Deirdre Wait doesn’t consider herself a competitive person. “I want us all to win,” she says, chirpily. But she knows she may well be a Michael Phelps or a Lindsey Vonn, or at least a Joey Chestnut when it’s said and done.
She brushes it off. The rural Salida resident is remarkably modest about her resolve and triumph as she approaches Day 200 of Self-Imposed Staying At Home. While every other non-institutionalized person we know of has by now braved the grocery store, a fast-food drive-thru or the outdoor, socially distanced library book pickup, Wait has hunkered down.
The Massachusetts native hasn’t left her 35-acre ranch for even a half-second since Feb. 26. But surely within that definition, she has gone for a drive in the country, yes? No. That would mean leaving the ranch. Stepping out past the mailbox, maybe, just to see what leaving the ranch feels like? No.
As Day 200 approaches on Sept. 12, she’s looking at what is probably the finish line a few days later when she has a dentist appointment in Salida. After that, she says, she’ll probably get to town a little more, while staying vigilant about spacing and mask-wearing. Among others, she’s missed Salida’s Café Dawn, Yolo, Free the Monkey, and her favorite, the Beekeeper’s Honey Boutique, which she plans as the first stop.
The leaves will be turning soon. Wait says she isn’t a big fan of the summer heat, but fall is something else. She says she needs to get out and hike and enjoy her favorite time of year.
It all started when she got a Feb. 23 happy birthday call from her brother who was in China. He had been ordered to go home early from his business trip and would be traveling the next day. FYI, he forewarned: Things are getting really, really weird here. He was used to seeing people wearing masks there, but suddenly absolutely everybody was wearing them. He urged her to be sufficiently nervous and to brace for things to get exponentially weird, soon, in the United States.
Two days later, she and her husband Chris went into Salida for her birthday lunch “and I said maybe we should stock up a bit, just in case.” Chris went to Natural Grocers, she went to Safeway, and they got the necessary provisions — beating the crowds that would soon buy enough toilet paper to reach Alpha Centauri and back.
And here’s the thing. Wait is used to not going much of anywhere in the winter and early spring because A) she hates driving in the snow and B) Chris is a good cook and therefore does most of the shopping anyway.
Plus, she and Chris have worked from home for almost 20 years as graphic designers in the book publishing industry. So the idea of staying home wasn’t completely out of line for her once the powers-that-be told everyone to stay at home because things had gotten – you guessed it – weird.
So began the experiment. “I’m not really calling it anything,” Wait says, even though 200 days of anything should, ostensibly, have a name.
By the time Colorado issued its stay-at-home-orders March 24, Wait had already been seriously staying at home for nearly a month. “Anthony Fauci said if you don’t have to go out, don’t,” she says. “I thought, why don’t I be one of those people who doesn’t go out?
“Initially I thought I’d just do it three months, make it kind of a funny thing. I’ve always wondered what it’s like to be a hermit,” she says. But June rolled around and she decided to keep going. “It’s just turned into this experiment of: how long can I go before I get itchy?”
And now Day 200 approaches. Wait says she isn’t particularly itchy. Still, what does this do to a person?
“I’m more freaked out by the fact that I’m not freaked out,” she says. “The one thing that has been strange is the way time moves now.” She says the book industry (the publisher they work for is called Encircle Publications) has always put her head in the future, but the pandemic and staying at home has put her more squarely in the present. She says that’s a gift.
Echoing the oft-reported phenomenon about the pandemic, she says she has to think for a moment to remember what day it is, even though she has a slate of Zoom meetings and deadlines.
In non-pandemic times, Wait is typically busy around the ranch, tending to what she calls a “geriatric petting zoo” of horses, goats and burros. But the 200-day experiment has also gotten her to hone her Spanish and play her guitar more. For five years she was a musician in the valley, singing with Tenderfoot Trio and High Five — one of the Lariat’s first “house” bands.
Wait hears people complaining about what they haven’t been able to do because of the pandemic. About friends who can’t or don’t go shopping like they once did, for example.
“It makes me a little sad that people don’t realize these things aren’t really necessary,” she says. “For me, this has absolutely put a fine point on what is important. How you spend your time, who you spend your time on and what you spend your time doing.”
And while Wait says the 200 days have been perhaps abnormally easy for her, there are a few survival techniques that have emerged.
- Pizza. She and Chris were gluten-free before the pandemic, but this has changed in the form of an occasional glutenous pie from Moonlight and Elkhorn pizzerias. Similarly, they have been indulging in fresh breads from Sweetie’s and Red Hen.
- Nobody else cares if they eat ice cream for dinner.
- Now that everyone is doing Zoom calls, it’s mostly fun to connect with people you haven’t seen since high school. It’s also a good way to do book launches and quasi-happy hours for clients and authors.
- Music is important. Opera, Sade and industrial metal have helped.
- Viewing: “The Mandalorian” (five times), “The Great” (about Catherine the Great), and “What We Do in the Shadows” (Staten Island vampires failing at world domination).
- Reading: The Ten Thousand Doors of January” by Alix E. Harrow, “The Book of Longings” by Sue Monk Kidd, “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett.
Wait admits the 200 days were possible because of their property, which is sandwiched halfway between Buena Vista and Salida and hence named Vista Salida Ranch. The place affords 280-degree views of the valley and it takes roughly two hours to walk the perimeter, providing a way to move around and probably not lose one’s mind. Anywhere else, she says, and the experiment would have failed.
One last observation? “When the zombie apocalypse does break out,” she says, laughing, “I’ve learned I don’t have to outrun the zombies, I just have to outrun everyone else. But now I know I can do it.”