Friday, March 27, 2020

Still Staying In


How are you all holding up? K and I are still doing well here in NYC. Our friends and family are also doing alright, the most immediate worry is just for family members who still need to work outside the home in essential functions in their states.  

Since my last post, K and I have done our first post-lockdown - and post-Governor Cuomo "PAUSE" order - grocery trip. We now plan to only go out roughly once every two weeks, a slightly more restrictive social-distancing plan than our previous target of only going out once every 10 days or so. Roughly two weeks worth of groceries is about as much as we can physically carry between the two of us in one trip, so it'd be difficult to try to go even longer between outings. 

NYC is actually doing quite well - maybe better than most parts of the country - when it comes to the availability of most supplies and groceries, provided that one is willing to shop in-person. Paper products, including toilet paper, seem to be reliably back on most store shelves most of the time, albeit not necessarily in one's preferred brand or package size. I think hand sanitizer and Lysol or Clorox wipes are still difficult to find, as those sell out quickly whenever a store gets them in, and face masks and thermometers may both be largely impossible. But otherwise there shouldn't be anything we're missing in the short term. 

At least in my neighborhood, grocery delivery services don't currently seem to be able to keep up with increased demand. (Our parents are feeling quite anxious about our going out at all in NYC, and they keep asking us to solely rely on delivery services for our grocery needs. But I don't think that's currently possible.) In my neighborhood, it was already difficult to get a Freshdirect delivery slot at the best of times, and now - unsurprisingly - there are none to be had for the foreseeable future. Foodkick tends to still have delivery slots available, but they run out of high-demand food products quickly. I don't particularly like the grocery stores available through Instacart in my neighborhood, so that's not an option we've explored. I took a quick look at Peapod and there's not a single delivery slot available through April 8, the furthest out date one can attempt to book at this time. 

But when one goes grocery shopping in-person in NYC, there are plenty of items on the shelves. We went to a Trader Joe's, and saw that our nearest branch had taken significant new measures for safety: They limit the number of shoppers allowed in-store at a time, to a level that mostly allows staying six feet apart inside, even with the narrow aisles. They've also drawn chalk lines roughly six feet apart outside, to facilitate maintaining proper distances apart while queueing up to go in. There are also painter's tape marks on the floor inside for when shoppers are lining up to check out, but because that area of the store is so narrow, there isn't quite a complete six foot radius around each shopper in the checkout line. Pretty much all items, including ground meat and fresh chicken - which I've heard are difficult to find in grocery stores elsewhere - and high-demand pantry staples such as rice or pasta, were fully in stock. 

At some point, though probably only starting a month or two from now at the earliest - which makes us incredibly lucky, I know - my attorney friends and I may need to start worrying about the recession and what it means for our industry and our personal job security, but that's a fairly distant, abstract thing for now. One top NYC law school has already postponed their on-campus recruiting program, which would originally have been scheduled to take place in late summer, primarily for students who are currently 1Ls. That seems to me to be a signal that the hiring cycle for biglaw is going to change dramatically.

I fully appreciate what a privilege it is to feel somewhat certain that my job security is likely a "next month" or "two months from now" worry, not an immediate one. So for now, I'm continuing to make donations to the Food Bank for New York City and to World Central Kitchen, and to look for ways to support various small businesses. Among other things, I made a modest donation to my hair salon's GoFundMe: My longtime stylist, whom I'm very fond of, opened their own salon less than a year ago, and theirs is among the many businesses badly affected by the necessary shutdown orders. I figured I might as well donate roughly the cost of my long overdue haircut.

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I haven't been able to do quite as much reading for fun as I expected. Current events seem to make me a bit too tense and antsy to settle down well enough for a nice long reading session. I'm working steadily through Hilary Mantel's newly released The Mirror and The Light, which is excellent, but is not as quick a read as Bring Up the Bodies. I just finished Margaret Atwood's The Testaments, which I enjoyed. I've also been spending many hours playing the new Animal Crossing game on the Nintendo Switch! 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Staying In For a While

 The cast of stuffed animal characters keeping K and I company while we socially distance at home. We have a substantial collection! 

