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Holding Pattern

Started: 2020-04-19 16:53:46

Submitted: 2020-04-19 23:45:39

Visibility: World-readable

Waiting to see what happens next

Last week was my sixth week of working from my house, and the seventh week since COVID-19 took over my life. Now we're in a holding pattern, stable but anxious to see what happens next, hoping things start to get better but worried we'll be here indefinitely.

California poppies growing in Wallingford
California poppies growing in Wallingford

While we're worried about COVID-19 spring has descended onto Wallingford. It's sunny most of the time, and the early-blooming daffodils and tulips have given way to flowering fruit trees -- and my favorite, bright-orange California poppies, growing in my front yard and wild in the neighborhood.

Despite my fears last weekend, Seattle reopened its largest "destination" parks on schedule on Monday. (This was, as far as I could tell, the first time anything near me actually reopened after being closed for COVID-19.) I discovered that I can run to Green Lake, then run around the lake, and return to my house in a little over five miles -- which is about the right distance for me right now (and is generally more interesting than the out-and-back route I've developed running down the Burke-Gillman Trail past the University of Washington). There's a nice path running all the way around the lake, but no one seems to agree how we ought to walk (or run) on the past for optimal traffic flow (and physical distancing).

The path is built in three segments: a wide paved section with a yellow line painted down the middle dividing it into two lanes, and a gravel section (as wide as one of the lanes of the paved section). There are a couple of signs that try to explain how one should use the path: the outer paved lane is reserved for one-way bike traffic (going counter-clockwise around the lake), and the rest of the path is designated for foot traffic in both directions. But it's not at all obvious how we're supposed to divide the foot section. I ran clockwise around the lake (clockwise being, obviously, the most auspicious way), so it seemed that I ought to stay to the far right of the path (since I am in North America, where we always drive on the right), leaving plenty of room for oncoming foot traffic in the opposite direction to my left. But it's entirely up for interpretation which part of the path I ought to run on; I decided that I should run on the right of the gravel section (which had the additional benefit of placing me on the softer gravel surface); but everyone I met had different ideas of how they should be using the path, sometimes leaving me with no route to stay six feet away from everyone else on the path.

By Thursday the parks department had put up big white-on-blue signs scolding us for failing to physically distance ourselves, and threatening to close the parks if the park got too crowded. ("You should use your own back yard", and "exercise at home", the paternalistic sign scolded, as if I had a back yard big enough to be useful.)

For the weekend, the parks department decided they could leave the parks open (a magnanimous gesture, I'm sure, out of the goodness of their hearts). They redesignated the path around Green Lake to be one-way, counter-clockwise, foot traffic only -- and set up temporary signs every fifty meters to remind everyone of this. When I visited on Sunday afternoon this change seemed to be followed, and it did seem to reduce congestion on the path; but the "walk on the right, pass on the left" admonition seemed to be followed only sporadically.

One way loop at Green Lake
One way loop at Green Lake

(The street grid in Green Lake goes non-Euclidean as it tries (and mostly fails) to adapt to the irregularly-shaped lake in the middle of the Seattle street grid. But the street grid doesn't follow any obvious rules: it looks as if the streets attempt to align themselves at the local shoreline (which is a reasonable goal), but they can't even manage that; and the result is a bunch of streets that veer off at random angles and then stop several blocks from the lake, and other streets that are discontinuous: Meridian Ave N exists in at least three separate pieces between Wallingford and Green Lake; at one point it is interrupted by the lake, but at another point it is simply interrupted by the local deviation in the grid. (I am also distressed by the fact that Meridian Ave N is not an actual meridian. The origin for the public land survey system in Seattle is the Willamette Meridian in Portland, so we are in fact in range 4 east -- but Meridian Ave N does, at least, form the section road dividing (in my part of Wallingford) section 18 from section 17.))

Green Lake topographic map
USGS 7.5' topographic map, Seattle North, 1949

One deadline that did go by this week, extended and unnoticed, was the original date when Google suggested we might be able to go back to the office, on the 13th of April. This, obviously, was overtaken by events: most of the country is still under some version of a shelter-in-place order. This week various government officials began talking about the conditions under which we might be able to return to the whatever the next phase is; but it's still far from clear what that will look like, or whether we'll be able to get the order-of-magnitude increase in testing volume that would be necessary to begin opening anything up. Even after the formal mandates end I assume Google will keep the offices closed because we can. (I assume, basically, that all of the restrictions will be rolled back on a stack: the first to come will be the last to go.) I assume the odds are better than even that I will never go back to my office in South Lake Union; though whatever I do instead remains one giant unanswered question.

That question, what I'm doing next, got considerably less certain this week when Google announced that it was "sharpening our focus" and restricting hiring this year (in an internal memo that was published externally in less time than it would take to write the article about it, leading me to conclude that it was deliberately leaked under an embargo). It's still not clear what this means in practice, and what teams will still be able to hire; but it does seem to be a bad sign for my efforts to find a job so I can move back to the Bay Area this year.

Meanwhile I keep working from my house -- or really, I'm staying in my house, during an unprecedented global crisis, while trying to work. I feel like I can't keep as much stuff in my head at once, and that's negatively affecting what I can do. There are a couple of pieces of the projects I'm working on where I just need to sit down and design it in a flow state and bang out the code to implement it, but I can't get into a flow state because the world is still too distracting because I don't know what's going to happen next, or how long we're going to be stuck in the current state before something changes again. So I'm stuck picking around the edges of the problem, trying to find a piece that I can actually hold in my head at once, and hoping that's going to be good enough.

Willow lounges in the morning light
Willow lounges in the morning light

While I wait to see what happens next I'm going to keep posting more cat pictures, because it's one thing I can do.