favorite property? Rapunzel? She has four or five poses. Snow White? Ditto. What’s your favorite ride? Because Space Mountain and Splash Mountain and Haunted Mansion each have rows of pins to choose from. Don’t even ask about Frozen or Marvel. Every property, every character, every quote is ripe for pinification, no matter how obscure. Shit, there are Star Wars references on pins that even a dork like me doesn’t understand.

We bought pins last time we were here. My lanyard had four, Wife’s close to ten. Daughter’s weighs close to her own body weight. And of course, she bought five new ones on day one this time around. At the price of roughly a remortgage each.

“Why don’t you buy any pins?” Daughter asked.

“I’ll buy some pins. I just don’t want to buy a pin and find a better one later.”

“But what if it’s sold out by then?”

“I doubt they’ll sell out. There are a lot here.”

“Yeah! They must really be worried we won’t get one. ‘

“I think they want to make sure they get our money.”

“We don’t want Disneyland to go out of business!”

A lot to unpack there. Good to know, I suppose, that her penchant to purchase every item she sees comes more from a fear of missing out than from straight up American consumerism. Although who can tell  where the latter ends and the former begins. There’s a reason Amazon always tells me, “Last one at this price!”

I ran a little test along the lines of that old adage of offering a kid a cookie today or five cookies tomorrow. When Daughter whined that she wanted to shop in our hotel gift shop as we were checking in, long before Downtown Disney and the pins, I told her she could, but she’d get no others gifts the rest of the trip. She opted to wait. A bird in the hand ain’t worth three days of birds in two parks and twenty different shops.

Maybe those kids who take one cookie instead of five are skeptical of the actual delivery of said cookies tomorrow. “Let me keep this cookie now and, trust me, you’ll get more tomorrow” sounds an awful lot like paying you Tuesday for a hamburger today. 

Speaking of Gift Store Purchases

I saw these shirts in the Star Wars store. 

My friends thought they were a perfectly fine pairing. Cute and obvious enough to avoid any awkward explanations. So maybe I’m reading too much into this, conjecturing into semantics (or is that semanticking into conjecture?), but I’m getting a serious “I’m with Stupid” vibe.

The “I’m with stupid” t-shirts go back at least a generation. They were a hilarious gag back when Reagan (Carter?) was president, but it wasn’t long before people found themselves separated from “Stupid.” And when you’re “with stupid,” but alone…

So sure, if Han shirt and Leia shirt are walking beside each other, it might make sense. Even if 90% of the “Han”s in this situation can’t summon the amount of manliness in Harrison Ford’s pinkie. As a general rule, when a woman tells you she loves you for the first time, your response shouldn’t be, “I Know” unless you are both a) as cool as Harrison Ford and b) about to be frozen in Carbonite. In any other situations, a simple “thank you” will suffice. 

But again, it isn’t when these two shirt-wearers are nearby that concerns me, it’s when they’re (non-Han) solo. Then you’re either the lady who loves everyone she encounters (we all know one, right?), or you’re telling people who didn’t say or ask a damn thing, “I know.” As a high school teacher, I could probably get away with it, because I for sure know everything they’re going to say before they say it. Yes, I’m sure that if you were in a Nazi concentration camp, you would’ve grabbed the guard’s gun and escape. And yes, I know what the game of “Quarters” is. And 69 and 420. I know. I know. I know.

Beyond a few settings, though, randomly walking up to people saying “I know” seems psychotic. But whatever. My friends overruled me, said those t-shirts were fine. 

But we all agreed on this bubble wand: 

Sure, that’s only Mickey’s hand at the base. And it doesn’t need to be held at that angle. And for God’s sake, it’s a children’s toy, get my fucking mind out of the gutter.

But in my defense, almost every kid WAS holding it at precisely this angle. Right in front of their midriff. Shooting fucking bubbles out of the fucking tip.

So yeah, I’m a giant man child with a sophomoric sense of humor. But how is it possible there are no giant man children with sophomoric senses of humor in the vast empire that is Big Disney? No free cocaine for the exec who came up with that.

Flavored Churros 

Did you know churros came in flavors other than cinnamon? It makes sense, because they don’t roll it in the cinnamon sugar until the end of the process. In theory, how hard can it be to swap out the cinnamon for some other delicacy? Yet it’s never been done. 

Until now. 

The churros inside the park are still, as God intended, cinnamon. But outside the park, in the wild, wild west that is Downtown Disney, there are carts that sell such monstrosities as strawberry churros and salted caramel churros and, gasp, key lime churros! 

The last one freaked me out and enticed me the most. I had to try it! I laugh at little kids’ wiener wands, so I’m going to hell anyway. Might as well throw a churro crime against nature into the mix. 

Oh my goodness, y’all! This abomination was a little slice of heaven. I expected tartness but, let’s be honest, if churro is in the title, sugar is the number-one ingredient. So it was sweet, no pucker factor whatsoever. But sweet lime was distinct enough, like a Sprite or virgin margarita, tingling taste buds on both sides on my tongue. 

We returned on subsequent days, and I ended up trying the salted caramel and apple pie flavors, as well. Both were meh. Nothing to write home about and, more importantly, not better than cinnamon. But that key lime, man. I’d order that one again in a heartbeat.

Although maybe we shouldn’t have been plying the child with late-night churros while on vacation.

First Night Vomit

Who can really say what triggers an oh-dark regurgitation?

I think perhaps it was that very churro. It was only cinnamon, Daughter not being a food adventurer, but it was after 9:00 at night, which is usually her bedtime. And after a walk across the street back to the hotel, she went to sleep. There’s a reason you don’t jam yourself full of sugar and carbs that late at night. I had trouble falling asleep, needing to prop myself up and take a couple Zantac to avoid the bile, and still woke up multiple times in the first couple hours. I didn’t vomit, but I might’ve felt better if I did. I have in previous situations where my heartburn was that bad.

