Our COVID-19 Story May 15 2022

OK, so it's story time. I don't get on a soapbox on here too often, but in this case I might (just a tiny bit), so thank you for indulging me.

Let's roll back the clock to 2019. My sister had been living abroad with her family for a few years (husband had a job at a university there) and was just returning to live in the States that summer. Guess what bustling metropolis they had been living in for the past 4 years? Wuhan, China. Talk about dodging a bullet! Anyway, that Fall, I was gearing up to return to Winter NAMM with Delicious Audio's Stompbox Exhibit booth. I like those folks, and the last time I did NAMM it was super fun. I also had some boxes I wanted to launch at the show, so I was upwardly motivated to make it happen. I saved up, paid for my spot in the booth, and purchased my plane tickets and booked my motel room.

As Fall continued into Winter, I started feeling the weight of many things. My "day" job at the time in Fintech had gone through massive upheaval, I was carrying a lot of unresolved stuff around from the death of a friend (actually had a panic attack related to that), and I had been putting away all my spare money to take the family on a trip to Disney World, a destination I had been wanting to reach since I was a child. Also, the Disney trip had already been booked, set to begin just a few weeks after NAMM. In December, I knew I couldn't stretch myself to make it all work. I decided to cancel my spot in NAMM, and maybe try Summer 2020 in Nashville instead.

February rolls around, and we're getting ready to set out on our big trip to see the House of Mouse. At work, we're hearing rumblings about this new disease that's popping off in China and seeing some isolated cases on the West Coast. One of the benefits of working at a giant fintech, you are privy to some of the inside info when the crap is about to hit the fan, and the level of rumble made this feel like it was going to be significant, but it still felt like more of a remote threat than an immediate danger.  With the recent unstable environment at work, I had an opportunity arise to move to a new job, so I took the chance and left the place I had been for a decade. It was so weird to be driving to Disney and getting the call with the job offer. It honestly felt like driving into a new life.

So, we get to Florida and the trip is great. My daughter had a wonderful time, and I understood the allure of the parks to children and adults alike. Side note: up through college, I desperately wanted to become an animator. When it was time to visit colleges, I wanted to go to animation schools instead, getting to meet animators from Disney, Don Bluth, and Warner Bros.. Let's just say fate had another path in mind for me. While we're at Disney, we hear more and more about the expanding pandemic. It still felt far away, but like any storm on the horizon, you knew it was about to get dicey. Last day at the park, we're on the bus back to the resort and there's a lady across the aisle coughing up a storm. I hear her mention to someone else that her husband had been quarantined at their motel. I started getting really uncomfortable, wanting to get off the bus as soon as possible. We get back home, I put in my notice at work when I returned the next week, and the crap hits the fan. They're talking about putting up a maze of plastic to stop germ flow between rows of cubicles, etc. There's rumors of potential lock-downs. Also, I come down with one of the worst "colds" I think I've had as an adult. This was early in the pandemic, so testing wasn't an option. I do remember coughing so hard I would pass out for a second. It was ROUGH. I finish out my notice and start my new job, a position that is remote by design, but it didn't matter because on my first day in the office in mid-March, the company announces lock-down and everyone goes remote. Thus began my new life.

Like most people, we adapted pretty quickly.  My daughter did remote learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 year, then decided to do remote learning for the 2020-2021 year in order to have more stability. I can't overstate how fortunate we were, many many families just didn't have that as an option. In our county of NC, the decision was made to allow parents to choose between remote or in-person learning. My daughter really lucked out in that her remote teacher was really engaged and went the extra mile to ensure that the kids were getting a great education. We really were blessed to come out of a year and a half of remote learning without being behind (in fact, I believe her class was ahead of the in-person classes for math and English).

Orders for pedals trickled in for the second half of 2020, but 2021 was pretty much dormant for numerous reasons. I wasn't marketing because my attentions were focused on the new "day" gig, there weren't opportunities to safely run booths at guitar or trade shows, and I really just wanted to re-prioritize how I was managing the pedal business. I started making pedals because I truly enjoy making these little boxes that torture your guitar's sound and seeing how artists put those boxes to work in their music, and I wanted to get back to that. That feeling when you're at a show and you get to see someone fall in love with a pedal you built with your own two hands, or you get an email or social media post where someone is using your device to create these otherworldly sounds can't be beat. Full disclosure - I don't really make much profit on my pedals. I do this for the love of the craft and the happiness it brings to people. If I lose that engagement, then the motivation is just not there to stay up all night soldering after working a 45-50 hour work week. In 2021, I really found I was having to force myself at points to get excited about sitting down at the workbench.

