Home » Surviving 2020 in Arizona: Musings from a former Kootenay gal

Posted: January 10, 2021

Surviving 2020 in Arizona: Musings from a former Kootenay gal

By Erika Baltrus

Op-Ed Commentary

Today I ventured out into the wilds of the sixth largest city in America to get some printer paper.

I felt almost excited to put on pants that had to actually be buttoned and zipped, instead of my usual Covid uniform of elasticized waist pants. It had been more than a week since I’d left my property bounds, except for walks around the neighbourhood. I slipped on my mask and giddily perused the aisles of Target. My leisurely wandering came to an abrupt halt when I heard shouting down the aisle. I hesitantly peeked around the corner to see a group of mask-less folks screaming at a masked Target customer who held a box of diapers.

The leader of the gang was carrying a huge “Don’t tread on me” flag, shouting at the masked man that he was a stupid sheep and why doesn’t he be a man and take off his mask? I tiptoed back behind the Valentine Day decorations in case someone started shooting. This is Arizona, after all, and people are allowed to open-carry their guns.

After some delightfully large Target employees escorted the squawking MAGA-hat-wearing folks from the store, I cautiously emerged back into the open. The rest of the customers I saw were bewilderedly shaking their heads for a moment, muttering to themselves about the ridiculous display. But then they all went back to buying diapers, bananas, and printer paper. I was definitely more shaken than they all were. That kind of thing doesn’t happen back home in Invermere.

It’s been nearly 10 years since I left the beloved mountains and valleys of the Kootenays for Phoenix, and I’ve generally enjoyed living here. The weather is excellent, my neighbourhood is mostly cozy and safe-feeling, and the conveniences make life pretty comfortable. Even when a reality TV star took the reins of the country, I was in a pretty secure little bubble. But 2020, and now 2021, have certainly reminded me that, Toto, I’m not in small town Canada anymore.

In my own little household, we’ve been lucky. My husband is thrilled that the pandemic has allowed him to work from home. My kids are young and the biggest inconvenience in their life is not getting to lick their friends as freely. But we are the few. Small businesses around us are shutting their doors at an alarming rate. Parents are scrambling as most school districts are doing remote learning. An entire tent city of homeless people has popped up downtown in the last year. The food bank I used to work for is overrun with new clients who used to be donors. The government isn’t doing much – finally agreeing on their second assistance check in 11 months for struggling Americans, together totalling a measly maximum of $1,800. My friends who work in hospitals are looking more and more exhausted. Our hospitals are at 94% capacity, with more than half the patients afflicted with Covid. The ambulances are being turned away to hopefully find empty beds at other hospitals.

This is all not mentioning the lunacy of the American political system or the especially horrific events in Washington on January 6.

It’s enough to make me want to pack up and move home to Invermere. And although the insanity I just witnessed at Target should make me even less thrilled to be living here, the calm reaction of the other 99% in the store gave me a glimmer of hope. Most Americans are decent folk, focused on the business of caring for their families and living their lives. The foolish minority I observed today will hopefully disappear back underground once they’ve exhausted themselves, emerging only when they need to do something useful like feeding their families. But until such time that this city is back to normal, whenever that may be, I’ll be taking advantage of one convenience of living in a massive metropolis and having my printer paper delivered to my doorstep.

Erika Baltrus, a journalist, is a former resident of the Kootenays

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