Stranger in a Familiar Land

Dear Reader,

I am geographically repressed. Since the start of the pandemic lockdowns in Massachusetts until yesterday (aka about 115 days), I had literally only visited one establishment. In this time period, I have paced near endlessly up and down the hallways of my apartment building and have strolled outside in the open air. While this is not my preferred way to live, when it comes to the virus, I have been overly cautious (more here). Today, however, I found opportunity to leave my home bubble for a work errand, which meant that I would temporarily reenter the land of humans and commerce.

My destination was Harvard Square in Cambridge and even though this is familiar territory for me, the prospect of “travel” excited me. Literally, for days leading up to the trip, I was giddy when thinking about using the T (Boston’s subway) and visiting a real café. Even last night I woke up at intervals worrying that I would accidentally sleep through my alarm and forfeit my opportunity. Yet, like clockwork, I sprang up at 6am on the dot sans phone chime and was red-eyed and bushy tailed.

My trip to Harvard Square felt like absconding into the daybreak. It really had been so long since I left my neighborhood. Even though it was raining, I very much enjoyed travelling down a familiar, yet distant path. Because I arrived at Harvard Square a little before my appointment, I decided to make a Starbucks detour. Have you ever traveled to another country and tried to navigate transactions at foreign shops? Well, that mix of familiarity with mundane tasks and confusion at foreign customs was how I would describe my first Starbucks visit since the pandemic.

In Starbucks, the floors are lined with “one way” tape guiding (nay, mandating) that customers follow the strict snaking pattern from the front door to the counter. When I approached the counter, I was greeted by a large glass window separating the customers from the baristas. Hesitantly, I ordered a tall Americano — I should mention that this, incidentally, is the first Starbucks coffee that I have ever ordered for myself as I only started drinking coffee during the pandemic (more here). I received my cup and paid. In this no-contact world, paying with cash now means dropping your bills onto a tray for the cashier to collect. While this is a pandemic-era change in the U.S., I must admit that I am very familiar with this process as this is how the Russians collect cash and dispense change (for superstitious, rather than germaphobic, reasons; I should also mention that I am not Russian, I just studied abroad in the country). Awkwardly, I took my cup of coffee and a small cup of milk—the milk/ sugar/ napkin stand is no longer a fixture at the café—and tried to open my large umbrella without spilling everything.

Hands full, I visited my old office. The building was eerie. All of the lights were out and there were signs everywhere detailing protocol about what one should and should not do. I creeped up the stairs to my old office and was comforted to see everything just as it was. Even an apple that had been sitting in a closet for now over 100 days in a bag was uncannily unchanged. Seriously, though, the apple was firm enough, yellow enough, and smelled sweetly enough for me to have believed that it was merely two weeks old rather than 3.5 months. From my desk I retrieved valuables that I missed, but also a couple of items that I completely forgot I owned like a few books and my Rubik’s cube.

When I was done clearing my desk, I took a step back and beheld everything, and closed the door for what may very well be the last time in a long time— if ever. Although work is work and I was elated when we were mandated to work-from-home, locking the office door one last time tugged a bit at my heart strings.

On my way back home, I was amazed at how good it felt to really go somewhere. The commute to the office used to be my groove, but today, it was a mini adventure and for that, I am grateful.



P.S. I’m now on the socials! Follow me ❤ ❤

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