Chris Bateman and Amtrak

Tuesday, May 5


Now I’m in my 50th day of quarantine, distancing, isolation, incarceration, coop-up, captivity or whatever word might suit.  

I’m ready for parole. 

Look at it this way: The only guest I’ve had in the house over nearly two months of exile has been a dryer repairman. Perfectly nice guy, but didn’t offer him a drink and didn’t dare shake his hand. 

My question now: Is it OK to start planning for freedom? 

It has reached the point where I need to. For my sanity. So what follows is my Corona answer to a bucket list. 

But unlike those geezer catalogues of receding dreams (climbing Everest, running a marathon, traveling around the world, driving a Ferrari, starting a novel, finishing a novel), most of the stuff on my Liberation List is doable and cheap. 

Although almost all of it is against the law right now. 

My list, as of today (could change tomorrow): 

Go out to eat:  At Mandy’s, the Diamondback, the Peppery, the City Hotel on Lasagna Night, Standard Pour, the Pickle Patch Deli in San Andreas, Alchemy in Murphys, Crusco’s in Angels Camp and a whole lot more. My restaurant budget has been untouched for weeks, and I’m ready to make up for lost time. Plus, I’m really tired, believe it or not, of Zelda’s pizza and chiliquiles. 

Catch a movie: The funky Angels Camp Theater is my favorite, and I really won’t care what’s playing. Just give me a large popcorn (plenty of butter and salt, please), a Coke, a seat up front, then I’m good to go. I might even stay for a second show.  

Take a train trip: I’m a major Amtrak fan, and for years I’ve always had a rail trip on the horizon. But I have no such plans now. As soon as I can, however, I want to ride coast-to-coast, put in about 8,000 miles on the tracks and finish the journey aboard the Chicago-to-Sacramento California Zephyr. And while riding, I want to eat in the dining car, talk with strangers, and not be scared by any of it – except, maybe by Amtrak’s food. 

Visit my kids: Theylive in Los Angeles, New York and Chico – all Amtrak stops. Even though we talk and email often, and we shared a wonderful video call on my birthday, I miss Ben, Hallie and Nick terribly. So, guys, look for me at Union Station, Penn Station and – sorry, Nick – at 2 a.m. or so, in Chico. 

Return to Wrigley Field: So what if the Cubs don’t win, the old park at Addison and Sheffield on Chicago’s North Side is still the most wonderful place on earth. Meanwhile, my team is still undefeated this year. 

Go bowling: I’m not much of a bowler, but I’d like to give it a try again – mostly because I can’t right now. So maybe when Black Oak’s lanes reopen, this one will drop off my list. 

Shake hands, give hugs:  These formerly friendly gestures are now reckless and contagious, if not death-defying.  The only benefit of abstinence? I’ve always been uncertain about “guy hugs,” hesitant to open my arms to some dude who’s not so inclined. Or reach out to shake the hand of another who obviously is. Now nobody’s so inclined, so the pressure’s off.  But I still miss hugging women. 

Give someone a ride: Yes, in my convertible. Driving around with the top down is fun, particularly during this glorious part of the year. But it’s always better, much better, with some company. (Unless, of course, they’re contagious). 

Or drive solo, to pretty much anywhere. Yeah, I’m going stir crazy up here. Way back when, I used to treasure days when I never left Yankee Hill. But now that’s most every day, so I look for excuses to drive somewhere, anywhere – even if it’s only down to the mailboxes to pick up bills and catalogs.  Once restrictions are lifted – and if gas remains cheap enough to slake my droptop’s considerable thirst at a reasonable price – I’ll be off to the races. Within the speed limit, of course, CHP friends. 

Fly to Europe: I canceled a March trip to Greece within 10 days of departure. But it looks like it will be a lot easier to get a flight credit out of Lufthansa than a refund. Which means I may have to go to the Continent. But will it be Greece, Norway, Spain, Belgium, England, Italy or any of the carrier’s other European destinations? I’ve got plenty of time to figure that one out. 

Listen to baseball: On the radio. The way it should be listened to. Baseball broadcasts are the sound of summer, and they’re all gone. I miss Jon Miller and Dave Fleming (Giants), Ken Korach and Vince Cotroneo (A’s), and Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer  (Cubs).  In past summers, their voices have made hikes and rides more enjoyable, and house and yard work far less drudgerous. Often I don’t know the score as I listen to these golden-voiced guys, but I don’t care. The broadcasts are relaxing, soothing and include just enough action to hold my interest. They put me deep in the comfort zone.  

Browse the shelves: The shelves at Sonora’s Mountain Bookshop, that is.I miss looking for hidden literary gems that I can buy, bring home and curl up with. That said, past purchases at this wonderful, long-lived, throwback book store have helped get me through our ongoing ordeal. 

I’ll even confess to Susan that, in a moment of Covid weakness, I bought a Kindle. But I’ll promise not to use it much. 

Throw a party: I’ll invite neighbors, friends, cousins and maybe even that dryer guy. I’ll cook up all the Zelda’s and chiliquiles I have left, whip up some homemade ice cream,  and even buy some beer and wine for my partaking friends. I miss being social, so I’ll make a night of it.  And I’ll be so full of adrenaline that I just might make it past 9 p.m.

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