Daughter points the finger at the meal she had before the churro. Despite chicken tenders and burgers being on the kids’ menu, she opted for fish and chips, then was upset when she got, well, fish and chips. I guess she was expecting something closer to fish sticks, but she got some legitimate deep-fried fish in a doughy beer batter. “What is this?” she asked, aghast and appalled. Maybe I should’ve sent it back for chicken tenders, but I was in one of those “fuck you, you ordered it, eat it” father moods, so we asked for some ranch to dip it in and she was much more agreeable. Not sure why they would serve fish & chips, particularly a kids’ version, without tartar sauce. No malt vinegar, either, although I doubt I could’ve used this time to teach Daughter the proper way to eat them. In all honesty, even had they included the usual accoutrements, she still would’ve opted for ranch. Processed plastic mayonnaise hides the flavor of anything.

Our third potential criminal in this regurgitative whodunit, discovered by Gumshoe Wife, was the pool. Specifically the fact that Daughter seemed to have swallowed five or six poolfuls of it during our two forays. It’s not that she can’t swim. I mean, she can’t swim, but that’s not the entirety of the problem. After years and countless dollars, she’s at least borderline “water safe.” She can float, she can surface, she can get to the sides. Good enough. The problem is when she isn’t focusing on survival, when she’s in the part of the pool where she can touch, she’s got her damn mouth open the whole time. Laughing and yelling and explaining the constantly evolving rules to a game that only she is playing. So while she doesn’t inhale the water (which would be drowning), she’s gulping it down like it’s a college keg party. Anything that’s equal parts chlorine and urine, with maybe a splash or two of water thrown in for appearance sake, can’t do great on your insides.

Who really knows the culprit. Churro, fish & chips, chlorine? In all likelihood, they all merged together. Throw in the excitement and nerves before the “Happiest Place on Earth,” too.  Regardless, just after 3:00 AM, our darling treasure woke us up with a phenomenal reenactment of The Exorcist all over the floor of the hotel room. At least she made it out of the bed first. In her defense, it’s tough to make it to the toilet under the best of conditions. Add in the fact that it’s dark and you’re in a room where the bed and toilet are unusually positioned and I’m pretty impressed with where it landed.

It was still dark when the second round came. I was scrambling to turn on the lights while Wife headed toward the bathroom for towels. I think she puked and farted at the same time, a juicy, squirty kinda flatulence followed by the sound of a few more plops upon the floor and I swear I thought she had just shit the floor. Is this Disneyland or one of my male-bonding camping trips? I finally got the lights on. Good news, only vomit upon the floor. Bad news, lots of vomit on the floor.  I could hear her stomach gurgling from across the room. Poor girl, that fish & chips and ranch and churro and pool water must’ve been havoc on her system. 

How about we add some sleep to the pre-Disneyland equation?

Last little post-COVID caveat: the hotel wasn’t doing maid service for the entirety of our stay (five days!). Not sure if it’s a shared space thing or a small workforce thing. But now our floors were sticky with cleaned up vomit, our trash can was full, and every towel in the room was sitting, puke-soaked, in our shower. 

In the morning, on our way to Disneyland, hotel management relented and decided we could, in fact, get a special housekeeping for the day. And it wouldn’t even cost us nothin! Except maybe some COVID towels left behind like a Bubonic Plague victim’s remains by an overworked understaff. Omega variant, here we come.

With an opening day like that, what magic would the actual House of Mouse portend?

I’m planning on posting at least twice next week about our ventures inside the actual parks. They’re all written, just need a little editing. Hope to see you back here then.

To Mask or Not to Mask

Greetings all from the Wild West, a lawless frontier where you can take your own life in your hands by walking into your local saloon or general store. 

Every day, I meet perfect strangers on the street. Our eyes squint as our hands hover near our waist, waiting for the other to flinch before we pull out our instrument of death.

I like in California. The weapon at my waist is the mask in my pocket.

It sounds like we’re behind the curve when it comes to the reopening. But in many ways that makes it worse. 

In California, we like to “follow the science” whenever the science agrees with our preconceived notions. For instance, the science said that masks helped prevent the spread of disease, so we wore masks inside. Science also told us that the virus doesn’t spread outdoors, so we closed the beaches and parks. Oh, and the outdoor dining, which forced everyone indoors where they were more likely to catch said virus. See? SCIENCE!

Well, the science told us about three months ago that vaccinated people are safe. One might even call them “vaccinated.” But because there was no way to know who was vaccinated or not, and because our Herr Kommandant Governor REALLY likes his emergency powers, we decided it was best to make everyone wear masks. For, I guess, solidarity with the people who don’t give a shit about the virus.

Our Herr Kommandant graciously gave us a random date back in early April at which point COVID would be over and the masks could come off. Because SCIENCE! And when the CDC made the same ruling a month or so before Herr Kommandant’s random dart-throw of a date, well, we better not listen to those crazy health officials. June 15 was the date he picked out of his ass and June 15 was the date we could take our masks off. Not a moment before! SCIENCE!

I’m pretty sure dude would’ve extended the date even further if he wasn’t already facing a recall. In the weeks leading up to his Magic Day, we heard scarce information from the government. The only thing that stopped his reneging and moving the goalposts for the seventy-fifth time in the past year, is that fact that minor establishments like Disneyland and the five major league baseball teams in California had taken him at his word and started selling tickets for full-capacity after June 15. And if I was a voter who was leaning toward voting no on Newsom’s recall, but then Disneyland called me up to tell me that my June 16 ticket was no longer valid, I might be changing my vote. Psychology is SCIENCE, right?

Herr Kommandant did say that, although he was begrudgingly sticking by his earlier promise about June 15, he was at the very least going to hold onto his emergency power until, I shit you not, the virus is eradicated. Eradicated as in completely extinct. As in, no new cases, presumably in California but possibly the world. You know, just like all those other viruses we’ve completely removed from the human condition. Like… um… hold on a second….

