One of the most interesting times in my life was a year away from school, Vancouver, and real life in general as I knew it. I packed my bags in the late Summer of 1987 and headed down to Chile, returning in the late Spring of 1988. I wasn’t here for the Calgary Olympics… in fact, I missed them entirely because where I was had no T.V.
Where I was… was in a town called Copiapó, in northern Chile, in the middle of the Atacama desert. No T.V., one radio station, one very old movie theatre, three questionable restaurants, lots of dirt roads. It’s grown a lot, both in population and modernity, but back then, it was like living in the 1930s. There were telephones, but not many. My phone number had 4 digits.
The relatable aspect these days was the culture shock of going from what we’re used to around here, to that — literally overnight. It’s the same sort of jarring impact life around here has recently given us. As tough as it was down there, especially initially, you get used to it… and over time, it seems normal. Those three questionable restaurants… well, they seemed to have gotten better over time.
One of them was Chinese food, and it the first couple of times, it was awful. The next few, not so bad. By the end of my time down there, it was among the best I’d ever had. Same thing with another hole-in-the-wall restaurant, where the food was awful to begin with… and it ended up being my favourite. By the end of it, they’d named a dish after me… where I’d described to them how to cook giant clams… by soaking them in white wine, then coating them in garlic butter, smothering them in parmesan cheese and baking them. Squeeze a lemon over all of that at the last minute. Certainly not my recipe, but they’d never heard of it. Deeeeelish.
But as much as you get used to it, you remember your old life… and you miss it. The one thing that made it all palatable is what, in common terms, is called an “out”. “Outs”, like in poker, where after the flop, your hand is behind and you need some help — but you’re not dead yet. Perhaps the only chance you have is to pair that King in your hand with one of the last two cards. As far as you know, there are three Kings left in the deck. You have three outs. When you have a crappy but well-paying job… and sometimes you’re close to just saying to hell with it… because in the back of your mind, you have a “anytime you want to join us, just call — start tomorrow” job offer pending in the background, there’s your Out. In baseball, quite literally, as long as you still have some outs, you’re in the game. It might be the bottom of the 9th with two outs and nobody on base and you’re down 10-0… but you still have an out. Many teams have come back to win games from exactly this situation. As long as you have an out.
Down there, my Out was that I could, with little more than a couple of week’s notice, find myself on a plane back to Vancouver. Knowing that Out existed made things tolerable, no matter what. It was there if I needed it, and the peace of mind that came with that… made all the difference.
As distant as they are, we have Outs here. Many of them. They’re not on the near horizon, but life will eventually get back to normal.
For the moment, we’re stuck in this new-normal, and that’s what it is — for now. I’m actually sick and tired of the dystopian “new normal is here forever”, “your life will never be the same” bullshit-scare-tactic click-here-to-read-more stories. They’re awful, pandering to our worst fears. Trust me, things will eventually get back to normal. There will be restaurants and operas and music festivals and beaches and hockey games and race tracks and graduations… with full crowds. It’ll be more than 10 days from now and less than 10 years from now. We can refine that range as time goes on… call it within a one-to-three year window before things are back to totally normal, with hopefully some remnant changes that make sense now and make sense in the future.
And when things are back to normal, we will look back at this time and think… yeah, that sucked. As used to it as we got, as new-normal as it was, it was nothing like the real thing. Indeed, that’s what went through my mind when I came back from Chile and went to one of our local Chinese restaurants. Truly, there was no comparison. But that in no way diminished the fact that what I got used to, at the time… it had its moment, and it served its purpose.
In baseball, when you hit into that final out, you’re Out. In poker, when your opponent flips over his cards to reveal a hand so strong that nothing can help you, it’s called drawing dead.
Nobody around here — not you, not me, not society — is drawing dead. We have Outs. Let’s continue to play our cards right, like continuing to do what we’re doing — and we’ll win this thing.