We live in strange times, to say the least. This time last week, public schools, restaurants, bars, and gyms in NYC were still open. I was still in Luxembourg, fully expecting to spend another week and a half working on back-to-back depositions in Paris and London. I was still thinking we might be able to take our planned vacation in early April, though admittedly, I was already feeling qualms about whether my recent Western European travel history could mean that I should stay far away from elderly extended family members. Now, NYC public schools, gyms, and bars that don't serve food are all closed, and restaurants are only allowed to remain open for takeout or delivery. It'd be unthinkable to still be in Paris or London working on those depositions. Taiwan has now closed its borders to foreign nationals, so even if K and I hadn't already decided last Friday to cancel our vacation, we could no longer take it, in any case. 

At present, I'm thinking that it's looking increasingly likely that our community would be best-served if K and I were to continue practicing social distancing at home for at least another month going forward, if not longer. Based on all the news I'm reading - particularly articles, and even social media posts, about the experiences of those who work at hospitals - I'm really feeling like it could be two months or more before the public health situation is such that we could even begin to consider resuming normal life.

It's not yet a guarantee that I'd be able to continue working from home that entire time. Officially, my workplace plans to reevaluate the work-from-home policy each week based on current conditions. But I think it's likely they'll maintain the policy so long as public schools remain closed. Fingers crossed!

K and I would still need to leave our apartment building intermittently - likely not more often than once a week, and most likely closer to once every week-and-a-half - in order to stock up on essentials at the grocery store or drugstore. Maybe we'll also take a walk once in a while, doing our best to stay six feet away from everyone else, but that's about it. (Note that actually staying six feet away from everyone else at all times is basically impossible on NYC sidewalks, even now that things are significantly more quiet in many neighborhoods. So I don't expect too many walks.) We don't currently plan to take public transit during this time, provided we're able to continue working from home. 

Essentially, K and I will do our best to live life as if NYC were under the same type of "shelter in place" order that's now in effect in the California Bay Area, where I grew up. And we're so very lucky that we'll be able to do so without too much difficulty, whether financially or logistically, for quite some time. Both sets of our parents and my sister are also in good shape to continue social distancing where they are, for the foreseeable future. I'm very grateful. 

While we're stuck indoors, I'd like to do what I can to help others who are struggling. I've made monetary donations - admittedly very modest ones - to the Food Bank for New York City and to World Central Kitchen. Many of my ideas thus far are admittedly very small things that benefit me at least as much as they benefit whomever I'm trying to help: I plan to support some of my favorite small businesses by shopping online (which benefits me too, of course, by allowing me to indulge a bit in something pretty in this time of uncertainty). I also plan to buy more books or ebooks, rather than solely relying on the public library, in order to support favorite authors. (And on the off chance that anyone has a favorite independent bookstore that's doing online orders right now, I'd love to buy from them.) I'm sort of sheepish about how I don't have more ideas about how to help right now, and  I welcome any suggestions to that end. 

How are you and your families doing? I hope everything is well, as much as they can be in these uncertain times. 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Life Lately: Definitely Not in Transit


For obvious reasons, I am no longer on my lengthy international business trip and will no longer be going to Paris. 

Last Thursday, while we were in Luxembourg, at around 4:00 A.M local time, President Trump announced the travel ban on foreign nationals coming to the US from the Schengen Area of the European Union. Members of our team were almost immediately woken up by concerned family members calling from the US. It quickly became clear that everything we were working on in Europe would need to be cancelled immediately and only rescheduled at some unknown future date, after things settled down. (At the time, I'm not sure it was clear to us that Americans were supposed to be exempt from this new travel ban. In any case, none of us had an appetite for waiting to test that.) We all booked new tickets home immediately. 

Coming home on Thursday evening felt a bit surreal. There weren't any changes to screening policies at customs and immigration in JFK. (I can personally verify that not everyone flying in from Europe was tested for COVID-19, contrary to the President's claims. But I don't think this comes as a surprise to anyone, given how few tests have been done in the US.) With the dramatically increased numbers of travelers rushing to get where they needed to go before the new ban was fully in place, getting back in through immigration did take significantly longer than usual. 

Once I got home, K and I thought it was best to stock up on some more food and other supplies that evening. We found extremely long lines at our nearest grocery store, amounting to what was ultimately a nearly two-hour wait to check out. The entire meat aisle was wiped out, and a lot of other product categories were also extremely depleted, though there was still a good selection of fish and produce. We're fully stocked up on food now, enough for at least two weeks, taking into account some of the supplies we already had at home before that trip to the grocery store. 