When June 15 arrived, we were given very little guidance as to how to proceed. Employees, we were told, still had to wear masks. Something about Herr Kommandant couldn’t control Cal-OSHA, he could only make suggestions. Except when he was implementing the stay-at-home order in the first place. Somehow his emergency powers only allow him to make things more restrictive, not less restrictive. He can make new laws but not do away with old ones? Even if they were implemented via emergency powers in the first place? Sounds like some shitty emergency powers. I assume he keeps his primae noctis rights.

So most of the places I’ve frequented the last week, the employees are still masked up. The customers have been a crapshoot. It’s about what you’d expect. Nobody in line at the donut shop wore a mask. Maybe they’re not buying donuts for their health? At the Whole Foods, everyone still wore them. The comic book store was an anomaly, with almost all the customers wearing masks but a few maskless employees. The customers are adults buying comics, so probably aren’t the best with change, but they’re probably conspiracy theorists who won’t rat out the employees to the government. 

Most of the places frequented by the masses, grocery stores and sandwich shops and the like, seem to be split right down the 50/50 range. It’s here where I go back and forth, where I find myself grabbing for the mask in my pocket out of courtesy to the other customer, even though I’ve already been there for five minutes or more. What makes the exchange even more awkward is that I’m relatively certain that masked person is vaccinated, as am I. So each of us are masking up to signal to the other person that we don’t need masks.

SCIENCE!

I know a few weeks ago I said I wouldn’t wear masks longer than I needed to. The unvaccinated aren’t masking up, why should I? Especially considering the masks are best at preventing my globules from getting out, not from stopping the globules already floating around in the air from coming into my mouth. They’re condoms, not diaphragms. Since I’m vaccinated, my globules are great (too bad I’m not still single, that would be a great pick-up line). There’ve been a ton of studies on if we’re acting as conduits from unvaccinated to unvaccinated and it turns out, in over 99% of scenarios, we are not.

So why am I now playing along with the mask wearing? I mean, aside from the fact that now that it’s voluntary, I can damned well do what I please? Part of it is the whole social contract thing. I know we are a dying bunch, but some of us still believe you shouldn’t be a dick to other people just for the sake of being a dick. So fine, other person in the store, if you’re still afraid of people not wearing masks, then I don’t mind a couple minutes of discomfort. I mean, y’all might want to get over that shit and look up on the research, because they’re really unnecessary if you’re vaccinated. When the school year starts up again and I have to wear a mask eight hours a day (in a high school where most of the students will be vaccinated, because SCIENCE!), those extra five minutes of face freedom are mine, not yours!

And if you’re not vaccinated, then fuck you. The social contract means nothing to you. You’re not smarter than the rest of us, you’re just a dick. Quit saying government regulations ruin everything then whine that the government didn’t regulate the vaccine enough. Isn’t it the anti-vaxxers who usually say to trust the free market? Well guess what, Pfizer and Moderna are private companies. Let the free market work its magic.  Although I’ve been vaccinated for close to three months now and I STILL don’t have 5G coverage.

The main reason I’m still carrying a mask with me is because I have a 7-year old daughter. Whereas the douchebag Anti-Vaxxer at the Starbucks can lie and say he’s vaccinated, I don’t think I can pull that with her. And if I’m anxious to avoid being a dick in social settings, the top of that list would be making my 7-year-old wear a mask while I go maskless. 

I go back and forth on whether or not I should make her mask up. On the one hand, kids aren’t likely to catch it and, if they are, they aren’t likely to get symptoms. But at the same time, the law says unvaccinated people must wear masks. I’m not opposed to ignoring unjust laws, but I also don’t want to encourage a future teenager to ignore missives from authority figures. Sometimes it’s tough to be skeptical of authority but still a believe that most rules should be followed. I’m either lawful neutral or neutral good. Or maybe I’m just a dick. What alignment covers that?

We’re going to Disneyland in a few weeks. They still require masks for the unvaccinated, which should be fifty percent of their population. Again, do I want to spend a whole day reminding Daughter that she has to keep that mask tight while I’m off licking doorknobs? I don’t know if she’s comfortable calling bullshit yet, but if she chose that as her first usage, I wouldn’t fault her.

Don’t worry, I’ll blog post-Disney. I’m sure it’ll be enlightening.

So that’s where I’m now at. Do I mildly inconvenience myself to put others at ease or do I follow the SCIENCE! and force them to do the same? Do I model how my daughter should act or do I teach her “Different Rules for Different People”? 

To put it simple: To mask or not to mask, that is the question.

And dammit, where is my 5G coverage and check from Bill Gates?

Get Yer Shots, Numbnuts!

My family did something really weird last weekend

We baked some brownies and cookies, packed some drinks into a cooler, and went over to a friend’s house for a pot luck barbecue.

And then right as the wienies were roasted, the cervezas and margaritas flowing, all of a sudden….

Nothing happened. That’s it. End of story. Weird, right?

Did I mention we weren’t wearing masks?

Well, Daughter wore a mask, as did all of the other children. But the adults, all eight of whom are vaccinated, had nary a face covering in sight.

Or at least none doing their face covering bit. A couple of us had gaiters around our necks, just in case, because thirteen months is long enough to create habits. Even if the CDC kinda, sorta, maybe said it was a little bit okay, but not really? Because they can’t come right out and say that eight people, all of whom cannot catch a certain virus, might not still pass said virus amongst themselves.

For the last six months, every single message has been to go out and get vaccinated as quickly as possible so that we can… keep quarantining and masking? Bogus! I let Bill Gates chip me and I’m still on shitty-ass 4G.

I got my vaccine on the early side, considering I’m a teacher. When I got my first vaccine, I thought I was an outlier, but my purgatory of the only vaccinated amongst a sea of Typhoid Marys didn’t last long. They wanted me to post a selfie touting that I got jabbed, but considering so many people I knew were upset at the pace of shots and the amorphous criteria for who gets the vaccination, I didn’t want to post of “Ha ha, suckers! No COVID for me!”

After all, not everyone can get onto the French Laundry reservation list.

