I’ve been open here in my comments and posts that I count myself as having being extremely lucky from an employment perspective throughout the pandemic.  My large Federal client is not yet open or back in the office in any way, and my company has been very COVID-forward, moving the 80% of its employees who did not have to do in-person work quickly to working from home in the first week of March 2020. My outside-of-home activities have been and remain extremely limited.  I am thrice vaxxed, with my first two Pfizers in March and April, and my booster two weeks ago.

However, I also front a working band.  We usually take a “re-tooling” hiatus from December-February every year to add new material, rehearse and adjust.  As a result, our last gig before the pandemic was in November of 2019.  For obvious reasons, we didn’t work at all in 2020.  As 2021 dawned, with vaccines on the horizon and the end (at least, we thought it was the beginning of the end in early 2021) finally in sight, we made some decisions about playing in 2021.  To get booked at all we had to make those decisions in January of this year.  Being the COVID doomsayer in the family, I set the ground rules for how and when we would play in 2021.  My first guidance was that we would not schedule any gigs prior to August of 2021.  My thinking was that this would give everyone a chance to get fully vaccinated.  Another requirement was that ALL band members had to be fully vaccinated to play in our band (my husband is the band leader).  My final requirement was that we would book festival gigs but not club gigs.  In other words, we’d accept outside gigs but nothing inside.

Seemed like a good plan.  🙂  Delta threw a bit of a wrench in all that, obviously, but we didn’t cancel anything because we were playing outside where we could mostly stay away from the patrons of the events we were playing. It wasn’t zero risk, but it was — in my eyes — very low risk given our band’s vaccination status.  After each gig, my husband and I wait 5 days (limiting our contact outside of our house) and then get COVID tested.  So far, knock on wood, we’ve tested negative.

That brings me to yesterday, our last gig of this year.  My husband and I will get tested on Wednesday or Thursday of this week upcoming, but that’s not what this is about.  I felt I needed to provide context for the conversation I want to highlight here.

I always plan to arrive at a gig one hour before sound check.  I want to get my crap together, get the payroll sorted out and the checks written, and coordinate with event staff to make sure everything is in place. Yesterday was no different. Once I got to the event and put all my voluminous crap on stage, I went to the main area of the event (It was a large festival) to say hello to the event organizer, a man who has been so generous with our band and who is possibly the sole reason we have been able to keep playing for at least the past decade.

I don’t know where he or other long-time members of his staff stand on COVID specifically or the political climate generally.  I follow the organizer/promoter on social media and he’s never posted anything that gives ANY indication of his alignment one way or another.  So in that scenario, I’m always careful about wading into treacherous waters, you know? I’m open about my vaxx status and that of the band, but usually leave it at that.

So I found myself in a conversation with one of the organizer’s lieutenants yesterday when I went to say hello.  I’m going to call him “Bob” because a) that’s not his name; and b) it’s easy to type.  Haha.  Bob and I both expressed gratitude to be having an event at all.  Bob then went on to volunteer — without prompting — that he had had COVID twice.

My mind immediately flashed with red warning signs.  Was I talking to an anti-vaxxer? How would I navigate that if so?

But he immediately went on to qualify that he had it first in the pre-vaccine era (he lives in a high transmission state) despite strictly adhering to mask mandates even though in the state in which he lives, that was the exception and not the norm.  

Whew — my mind and body relaxed a bit.

He then indicated that he had also contracted a mild breakthrough case after getting vaccinated.

Double whew — He’s vaccinated!!!

He works the kind of job that he can’t do over Zoom (unlike me).  I expressed to Bob that my husband and I had been really, really lucky that we were able to avoid situations such as those he had to endure, and I expressed that I was glad that he was vaccinated and that the infections weren’t debilitating.  Note: both of his infections — pre-vaxx and breakthrough — were Alpha due to the timing of his infections.  We talked about that as well, and he went on to expound that he was also relieved that with the exception of two family members of his large extended family, he had proselytized and convinced all of them to get vaccinated.

Yay!

The two family members that have held out are interesting cases.  One is a niece who is an RN in a state that just passed a law that all healthcare workers have to be vaxxed, and despite having worked YEARS to get her RN license and having only received that license in the last year-ish, she quit rather than get vaxxed.  Grrr. I asked him how someone who invested years of her life learning the science of her craft could be so anti-science, and while he agreed it was mystifying, he didn’t have an answer.  The other unvaxxed family member, a cousin, had COVID so badly that he was intubated for five weeks.  He survived that and is STILL — months later — in a long-term rehabilitation facility trying to re-learn how to walk, regain his strength and try to get his lungs back to where he can do the most basic things without becoming exhausted and winded.

I told Bob that his cousin was very lucky, because only 15% of those who wind up long-term on a ventilator (the cousin required a tracheotomy to accommodate the vent) come off that vent without being transported in a body bag.

