Turn and Face the Change 

It's Saturday afternoon and my wife is making a pie crust, not a particularly regular occurrence, since she's a busy professional lawyer-type person and I'm a work-at-home schlub who ends up doing most of the cooking these days. I am smart enough, however, not to offer advice on pie-crust-making.

As we chat, Tatine pulls a box of parchment paper out of the drawer where all the stuff in long, rectangular boxes goes: foil, plastic wrap, wax paper. You know. We all have one of those drawers.

"We're almost out of parchment paper," she says. "And it looks like we're also really low on plastic freezer bags."

click to enlarge BRUCE VANWYNGARDEN
  • Bruce VanWyngarden


I pull out my phone and tap it a few times.

"It'll get here Monday," I say.

The transaction happens almost without thinking. A year ago, I would have added "freezer bags" and "parchment paper" to the standing grocery list on my phone. Five years ago, I would have added the items to a grocery list stuck on the fridge with a magnet. No more. After 11 months of COVID-19, I just order that crap instantly. I've got priorities, after all. I'm not gonna shower and put on hard pants and real shoes and mask up and get in my car and risk my life for a roll of parchment paper. No sir, buddy.

On Monday, a package will appear on my porch, and it's likely I'll have no idea what it is until I open it and discover — whee! — parchment paper and freezer bags! Or it might be fire starters for the fireplace or three new black T-shirts or a cool new meat thermometer that I convinced myself I needed late one night. Who knows? Santa comes all year now!

Sometimes change happens and it takes us awhile to realize it. Now, while we all jockey for position and wait and hope for a vaccine dose, it might be a good exercise to consider just how much the pandemic has changed us, and how much of that change might linger after COVID is just a bad memory that arises when you find a mask in a coat pocket a year from now.

I look forward to wandering through a bookstore, lingering in a coffee shop, sitting in a restaurant over a good meal, going to a concert, strolling through a museum, flying on an airplane, drinking a cold local brew at a bar where everybody knows my name. I might even miss going to the office. Sort of. Those things will come back into my life and I will welcome them.

But I think many of us, including me, will continue to order the mundane stuff we used to drive around and pick up. Not fun shopping, mind you, but yeah, parchment paper, plastic bags, vitamins — that stuff? Just drop it off on the porch, please. Thanks.

Have COVID and Amazon and Uber Eats and other delivery services transformed our urban way of shopping in a manner similar to how Walmart transformed rural America's way of shopping? I don't know. I read an essay this week called "Rural Doom," by Evan Charles Wolf. I recommend it to you. It is the best analysis I've seen yet on the country's now-massive rural/urban divide. Wolf acknowledges how Walmart (and globalization) deconstructed the economies of rural and small-town America, but takes it a step further, into the political ramifications.

As the factories left and small businesses died and the towns shrunk, our cities and suburbs absorbed more people — and gained more votes and more power. Joe Biden took the presidency handily in 2020 — in the popular vote and Electoral College — and yet won majorities in only 16 percent of the nation's counties! Population density was the single most important factor in determining who won the election. The lesson: Win the cities and suburbs and you win the presidency. Walmart didn't just transform a way of life; it transformed our electoral politics.

Will COVID leave a similar mark? Time will tell.

• Readers of the print edition of the Flyer will no doubt have noticed that the paper is a different shape — slightly wider and a bit shorter. That's because the printer we've used for many years was recently shut down. We've found a new printer, but it was necessary to conform to a new shape. Same Flyer, same content, just a new package. We think it's pretty snazzy.

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    • Ditto.

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