Fortunately, the wave of “put your name on a waiting list and wait for a call” was on the verge of becoming common knowledge. By the time I got my second shot, three weeks later because I’m a Pfizer (the 2021 version of asking someone their sign), most of the people I knew already had their first shot. The flood came fast and now we’ve already gotten to the point where the supply of the vaccines are outpacing the demand.

Which is why we’re still wearing masks, I guess?

At first I still wore masks because I was in the minority. Solidarity, yo!

But if we’re not to the point where a majority of Americans are vaccinated, we will be soon, so why the hell are we wearing masks outside? Or inside, for that matter?

Three vaccinated people with masks and one unvaccinated person without a mask walk into a bar. And… nothing. That’s the joke of a world we live in. 

Most of the data says we probably don’t need to be wearing them outside in the first place. The virus primarily transmits through water droplets, and the existence of wind and fresh air outside inhibit my globules from getting to you. But still, it’s comforting to see other people with masks, because it means they’re taking it seriously. Wearing them outside has always bordered on virtue signaling, so there’s little reason to take them off now, right? Except for maybe some ear fatigue.

Up to this point, it was to save the unvaccinated, as it was a total crapshoot on if you had access to the vaccine. But now we need to protect the unvaccinated because… they don’t give a shit?

And before I tailspin into some vitriol, let me get all my disclaimers and caveats out of the way. I know kids can’t get vaccinated. Trust me, I’m heading to school every day with the understanding that, even vaccinated, I can bring the virus home with me. And with every adult I know being vaccinated, the only one who’s likely to be hurt by my district’s decision is my daughter. Not the greatest feeling.

But kids seem to be safer from this particular virus. They can carry it from parent to teacher to other parent pretty easily, but they don’t get the symptoms themselves. At least until they’re 12 years old. But right now 16 is the cutoff for vaccines, so there’s a slew of 12 to 15 year olds who are in a precarious position. And considering I teach mostly sophomores, it makes it easier for me to keep my mask on during the school day, even if it sometimes feels like overkill. I’m supposed to be modeling “good citizen” for my students, but aren’t I also supposed to be modeling research and causal relationships? My district sent out a “reminder” that we need to wear our masks whenever we’re on campus, even if we’re outside. So great, in a school where we teach science and government, we want to model ignoring the CDC.

And fine, you want more caveats? I understand the variant problem. My student gives it to me, who is immune, I pass it to Daughter, who it doesn’t affect. She gives it to her teacher, who is immune, and said teacher gives it to another student with an unvaccinated parent. That’s five chances for the virus to mutate, five attempts the virus gets at figuring out how to end-run around the vaccine. Allegedly the South African variant is running roughshod through the Pfizer vaccine, which is the one I got. So that’s great.

Which I guess is why the CDC is telling us to keep wearing masks indoors, even if everyone in the room is vaccinated. They probably recommend using condoms after a vasectomy, too. But unlike the latter example, people are actually listening to the former.

Their new chart is odd for a number of reasons. It’s got two elements, a green, yellow, red coloring system to denote relative safety, as well as a yes/no component about wearing masks. But there’s an obvious lack of continuity between the two. A whole bunch of “safe” green also requires masks, whereas some “less safe” yellows don’t require one. 

If you’re vaccinated, everything is in the green. You’re safe. But still every single activity inside tells you to wear a mask. So when I and all the other vaccinated teachers in my department have lunch together, it’s considered “safe,” but we should wear a mask. In fact, it’s the exact same designation if it’s a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Safe, but wear a mask. To protect those who don’t care about being protected.

I don’t mind wearing a mask. It’s become normal. Sure, wearing it for eight hours straight at school is tougher than when I was maxing out at a couple hours before. After four weeks, I’ve noticed the skin behind my ears is getting rashy and blistery. 

But fine, it’s modeling. It’s solidarity. There’s no way for the stranger I pass to know if I’m vaccinated or not. And they might be nervous.

But if they’re nervous, shouldn’t they, I don’t know, get vaccinated?

Honestly, it’s available to everyone above 16 now. Those who don’t have it are choosing that. Why in the greatest of fucks should I worry about them?

I had a student who came to school for a week, then opted to return to distance learning. His mother emailed me, his history teacher, to explain that she didn’t feel we were doing enough to inhibit the spread of the virus. They have an at-risk uncle in the house, she explained, and she’s worried about her son bringing the virus home to the uncle.

Sounds horrible. And if this email were hitting my desk in November, I’d be right there with y’all. But how is “at-risk” uncle still not vaccinated by the beginning of May?

So fine. Keep wearing the mask to remind people that they’re supposed to be wearing masks. Even if the only people we’re reminding are probably as anti-mask as they are anti-vax. 

I know it’s not realistic to only tell the vaccinated people people to take off their masks while the unvaccinated keep them on. How do I prove to the bartender that I’m vaccinated? Couldn’t the unvaccinated guy say the same thing (those vaccine cards don’t seem overly difficult to counterfeit), especially since he probably rolls his eyes at the idea of me getting a vaccine in the first place. He probably listens to Ted Nugent who somehow can simultaneously say it was the sickest he’s ever been and that it’s not real. 

Which is what’s pissing me off so much about this. Because if I’m not masked, I might carry the virus from one unvaccinated person to another unvaccinated person. I’m sorry, but how the hell is that my problem? Shouldn’t I be taking off my mask, increasing their risk so they might get off their ass and get the vaccine? Why are we protecting them from themselves? 

I don’t want to say I only vaccinated for selfish reasons, but about ninety percent of that reason was so I wouldn’t catch the virus nor spread it to friends and family. Flatten the curve, free up hospital beds. Societal responsibility, blah, blah, blah. I know what I’m supposed to say. But I got vaccinated for me and mine, not for you. 

But you know what would REALLY flatten the curve and free up hospital beds? If all of those Ted Nugent-listening fuckers got vaccinated. Or died. 

But instead they’re going to keep spouting off their conspiracy theories without facing the repercussions, because they all know that we’re looking out for them. Think of the irony we’ll face when you’re out on the street and all the vaccinated people are wearing masks and all the unvaccinated aren’t. Congrtu-fucking-lations!

