StreetTalk- The New Normal


By Greg B. Macabenta

Times have changed.

We used to long for the pre-9/11 days, when we could make a plane trip at a moment’s notice, buy our ticket a few minutes before the flight, make a mad dash to the gate and be the last to board the plane.

Then came the Al Qaeda attack on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC.

That was bad enough, having to be at the airport several hours before the flight and having to line up at security and being frisked for explosives, especially if you wore a turban. But then came the fellow with a bomb in his shoes, thus making it mandatory for passengers to take off their brogans which had to be pushed through the x-ray, along with laptop, ipad and jacket.

That was the only time my wife and I actually relished revealing our age, because if you are 75 or older, you can keep your shoes on.

However, every time my wife shows her ID or passport, eyebrows rise and eyes pop: “9-11???” Gigi was born on the same date  as the infamous Al Qaeda terrorist attacks on the US. I refer to September 11 as the day of three curses and a blessing. Aside from Osama bin Laden’s murderous deed, 9/11 is also the birthday of President Ferdinand Marcos and the former military officer under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was known as The Butcher, Gen. Jovito Palparan.

9/11 has had a personal impact on our lives in both significant and amusing ways. For instance, we can’t say “Hi” to our son-in-law at airports and other public places because his name is Jack.

I used to fly from San Francisco to New York at a moment’s notice. In fact, on one sudden trip to the East Coast, I bought my ticket 15 minutes before the flight. I had to dash to the gate and was the last one to board the plane.

Well, those days are gone. In the first place, I can no longer sprint to the gate at my age, even if the security people allowed it. Most of all, a plane trip these days requires forward planning to allow time to clear security, and to give my aging body more time to shuffle to the gate.

But now, there’s something more depressing than longing for pre-9/11 days – it is longing for pre-COVID-19 days.

It’s hard to believe that even in America, the Land of the Free, it has been over half a year that we have been unable to do the things we used to take for granted – like having dinner in a restaurant or going to church on Sundays or visiting with friends and family.

I understand that the prohibitions are even more stringent in the Philippines. The new rules on Community Quarantine – ECQ, GCQ and CQ – are even stricter than during martial law years, which Pinoys under 40 years old have only heard about but did not experience. Back then, we only had to worry about going home during curfew hours. These days, you literally need a pass to move around – almost like the days of the Japanese occupation.

My wife and I used to fly to Manila up to four times a year, go on an annual cruise and also go on tour whenever funds allowed.  Not anymore. Our US passports may no longer be welcome in Europe,  a cruise ship could be a virtual coronavirus prison and going to the Philippines may have to be via Cebu for quarantine, before being released to go to Manila for a lockdown or confinement to the house.

That is the new normal.

The only ones who seem to be enjoying the new normal are our grandchildren because they don’t have to leave home to go to school. They learn their readin’ writin’ n’ ‘rithmetic online at home. However, our 5-year old granddaughter, who is supposed to be in kindergarten, is required to wear her school uniform even while at home (the joke is that, if she does not comply, she will be sent to school). Our other 5-year old grandchild, used to love wearing his Marvel super heroes masks to nursery school. Now, I don’t think he relishes wearing the coronavirus face mask when leaving the house.

Interestingly, some of the new normal that today’s coronavirus generation has to get used to were normal for those of us who are older.

For instance, in most US cities, people can’t dine inside a restaurant these days. Well, back when we were newcomers in America, and every dollar we spent was automatically multiplied by the current exchange rate – times 30 at the time – we didn’t think we could afford to have our meals in a regular restaurant. We often had a cheaper sandwich lunch bought from a sidewalk vendor and would consume that on a park bench. Even in New York, it was normal for fashionably dressed women and coat-and-tie wearing men to eat their lunch on the steps of a public building -the New York public library was a favorite dining spot in Manhattan.

For the bagong salta or fresh-off-the-plane like us, that was the “new normal.” Eventually, my family and I got used to eating with little or no rice, and dining the American way became normal.

These COVID-19 days, we still haven’t gotten used to not dining in restaurants. We have to  adapt ourselves once more to eating in the car.  I find that amusing because when I was much younger and working in the movies, having meals on the hood of a utility truck or a bench or squatting on a roadside was de rigueur during location shootings. And as a voice  talent hanging around radio stations in the hope of landing a role in a soap opera, having a hopia and cosmos lunch while walking around Avenida Rizal and Escolta, where the stations were located, was the normal thing to do.

I guess the new normal is something we will eventually get used to – until, God forbid, another catastrophe befalls the human race, that is worse than the current one.

For a fleeting moment, I saw how that looked when my sister and I visited our hometown of Tacloban after the super typhoon Yolanda (Hayan) had devastated it. It was a sight too horrible to see – but our fellow Taclobanons appeared to have adapted to it as a “new normal.”

Indeed, we Filipinos are such a long-suffering and adaptable people that we can always adjust to whatever new normal Fate may bring.

There is, however, one thing that I still cannot get used to (but I suppose I will be forced to adapt to it when the time comes). A kumpadre of mine recently died in the Philippines, Friends and family members in the Philippines and in the US were constrained to view his remains online, via zoom.

On TV, I have grieved along with people who, having lost their loved ones to COVID-19, could not even approach the deceased to say goodbye.

As far as I am concerned, that will always be abnormal.