On the flip-side, one of my other passions, luthier work, was cranking up, and I was churning through a number of guitar projects. Fret work, set-ups, electronics, finishing, you name it. I was rediscovering that joy of craftsmanship. It's the same reason I still finish pedal enclosures by hand using the acid etching technique. The final product is something that you made, and a bit of your heart went into every step. Through this, I was also spending more time playing guitar, and remembering why I love these pedals I make. I currently have Butch, Asphalt Lunch, and Psycho Andy Deluxe on my main board, and each one inspires me when I turn on my rig. That was just the push I needed to get inspired to re-engage on the pedal front.

So that brings us to May 2022. Everything is going great. I've wrapped up my guitar projects and went back to actively working on new pedal circuits. I'm starting to think about doing guitar shows again. Then Sunday night, May 1, my daughter gets sick. She had gone to a friend's house, and they (the friend's family) are particularly careful about masking, etc. so we felt pretty safe. But we get test results from the Dr.'s office, and she's COVID positive. We had started masking 24/7 at home that Monday, but apparently it was too late because my wife tested positive on that Wednesday. Luckily for both, it was a mild disease for my daughter (worse for my wife in terms of cough and fatigue), but since I was still testing negative, we had to decide how to separate ourselves to limit the spread and duration of lock-down for our household. I literally was moved into the "doghouse". Well, maybe that's a bit dramatic, but I had to move into the downstairs den where my dog sleeps to take over the futon. Two full weeks of isolation, and my wife has finally started testing negative. I hope we can finally start regaining some level of normality, though by normal I mean "eat at the dinner table" or "sleep in my bed". A few things I've realized about this pandemic...

1) You can't judge people that catch COVID as being lax just because they catch it. We were hyper vigilant when it came to social distancing and wearing KN93 masks in public / school. Like any defense system, it's only as strong as it's weakest link, and let's face it, there are more weak links than we'd like to admit. That brings me to my next realization.

2) Our government, public health officials, and general care practitioners have utterly failed us in this pandemic. In NC, they aren't even reporting school clusters of infection anymore. The attitude at both our doctors was, "just deal with it, good luck". We're totally flying blind, both from the perspective of how to protect ourselves, but also when and where to protect ourselves. If it feels to you like the people in charge have taken the approach of sticking their heads in the sand so they can't see the problem, you're not alone.

3) This is a disease that disproportionately impacts middle and lower classes. Our family was so insanely fortunate through this experience. Working in the type of job where you can still work remotely. Having funds to buy at-home Rapid Antigen Tests. Our house isn't that large, but having a somewhat spare room that was separate enough to keep as a clean room for the part of the family that wasn't infected. These are all luxuries that many in our communities just don't have. You live in a single floor apartment with shared bathroom and kitchen space for your roommate? You live in a small home where you are the primary caregiver? Single parents? You see, the problem isn't just the disease itself, it's all the fallout and life disruption that comes from the disease. In many jobs, you can't work if you are positive, but you almost can't afford not to work, so what do you do?

This attitude of "let them eat cake" or "not my monkeys, not my circus" is destroying our nation right before our very eyes, and this pandemic has thrown it into sharp relief. My family got out of this ordeal pretty easily, but I kept thinking about the folks out there that could be ruined by having this consume their lives for a few weeks. There's a lot more people that you'd like to think that are living on the razor's edge. I would urge anyone who reads this to think about how they can help keep themselves and their friends and family as safe as possible, but more importantly, think about how we can keep the power structures in this state / country accountable. Write your representatives and state government, ask them to work to develop a comprehensive strategy for public heath measures that amount to more than "let 'er rip". I don't know the answer, but then again, that's not my job. I know guitars and pedals. It sure as hell is the job of people running public health policy, so they need to actually start doing something.   

Thank you for getting all the way through that. I hope you and yours are healthy and happy, and it is my ardent wish that we can see each other and play with guitar noise boxes in the near future.