Seriously, anti-vaxxers, let this serve as a public service announcement. You’re on borrowed time. It’s time to shit or get off the pot. Figure out what’s more important to you, being the last fucker on the Titanic or hedging your bets. Because the time of us conscientious people covering your lazy ass.

Y’all aren’t the only people tired of all the bullshit. We want to stop wearing masks, too. We want to go to bars and movie theaters and concerts. That’s why we got vaccinated. 

You like to complain about the snowflakes who won’t let shit open? Well guess what, snowflakes, you’re the ones preventing the openings now. And why, because the government, which you always whine about being slow and inefficient, approved the vaccines without ten years of testing? It’s comical how many people will whine about too many regulations and the government getting in the way of private business in one breath, then in the next opine that the government didn’t do enough to get in the way of Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

And if you think it’ll rewrite your DNA, don’t worry. I’m the same fat schlub I was before and you’ll be the same YouTube-watching automaton afterward, too.

It’s almost like they’re just scared little snowflakes who don’t want a little jabby-jabby in their army-warmy.

School Reopening

My school district decided to re-open last week.

Last year, when the powers-that-be laid forth the myriad of hurdles and quagmires and golden-shower handshakes required before schools reopened, I boldly claimed that schools would never reopen. Like, not even related to COVID. If we were required to keep students six-feet apart in well-ventilated rooms, y’all best get used to Zoom calls.

In my defense, I was totally right about the failed educators and wannabe politicians in charge of the average district failing to get their heads out of their collective asses to make the changes necessary to meet those reopening metrics. What I failed to account for at the time was that Herr Commandant Newsom, who once thought the best COVID plan was to close every business in the entire state except for his hairdresser, decided to “slightly amend” it to, “Everything open, now and forever, because now the president is in my party instead of the other party, and this is looking bad for both of us.”

Okay, he didn’t really open everything. Not until June 15, at any rate. Not sure why a guy who “follows the science” knows, sixty days in advance, the exact date COVID will be beaten. Is Astrology one of those sciences he follows?

So his “school reopening” changed slightly. From “only reopen if your county has less than one COVID case per month, AND you can ensure social distancing in all classrooms, AND improve your ventilation, AND masks and desk shields and a rectal thermometer in every asshole!”

Sometime in late January/early February (again, TOTALLY not tied to a new presidential administration), his reopening criteria checklist switched to: “Here’s $6 billion. Reopen or you get none.”

It’s a subtle change. Did you notice it?

And to get this out of the way early, despite what you’ve heard from multiple “pundits,” that money is not required to be spent on anything relating to COVID or reopening. Nor is it “going to the teachers unions.” Sure, some districts might “share the wealth” with their employees. But that is not a requirement for the money. 

Nor is it a requirement that the money be spent at all. My district loves reminding its employees that they have $100 million in reserves. Part of that $100 million came from a cost-of-living adjustment the state gave them to pass along to us two years ago. Basically, the state gave them enough money to cover a 3% raise for all their employees and our district said, “Meh, how about we keep it in our bank account instead?” 

So it should come as no surprise that when the state, and then the federal, government waved another $100 million in front of them to reopen, their response was, “Teachers, get the fuck back to work.” Next year they’ll be touting having $200 million in reserves. They’ve gotta be the only school district who proudly proclaims that they DON’T spend money on your child’s education.

My union’s response to my district’s directive to return to work was, “Wait, you can do that? What about Herr Kommandant’s precious color-coding? What about this Memorandum of Understanding that we negotiated back in September? Have you thought about any of the logistics?”

Their response, in order of our questions: “1. We don’t care. 2. We don’t care. 3. Are you even listening?, and 4. We give absolutely zero fucks and/or shits about logistics. We’re getting $100 million, so get the fuck back to work.”

We responded with a futile, “Can we have some of that hundr…” but we couldn’t finish the question over their laughter. 

So again, the next time you hear that it’s the teachers unions preventing schools from re-opening, bear in mind that most of our contracts state that if school is open, we must report. Most school districts could order their teachers back tomorrow. But why would they do that when they can blame us for all the problems?

To be fair, there are some local unions that will strike, but in my district, it takes three weeks of voting just to decide if we want coaches to get a stipend. I don’t know how many unions can concoct a strike vote in the ten days we were given between announcement and reopening.

In all honesty, a lot of us were ready to go back. Distance learning is a monumental pain in the ass. Something that takes me five seconds to say takes me a couple minutes type out. Multiply that by forty asinine questions a day. Maybe you’ve heard that there are no stupid questions, but obviously you’ve never had to respond to “What are we doing?” two minutes after getting off a thirty-minute Zoom entirely devoted to what we are doing.

Or “I don’t understand the assignment.” To which I reply, “Where in the video instructions I posted did you get lost.” “Oh, I didn’t watch the instructions.” So glad I remembered to record that at 11:00 last night so that it would be fully rendered by this morning.

Grading digitally sucks, too. Twenty years into this profession, I can wield a red pen like the finest foil, swathing and slicing through a written test. Something as simple as a “-1” now requires me to highlight the text in question, hit the little “Comment” button. click on the comment space, type in “-1″,” then hit save.

Add in the fact that we’re all vaccinated and, sure, sign me up for a return to school. But should we maybe discuss the logistics of the transition? No? What about the students, who aren’t vaccinated and decide they want to stay on Distance? No plan? Cool, cool. And is it too late to ask about some of that hundre…

Ring the bell. Schools back in session, sucka!

And that’s about as fast as it happened. The Board of Education met on a Tuesday, we went back full time thirteen days later. 

Yes, full time. Did I forget to mention that?

For most of the past six months, we’ve been under the impression that if we went back to school, it would be in some funky hybrid scenario with only 30-40% of our students on campus at any given time. And by “we,” I mean everyone. The teachers, the students, the administration, the parents. The last week of school before the Board of Education made its ruling, they made the teachers return to school for a week, teaching distance learning in the morning and “preparing our rooms for hybrid learning” in the afternoon. Then the following week, they told us that, ha ha, just joking, we hope you didn’t waste too much time prepping your class for hybrid learning.