So to recap thus far before moving on to even more interesting stuff that he volunteered, I suspected Bob — an older (50ish?) white male who lives in a high-transmission GOP state — might have the opposite view of COVID and the vaccines and wound up pleasantly surprised to find that he’s not only pro-vaxx, he was the single influencing point in his large extended family that convinced all but two of them to take the vaccine.

Our COVID convo inevitably mixed in with more general politics-of-the-day stuff.  It started with me indicating that my large employer had just rolled out a vaccine mandate earlier the week before.  Now — I know plenty of folks who are personally pro-vaxx who don’t agree with vaccine requirements.  So I knew I was tossing out a talking point that could lead to our first area of disagreement.  

Bob surprised me again. He’s 100% behind the vaccine requirements. Like many, he’s sick of this shit — all of this shit — and acknowledges that the only way we stop being dragged back into the shit is to get many more people vaxxed.  He further acknowledged that the only way he sees that happening is with vaccine requirements. 

Woo-hoo!

I alluded to the convo getting much more interesting, and here’s where it happened.  He volunteered that he had voted for Trump in 2016 (I tried to keep my face passive).  He quickly offered that he quickly regretted that vote a few months into 2017 (passive face more convincing at this information — haha).  He said that he believed, prior to his 2016 vote, that we needed to shake up how we governed and make a choice outside of “career politicians”.  Bob was open that he didn’t like everything Trump ran on, and cited immigration policy as his key point of divergence.  Bob said that as part of his job, he has to get a lot of temporary laborers and that particularly south-of-the-US-border worker are the hardest working people he’s ever encountered.  He went on to endorse a robust temporary worker status for these folks, and expounded upon how this benefits communities when those hard-working folks spend their dollars in those communities — he sounded positively liberal on this subject!

BUT — despite that, he voted Trump in 2016 because he assumed that any “successful billionaire businessman” (note: I didn’t correct him on that.  He had already acknowledged he regretted his Trump vote, so why rub it in?) would surround himself with excellent managers.  By May of 2017 he knew that Trump had surrounded himself with buffoons, and he was off the Trump train, never to return to it.

This is where we folded back into a COVID topic.  The only thing he gives Trump credit for is the investment in speeding vaccines to market.  And he only brought this up to me to highlight as what he saw as extreme irony: the one thing he gives Trump credit for is the one thing his cult followers rail against, the vaccines.  It was so fascinating to see his frustration with that.

The conversation ventured away from COVID again to where Bob volunteered that because of all of the talk about “fraud” and “rigged”, he decided to get involved in his own county in his home state in the nuts and bolts of elections.  He started with the 2018 midterms and volunteered again in the 2020 general election.  I never got the title of his position in that regard, but he explained it as him being the guy who receives ballots on election night and has to run them through a pre-count audit to ensure the validity of the ballots.  Only once he’s taken them through a minimum of 3-5 spot audits to validate machine results does he “approve” (not sure that’s the right word, but that’s as close as I can get) the ballots to be included in the official count.

I was gobsmacked — and thrilled that Bob took his concerns and parlayed them into front-line action.

This led him to discuss with me the fact that based on his very inside knowledge — going back to 2018 — of how the guts of ballot counting actually work, there’s no way there was fraud in the 2020 election. Furthermore, all talk about impending fraud in the runup to November 2020 election drove him to vote for Biden and to encourage his lifelong conservative family to do the same. 

Bob doesn’t consider himself a Democrat, but the decision for him was clear and easy.  He doesn’t love Biden, but he knew that he couldn’t sit 2020 out or vote 3rd party.  He felt like a message needed to be sent.

We ended the conversation by generally observing that most people don’t fall neatly into one box or another.  Bob doesn’t believe in draconian immigration policies.  Bob doesn’t believe that the wealthy should get tax breaks, but he also thinks that taxation needs an overhaul to find a finer line between common sense investments in the future of the country and over-taxation without appropriate controls. Most importantly, I think we both agreed that we likely have WAY more in common politically on issues than differences. 

There’s so much noise out there that’s attempting to bifurcate the American electorate.  We all love to hate on Facebook (for very obvious reasons), but really, even those news sources we trust and endorse fall victim to the need to monetize clicks, and nothing drives those $$ like divisive content.  My point being, maybe — just maybe — these types of conversations with those who we may believe to be an “unfriendly” or who whom we can’t guess one way or another are really, really necessary.  I know it jarred me out of my encampment, at least emotionally, to re-recognize that there are more non-cult folks out there than there are cult folks.  It further reminded me that the attention the media — ALL media — give to the cult folks is inflating their profile beyond which that profile has been earned.  They are a minority, and from within our hearts to within our media, we need to focus on ensuring they are characterized as such and not give them unearned clout.

Thanks for reading!  I left that conversation encouraged — a thing I haven’t felt in a very long time.

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