We also had a hard time finding paper towels and hand soap. (Hand sanitizer and Lysol or Clorox wipes have also been nowhere to be found for nearly a week now. Toilet paper is also nearly impossible to find in stores at the moment, but we had recently received our usual two-to-three month supply not long ago, so we're not hard up.) We were particularly desperate for hand soap: I had thought we were set because I had put in our routine order recently - two large refill bottles from Target.com - around March 9, but it's now backordered and won't be shipping in the foreseeable future. I went to five different drugstores looking for hand soap while K waited in line at the grocery store, and only saw a tiny bit left at one store, two 12-oz bottles that I bought.

Many law firms in NYC, and also my current workplace, have instituted work from home policies for now. I will be practicing social distancing and working exclusively from home for at least a week, and most likely longer, if it's allowed by my supervisors. (Our office's work from home policy will be reassessed week-to-week.) I don't plan to leave our apartment for anything nonessential. Among other things, I'll be staying out of our in-building gym. 

K and I have also decided it would be best to postpone our vacation indefinitely. Part of our travels would have involved visiting extended family members, some of whom are elderly. I would not have felt comfortable visiting them, having so recently traveled internationally for work in areas where there were COVID-19 cases, and while the extent of COVID-19 spread in NYC is also unclear. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Working Life Lately: In Transit

One small perk of work travel: We usually book tickets that come with lounge access...

Well, I’ve officially embarked on my lengthy European business trip now, even if international travel is looking more high-risk and potentially ill-advised than it did this time last month. For litigators, many of the things we travel for in relation to our work are in the service of court-ordered deadlines or things of similar weight. Accordingly, we'd all be very reluctant to cancel that type of business trip. In my case, the decision of whether to continue with this trip as scheduled was made well above my pay grade. We’ll see if our plans end up needing to change midstream. 

I’m now well over two-thirds of the way done with my extremely intense first quarter of 2020. As predicted, I’ve stayed consistently on track to bill 2,800 hours this year for the entire period. (And a this pace, the expected year-end total would be 3,000 hours if I took no vacation.) I’ve survived, but just barely. There were days when I was so exhausted I felt like my memory and cognitive abilities were not 100% or I felt like I was barely capable of coherent speech. 

At the same time, while working like this, one also starts to gain an insidious awareness about how - even when working at this pace - there still remain more hours in the week that could, theoretically, also be billed. During these months, I’ve still had maybe three or four weekends where I barely needed to work two or three hours total, effectively a free weekend by industry standards. (There was always a lot more work waiting to be done, of course. But in the absence of urgent deadlines, one tries to keep the weekends free to rest up.) I’ve also only been suck at the office past 10:00 P.M. a handful of times. (Though I’ve also almost never left work before 8:30 P.M. on any weekday this entire period, even on Fridays. And I often do bill some more from home, in any case.) 

Our vacation plans for early April are also in some doubt, though K and I have decided to keep our bookings for now. I really hope we can still go, as I desperately need to take this vacation. Working nonstop at this pace for so long has basically driven me to the point where I’d almost consider taking the full two weeks off, even if I couldn't travel anywhere. That would not, however, be a particularly rational or good use of said vacation time by any stretch of the imagination, so I’ll try to restrain myself.

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This is mostly a rather dour and un-fun post, but I’ll try to share some cheerful things too. First up, I've still been doing a good amount of reading for fun. I’m almost done with Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe (on Kathy’s recommendation), which has been a really engaging but serious read. I also enjoyed Saeed Jones’s memoir, How We Fight for Our Lives. Finally, I'm incredibly excited for the newest Hilary Mantel, The Mirror and the Light. (Wolf Hall was a bit slow to build up, but absolutely worth it, and Bring Up the Bodies grabbed my attention from the first page to the last.) 

Back in January, while restocking my Bumble and Bumble Sunday Shampoo, I also picked up Tatcha's Kissu Lip Mask on a whim. I like it a lot! Although the Tatcha Kissu is marketed primarily as a lip mask, I find that it absorbs quickly enough that it works fine for morning use, as well as for before bed. Though note that I don't wear makeup most days. I don't think it'd absorb fast enough if I was going to be applying another lip product shortly after. Admittedly, my lips don’t typically get particularly dry, so for me this product is more a fun indulgence than anything else.