What’s the difference? Allow me to illustrate:

My second period class, has 42 students. 

I have 36 desks in my room, plus a couple of tables.

 I was supplied with 17 desk shields. 

If the maximum number of students I’m going to have in a particular class on a particular day is twenty, that’s doable. Instead of placing my desks side-by-side, I turned them toward each other in “pods,” with one desk shield (basically a three-sided partition like those old cardboard science project boards, only made of clear plastic) every other desk in a zig-zag pattern. So either you have a desk shield in front of you or you have the “outsides” of three desk shields surrounding you on all three sides. And while the desks to your left and right aren’t “socially distant,” only half of them will be used at a time.

Oops.

Unfortunately, we weren’t “given” (aka ordered) more in-class preparation time after the announcement that all 42 students would be coming into second period. I could have used my own time. I could have done my last week of distance learning from my classroom,  moving all my desks back to their original location. But honestly, if the district wanted to half-ass their decisions, why should I go out of my way to ensure it’s implemented well. If I keep polishing their turd, they’ll keep giving me turds.

The other problem with preparing to return is that I had no idea what the classroom setting would actually look like come Monday morning. This was now the fourth time they’ve “given us a week” to prepare (last April, the beginning of this school year, the week before the hybrid that never happened, and this 13-day period between announcement and student return).

 Each time, I’ve felt the optimal use of “prep” time would be to do it for a week, THEN take a week to adjust. Otherwise, whatever we prepare for won’t fit the reality. I’ve been teaching for twenty years and I can assure you they problems never arise where we think they will.

For instance, it might shock you to learn that, on that first day back, I did not have all 42 bright-and-bushy-tailed teenagers excited to reignite their passion for education. The real number of students in my class last Monday was in the low twenties.

To be fair, some of them weren’t  supposed to be there. The district allowed them to change their mind about distance learning. Big hearted, since the original designation was established back in August. A wee bit’s changed since then, yesno? Ya think some people might have changed their minds about the best options between then and now?

Oh, and when families made those designations back in August, they were talking about hybrid. Would your answer to whether you’d send your child back to school change if they were expected to be 42 in their class instead of 21?

If so, you obviously don’t have the “failed educator and wannabe politician” mindset, because my district expected “only a handful” of students to change.  

Instead, it was droves. Hundreds at each high school.

And of course, they all waited until the last minute to sign up. 

When I got the first email notice of a student going on distance learning, I figured no problem. I’d send her some packet work. 

Then a couple more dribbled in. My plans started to morph. 

Then on Friday… nothing. The calm before the storm?

Still not sure. I shit you not, here I sit, fully vested in my second week back, I still don’t have a great handle on who is supposed to be in my class on a daily basis. They don’t show up any differently on my role sheet. In some cases, I get a notice from a counselor or assistant principal. Other announcements come from the students themselves. 

Some of those student emails say they requested distance learning and are waiting to hear back. Others write me the much more amorphous, “I’ve decided to stay on distance learning. Please don’t mark me absent.” Umm… does anyone outside your house know of your decision? What about the other people in your house? Because that sounds suspiciously like a “Don’t tell my parents I’m not in school.”

And yes, I’m supposed to teach both the students in my room and at home the same content at the same time. If I can ever figure out who is who.

It continued after school restarted. Students have completely forgotten how to do the whole process. I get emails from students saying they don’t feel well so they didn’t come to school. I tell them they can bring a note the following day and have the attendance office excuse the absence. Y’know, like school’s been working your ENTIRE life. Last twelve months notwithstanding.

Another student emailed me that she wasn’t coming to fourth period. She came to the first three classes but decided to “do distance learning the rest of the day.” Um, okay. That’s called ditching. Thanks for the email.

We now have fun new debates like whether or not classroom doors should be open. On the one side, ventilation! But lockdown protocol has required them to be closed for the past few decades. Although on the plus side, we’ve gone over a year since the last school shooting!

And what about those precious desk shields? Twenty minutes into first period, the students asked if they could take them down. I allowed it as long as they put them back up when class ended. Second period: same process. By my afternoon classes, I was telling the students where the desks shields were if they wanted to grab one.

Just one more expensive paperweight throughout my classroom. All sorts of fancy wastes of money went into this ill-thought return. We have webcams to teach all the hybrid students at home, back when we thought we were doing hybrid. And a tripod! What the fuck are we doing, filming porn?

We also got electronic pencil sharpeners to replace the one I bought for myself a decade ago after I was told there was no way in hell the school would approve such a frivolous purchase. If you want sharp pencils, use the broken mechanical ones! 

Oh and we all now have alcohol-based hand sanitizer despite still taking annual trainings in the fact that those are not allowed in our classrooms. Too bad Glade air fresheners don’t kill COVID, because those are still verboten. And let me tell you, when you’re not allowed to open the door in a room full of 42 teenagers, it would be really nice to be allowed air fresheners.

But my favorite new waste of money is the electronic three-hole puncher. Every single classroom got one! Because we all know that those manual hole punchers are veritable Typhoid Marys. 

Do they think we push down on them with our tongue?

But hey, they spent some money! Not well, mind you, but at least a penny or two of that hundred million are going into some classrooms instead of the district coffers.

Anything to avoid giving the teachers a raise, huh?

March Madness at Covid Casino

For years, I’ve thought about posting a real-time account of March Madness. The highs, the lows. The buzzer beaters. The “why the fuck are you trying to win the game if you already covered the spread”s.

You see, I usually spend March Madness in Nevada. You’ve never truly experienced a basketball game until you’ve been in a room full of three hundred people absolutely losing their shit at a team dribbling out the remaining seconds of a twelve-point game, the winner of whom was obvious by halftime. 

Shoot the ball, motherfucker!

Or, if I’ve bet the underdog, don’t! 

For the uninitiated, March Madness is the college basketball championship, wherein 68 teams vie for the title. Those 68 (or at least 64 of them) play all their intro games in two days. Thirty-two games, spread out over 36 hours or so. And you can bet on every single one!

