Calgary·Point of View

You can't sandbag for a pandemic — but you can pour yourself a stiff Quarantini and take a calm stroll

The CBC's Calgary Eyeopener host David Gray writes about finding moments of grace and humour amid the flood that is the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is a different kind of flood than 2013 — a more menacing one, perhaps

The migrating Bohemian waxwings have arrived, and are drunkenly feeding on berries in the trees above. That’s normal, but so much isn't. (The Canadian Press)

David Gray hosts the Calgary Eyeopener, which airs 6-8:30 a.m. MT weekdays on CBC Radio One, on the CBC Listen app or wherever you get your podcasts.


I went for a walk today, as I normally do, in a city that is anything but normal. 

Calgary is under a state of emergency, the first city in the country to make such a declaration.

The last time this happened was seven years ago, during the Great Flood of 2013. That emergency cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars.

But it's a different kind of flood this time, a more menacing one, perhaps. You can't sandbag for a pandemic, or pump out an invading virus. You can only hope to contain its spread, and the lessons from elsewhere in the world tell us that this will be very hard to do.

Even with our best efforts, we are told to expect COVID-19 to not only hit the downtown core (already largely empty, as workers this week are told to stay home), but also flood the entire bowl of the city, its heights and sprawling suburbs, out into the surrounding prairies.

A couple of weeks ago, this seemed farfetched. We are after all a landlocked city beneath sheltering mountains, far from foreign borders and distant seas.

It's as if somehow we forgot to look up. We are in fact a port city, home to what is now one of only four open international airports in the country. It's through those gates the virus arrived, unpacked and is starting to settle. Blame who you want, but that's the reality.

A late winter's day along the Bow River. I've seen this scene a hundred times, but today it's different. (David Gray/CBC)

So how do you prepare now? How do you figure out how to fight back, when you're not really sure of the magnitude of what's coming?

Well, I go walking.

I make my way along a sun-kissed path by the thawing Bow River on a fine winter/spring afternoon. The migrating Bohemian waxwings have arrived, and are drunkenly feeding on berries in the trees above. That's normal. People are out running, walking their dogs, zombie-strolling with their eyes fixed on their phones. I've seen this scene a hundred times. But today my perception of my city has changed.

Just what are the boundaries of the recommended social isolation policy the experts continually recommend? Should you go jogging, occasionally spitting into a snowbank, as some are? How far should I veer away from those friendly labradoodles?  And just what is the new social norm for running into acquaintances? Toe tapping seems silly, as does rubbing elbows. But there'll be no hugs today, I remind myself.

Hands in pockets, I keep my distance, and try to say something pithy when approached. It's how we all seem to be greeting each other now.

Quarantini, anyone?

I'm always grateful for moments of humour in tough times. Grateful to the friend who suggested I pour a Quarantini (an extra strong martini you drink at home by yourself), to the predictions of a baby boom in nine months time (the Coronial generation), and to the cheerful anti-virus song that reminds us all to keep our fingers "out of our face holes."

If I cough, I wonder if I've got it. What's COVID and what's FauxVID? I laugh at my own moments of paranoia. We need to laugh during these times. It's better than the alternative.

So this is what I think about, as I walk. And as I prepare for another morning on the radio. 

The CBC is considered an essential service, and we have vowed to stay on the air no matter what. There's even a contingency plan to broadcast the Eyeopener from a staff member's basement, if the station gets infected. (We share a building with many health care services).

We stick to the facts, answer the obvious questions and remain a trusted news source.

How to social distance in the grocery store

2 years ago
2:07
As Canadians avoid gatherings and crowds amid the COVID-19 outbreak, grocery stores present a challenge as people stock up and pick shelves bare. 2:07

I received an email from a former provincial treasurer this morning that reads, "Please don't underestimate your role in being a reassuring voice of reason and calm through this." Thanks for the message, Mr. Dinning, I'm trying.

And so, to be fair, is everyone else.

I think of everyone working from home and remember what my kids were like as toddlers. I don't know how I would write this under threat of apple juice spilling into the keyboard.

I think of the business owners, the closed restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. Even the venerable Ship and Anchor Pub is locked up, for now. Tough news for longtime patrons like myself, who always planned to go down with the Ship.

A million moments of grace

So how do we get through this?

The mayor calls for "clean hands, clear heads, open hearts." This seems a good place to start. You can do a lot of good, even while alone at home. Shakespeare wrote King Lear while under quarantine.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, while quarantined in 1920 in the south of France, wrote "the officials have alerted us we are to have a month's worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and, Lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us."

Well, so much for clear heads. But they survived.

A woman in Lakeview stocked her Little Free Library with rolls of toilet paper. (Twitter)

In the meantime, we are all heartened by stories that make us smile. Like the one about the woman in Lakeview, who's stocking her Little Free Library with rolls of toilet paper. "Need a roll, take it. Got a roll, leave one."

Whoever you are, bless you.

Same goes for the guy in Cochrane posting notices that he's got a full tank of gas, good intentions and nothing but time to run errands and make deliveries for seniors.

Good on him, too. That's what will get us through.

I think of that, as I make my way along the river, and I smile at a stranger, and am heartened that she smiles back.

This is what I look for, now. It's what we all need. A million moments of grace, until this flood has passed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Gray

Calgary Eyeopener host

David Gray hosts the Calgary Eyeopener, which airs 6-8:30 a.m. MT weekdays on CBC Radio One, on the CBC Listen app or wherever you get your podcasts. He is a former travelling correspondent for CBC TV's business documentary program Venture, spent many years hosting a national TV news show, and is a frequent guest host on CBC Radio's As It Happens, Cross Country Checkup, and Sunday Edition.

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