Almost 20 years ago I moved from Upstate NY to south central PA. I had spent the past 10 years in academia and moved in with my Bear, who worked for Harley Davidson. Factory life and academia are like two different planets.
I’m a professor, but I also worked in a factory for several years. It’s something I think everyone should do at least once in their life, it gives you a very different outlook on life. I wasn’t totally prepared for the difference between academia and Harley, however. These were mostly guys who threw around profanities like candy, (I told the Bear I had never heard the word “mother******” as many times in my life as I had the first hour I spent with his friends. They were tattooed, bad ass bikers who lived up to the picture everyone has of a Harley rider (although our Vice President rides a Harley and is a gentleman). And they were some of the sweetest, kindest guys I’ve ever known, any one of whom would have taken a bullet for me. (I think they thought I needed protection because the “professor is good with books but real life, no common sense in that one!” )
After the initial shock, I quickly adjusted. I think they delighted in the fact that although they thought of me as a fragile flower (HA!), I could toss insults their way that would stop them in their tracks and send them into gales of laughter. (Insults were often their way of saying “I like you.”)
I still have moments of “what the hell?” after which I tell my husband, “I live in Redneck Heaven!” but for the most part, I take the differences in stride. I visit the relatives and get my uppitty back and then go home and get my redneck on. I am multi-cultural, I guess.
Then Covid hit. It wasn’t long before my circle of friends decided this was a bit questionable and we were not going to live in fear. We would be careful and we would be considerate of others – I wear a mask when required, even though I think it’s pointless – and we went on with our lives. There are stores that have closed, and some things are limited, but mostly, our lives are back to normal. I am not alone in feeling this way, most of my circle of acquaintances feel the same – we have simply gone on about our lives and ask not how many are infected, or exposed, but how many are sick, have symptoms, are hospitalized. (There’s a big difference)
I came to NY, knowing that things were different here. I talk to my sisters every week and have heard the stories and heard the fear in their voices. I was prepared for differences. I wasn’t prepared for people staring daggers at me because I didn’t have my mask on in the parking lot of a grocery store – I put it on before I go inside and take it off as soon as I come out the door. I wasn’t prepared for naked fear. We went to dinner last night, my sister told her friend we were going to a restaurant and the friend had a fit- how dare she be so reckless? Umm, there were like 10 people in the place. Today I commented to my sister that someone was cleaning all the tables and she replied that he was using the same cloth on all of them. Okay. I didn’t notice, and wouldn’t have been bothered.
So why the difference? I know that a lot of cases were in NYC, and my home town is close enough to the City that a lot of people came up when this hit – bringing it with them. I know that the hospitals in NYC were scrambling – something that we never experienced in PA. (To my knowledge) Are we just more rebellious in PA? Are we more questioning? I know that we’re more politically conservative outside of Philly, so is it that? I’m just baffled by what seems to me to be blind obedience to precocious rules and regulations that make no sense to me, and by the confused looks I get when I point out what seem to me to be glaring inconsistencies.
Do they want to live in fear? Do they want to live their lives hidden behind a piece of cloth that may or may not prevent a virus that has a 99% recovery rate? Am I a foolhardy idiot for just wanting to live my life?
I am confused.