I had this grand plan. I would precede the Madness with a general post about gambling, then, as with Camptathalon, I’d tabulate all the craziness. The fifteen-seed Davids beating the two-seed Goliath that nobody cares about because they covered the spread by halftime. Or the meaningless eight-versus-nine-seed game, the winner of whom will most likely be destroyed against a number-one seed in the next round, that has the entire sports book on pins and needles because a two-and-a-half point spread brings all the boys to the yard.

But don’t worry. This post isn’t about college basketball. It’s only tangentially related to sports.

I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a degenerate gambler, but when the casinos closed, I started playing the stock market. One of the stocks I bought was Draft Kings, meaning I’m now gambling on gambling becoming more prevalent. 

Whenever my friends and I find one of those “signs you are a problem gambler,” we make bets about how many of the checklist items we’ll mark. Even if those lists are bogus. One checkmark is getting upset about losing a bet. Doesn’t that mean we don’t have a problem? You become a problem gambler when you shrug off one loss because you’ve made ten others.

I have the same issue with the alcoholic checklist. Do any of my stories start with, “I was drinking one time and…”? Um, yeah. Do you want good stories? I can start out my stories with “One time I was sitting on my couch rewatching a Marvel movie,” but it’s not gonna get much more exciting than that.

The reason I never got around to that projected March Madness post is how ephemeral it is. When it takes me six months to transcribe my Camptathalon journal, the hilarity still stands. Whether it’s June or January, fart and dick jokes work. But reminiscing about the eighteen-year-old who shanks a free throw and now will never realize his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA has got a shelf life.

So unless I plan on carrying a notebook throughout the casino (which I assume they would frown upon), then transcribing that shit while still blowing a .12, a March Madness post is gonna be tough.

But if I can combine a little bit of sports gambling with my first trip to a casino in the COVID-era? Make my observations more  observational than transactional? Just maybe…

But seriously, University of California at Santa Barbara, how the fuck do you lose by one point when I bet you on the money line? Wide open layup to win the game and you brick?

Okay, with that off my chest, how bout them COVID-restrictions?

As with every other stripe of life, Nevada seems more concerned with appearance than efficacy. Like the TSA guy who pulls me aside for a ham sandwich in my backpack while three terrorists walk through. It’s to make me feel better.

We’re supposed to wear masks, except for when we’re eating or drinking or smoking. Not sure if you’ve ever been in a Nevada casino, but the amount of time you’re not doing one of those three activities is maybe ten percent. I don’t even smoke, but I think it’s state law that we have a cigarette in our mouth fifty percent of the time. Just ask every numbnut sitting next to me at every fucking table, going through a pack an hour. And those new partitions aren’t as good at blocking cigarette smoke as they are (hopefully) at blocking viruses.

Hey, speaking of the numbnuts always at my blackjack tables, one sticks out as the worst of the worst, and that’s saying something. The numbest of the nuts. 

It was at the Tropicana in Vegas, not where one expects to run into high rollers. He was making stupid moves as soon as he sat down, like doubling down on a thirteen and splitting face cards. It was shortly after the book and movie about the MIT card counters, so numbnuts the world over thought they’d figured out how to beat the system. What’s worse is he was sitting in the last spot before the dealer, where a bad move can fuck over the entire table. To wit:

Dealer was showing a five. Fuck Face gets two sixes. The book says you stay on your twelve and wait for the dealer to bust. This guy splits. He hits his first six, gets a ten. Now he’s got a sixteen and he’s hmming and huhing. He finally decides to stay, then hits the other six and, wouldn’t you know it, another ten! 

“Two sixteens!” he exclaims. “What are the odds?”

Umm… those are the exact fucking odds! Literally the entire blackjack playbook is based on one rule: always assume the next card is a ten. 

What made it worse was that after Mr. Fucknozzle takes two bust cards away from the dealer, who now turns over the fifteen we all assumed he had, then hits a five (instead of either of the two tens Einstein took) and takes all our money. 

Casinos don’t discourage you from card counting, because most people make a phenomenal mess of it. Now if you care count well, then they’re taking you out to the desert.  

At least if that jackwagon were still at that table today, he’d have this nice visual of how one drinks or smokes while wearing a mask. 

Whew. Glad they laid that out. As if that weren’t enough Idiocracy, this sign was posted multiple times in each bathroom:

To quote Whitney Houston, I believe the children are our future. Cause if it’s up to us adults, we are well and truly fucked.

Oh, and did I mention that Florida State was favored by 10.5, meaning they had to win by 11 for me to win my bet? Guess how much they won by: Ten. Which matched the number of seconds left in the game when they got the ball back for the final time. And what did they do? Just dribble it around, never even looking at the basket. Come on, people, don’t you know what the spread is? There are people out there who had confidence in you, and you’re rewarding us by standing there for ten seconds instead of piling on two meaningless points that are anything but meaningless.

Why bother winning the game if you aren’t going to cover the spread?

So how are the casinos adjusting to the pandemic, aside from instructions on how to smoke cigarettes and what not to flush down the toilet?

They’ve put up Plexiglass barriers everywhere. Just in case you weren’t feeling lonely playing slot machines before, you’ve now got a three-sided cone of silence. No high-fiving each other after getting that big cherry combo that pays out a thousand credits before remembering thata thousand pennies is less than your initial twenty-dollar deposit. 

Not that there are legitimate penny slots anymore. They say they’re penny slots, but then it costs a minimum of 60 or 80 or 125 credits for one spin. What’s worse is they don’t pay out in those increments. So you bet 60, you win back 17. Then there reaches a point where you’ve got, say, 58 cents left in the machine but you can’t do anything with it. So you cash out and now you’ve got a slip of paper “worth” 58 cents. One machine had the last four “victims” left behind, four printouts of various small denominations. I added my fifth. Perhaps someday in the distant future, someone will be able to combine enough to make one spin, get twelve cents back, and begin the stack anew.

I understand the way inflation works in the casinos. They can’t make legitimate penny slots anymore, because pennies aren’t worth shit, It’s not so much the sixty cent minimum that piss me off so much as the partial payoffs. I’m a completionist. If I’ve blown the twenty I put in then, dammit, I want to be down twenty bucks, not down nineteen dollars and change. And they’re not fooling anyone. Is there anybody who bets sixty, wins back ten and thinks, “Huzzah! Finally able to retire!”

You know who’s really been screwed by inflation? The cocktail waitresses. Back in the nineties, I sat down at a two-dollar blackjack table and, when my “free drink” came around, I tipped the cocktail server a dollar. Nowadays, I sit down at a ten-dollar blackjack table and, when my “free drink” comes around, I tip the cocktail server a dollar. I went from tipping her fifty percent of a hand’s value to ten percent. But it would feel somehow wrong to tip five dollars for a free drink. That’s almost as much as the drink might cost if I paid for it.

Are strippers experiencing the same diminishing returns?

The cocktail servers can’t be hurting too much, though. I see the same ones year after year at March Madness. There are a couple of them who have worked the same portion of the sportsbook at the same time of the day as they were a decade ago. They must not be hurting, even if they do seem a tad slower than they once were, not turning in their orders until they have pre-orders filling every centimeter of their tray. 

Maybe I should up the tip to two bucks, as awkward as that would feel. Although in my defense, I still tip more than some of the people I’m at the table with. I tip my dealer, too. If I was an asshole like the Maker’s Mark fucktards, I might not walk away down forty bucks all the time. Damn my service industry background!

In addition to the partitions up at the slots and tables, you’re not allowed to touch your cards. That took some getting used to. My hand was slapped away three or four times before I adjusted to the new normal. Even after I figured it out, it was friggin hard to keep my hands to myself as my two cards sat there screaming at me. 

I’ve played at blackjack tables where everybody is dealt face up, but this wasn’t that. Your cards are dealt face down, then the dealer comes around to turn up one set of cards at a time. That player then decides what to do and it’s on to the next. It leads to shorter decision times. Not like it’s difficult to add two single digit numbers, but it goes beyond that. If the dealer’s showing an eight, I have to think ahead of time what I’m going to do if it’s a twelve or a fourteen or a sixteen. Normally I can think about those permutations ahead of time. 

The weirdest action was when asking for/buying insurance. If the dealer is showing an ace, they try to take more money in the suckerest of all sucker bets. If you “win” an insurance bet, that means the dealer has a blackjack and you’re getting your money back instead of losing your bet. Still not winning anything, though. And if the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack, you “lose” the insurance bet, but then play the hand normally, which means you can still lose and now you’re out 150% of your initial bet. Even if you win, you’ve lost 50% of the win because you lost it to “insure” the hand. 

Obviously, the insurance bet isn’t going away, just like the extended warranty on cars. But they have to show us our cards to see if we want to insure it. Who would insure a sixteen, after all? Heck, who would insure a nineteen? So when the dealer has an ace showing, she goes one by one, holding up our cards to the plexiglass at eye level like Jim Carrey at the jailhouse in Cable Guy. You nod or shake your head, then she puts your cards back on the table, face down. At least then I get a few extra seconds to decide what I’m going to do with those cards. Just in time for her to reveal she did, in fact, have that blackjack, so maybe I should’ve insured my sixteen?

But as with the TSA, the “what you can touch and what you can’t touch” rule seems arbitrary. For instance, after the dealer shuffles the cards, one of the players still cuts the deck. The dealer hands a plastic divider card to the player doing the cut. First it’s my turn, then with the next shuffling, it’s the guy next to me’s turn. This being single-deck, it’s only a few minutes between my grubby hands and the next guy’s. Not saying he’s going to get any viruses I’m carrying. Didn’t we determine many moons ago that it’s not traveling via touched surfaces, but water globules? Hence the masks and partitions. I mean, maybe if I spit in my hand before cutting the deck, he’d be in trouble. I’ve seen a lot of strange superstitions at blackjack tables over the years, but none have involved bodily fluids.

Then I went to the pai gow table. In pai gow, you’re given seven cards that you divide into two hands: a standard 5-card poker “high hand” and a 2-card “low hand”. The dealer doesn’t turn over his cards until everybody has made their hands. In fact, most beginning pai gow players ask the dealer or other players for advice as they learn. For instance, if you have two pair, do you put one pair in the high hand and one in the low, or do you make the high hand a much stronger two pair, leaving the low hand crappy and all but insuring a push?

So it can totally be done the same way as COVID blackjack. The dealer could turn over my cards, I could instruct him to put the jack of hearts and seven of diamonds into the low hand, then on to the next player. There might also be some difficulties of communication, but pointing works fine, and again, I’ve seen plenty of conversations between player and dealer about which cards should go where and never noticed a communication problem. The real issue is the amount of time it would take. If there are five players at the table and each one takes thirty seconds, you’re looking at five minutes gone by the time the dealer’s done his own and paid out winnings and collected losings. Even worse is that pai gow is a game where the casino doesn’t make money every hand. There are a lot of pushes. I often play it when I need my money to last longer. So if they don’t accumulate money as quickly as possible, and then they add to that the time it takes to play each of the six hands one-by-one, those drinks ain’t gonna be free much longer. But if we all use our thirty seconds simultaneously…

So it should come as little surprise that, in pai gow, we’re allowed to pick up our cards. They’re the exact same cards being used at the table next door. Technically, they go through a shuffling machine, but I’m almost certain they aren’t sanitized inside there. They don’t come out dripping with antibacterial residue or anything like that. They feel like regular cards. Or at least what I remember regular cards feeling like. I couldn’t confirm on the blackjack table. 

Because the casino might say they’re concerned about our safety, but in reality they’re really just “interested in” our safety. What they’re “concerned with” is making profit. And if the two of those can go hand-in-hand, then so much the better. Partitions help remind us we’re all making sacrifices. No blackjack touchie for you!

Just don’t let those sacrifices go too far.