Road trip: Paso Robles

Welp. It wasn’t exactly easy to put it together, but it turns out if you plan and you’re lucky you can whine wine all you want amidst COVID life.

Planning is definitely key. We started putting this trip together weeks before and it wasn’t soon enough. “It’ll be easy”, we thought. “No one is going anywhere”, we thought.

We thought wrong. Someone is out there scooping up all the hotel reservations. And, of course, with lodging at limited capacity, the rooms go fast and – no surprise – at highly inflated prices. Our first thought was a few nights at the iconic Post Ranch Inn. Nope. Completely booked. That splurge will have to wait for the next plague, when we’ll plan ahead better.

Same problem with the other hotels we looked at, and with fires in wine country, Sonoma and Napa were smoked off the list. We had checked with our long-time favorite Hotel Cheval in Paso Robles but again the refrain, there was no room at the inn. We resigned ourselves to the endless staycation at home but then the phone rang and we were suddenly back on with three nights at Hotel Cheval!

So off we went! We stopped along the way for an outdoor lunch at Brasserie SLO, a new find for us in San Luis Obispo.

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Then onward through miles and miles of Central California’s fall-dry hills.

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Listed as a “best of the best” on TripAdvisor, and recipient of their 2018 #1 Small Hotel in the US award, this 16-room inn elevates sleepy Paso Robles to a must-go destination.

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The rooms are cozy

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and dog-friendly, although we left Lily home to entertain our friend Lori while we’re away:-)

The hotel is built around a gracious European-style courtyard. 

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The breakfast buffet is gone due to COVID, but there’s still a breakfast tray, to be enjoyed in the adjacent Pony Bar courtyard.

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And, of course, at night there are s’mores served around the fireplace. Pretty sweet!

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We visited two wineries, chosen more for the setting than for the wine, but that was good, too! Both were only a convenient ten-minute drive from the Cheval.

First was Caliza, where they pride themselves on their Mourvèdre-forward red blends. Lovely setting and a warm welcome there.

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The next day we visited Niner Wine Estates  which is a sprawling, pristine complex just over the hill from Caliza. I didn’t get to taste their coveted Fog Catcher but I’m bringing home some of their crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Best of all, even though they are just recently up and running again with COVID protocols in place, they serve a charming picnic lunch. Memorable experience.

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The CE doesn’t join in the wine-tasting, but he greatly enjoyed the view:

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I should mention that we did not starve in-town Paso. They truly have their act together with restaurant “parklets” abounding around the town square and a generally relaxed atmosphere. We had dinner in the well-ventilated interior courtyard at longtime favorite Thomas Hill Organics, where I ordered the empañadas:

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There was a wonderful al fresco paella lunch at new find La Cosecha:

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And a truly outstanding dinner on the expanded outdoor patio at Il Cortile. Even with ample seating they were turning people away. It must be that fabulous Pappardelle Chinghiale, or perhaps the panna cotta:

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Shopping in Paso offers a few gems:

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And, always, there is the town square, a favorite hallmark of so many of the small wine towns in CA. 

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But Paso’s square is the only one where you can pay homage to Polish composer and pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who settled in Paso Robles in 1913 and grew zinfandel grapes on his ranch. A man ahead of his time!

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Lucky us, going from no trip to road trip to sweet Paso Robles. It felt almost normal to travel and stay there, which is not the case everywhere. Balm for the soul, and plenty of wine. The perfect fall getaway!

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Pardon us, we’re molting.

It’s raining feathers.

Step out into the chicken yard these days and it looks like someone ripped open a down comforter – feather confetti everywhere, every day. It’s been going on for weeks. Not an egg has been laid since early September, since all the hens’ energy seems to be going into the humiliation of losing their precious plumage.

They are patchy and disheveled. They are addled and aimless, so distracted that they wander about without their usual sense of purpose, failing to fall in line when called back to the coop for treats. Ava seems determined to dig herself the deepest of all dust bath holes and hide in it until the situation improves. June, deprived of her tail feathers, is simply beside herself, off balance.

I understand this all better than they might imagine, having been going through a season without purpose myself. Off balance, indeed. And speaking of patchy, the salon shutdowns have left me to my own devices, hacking off the unruly locks and watching my ‘feathers” go gray and grayer.

You want to talk about aimless? I went out to do real errands the other day for the first time since March. Ticked off four things on my list and had to come home for a two-hour nap.

Edith and I appraise one another in our patchiness. “You aren’t looking so good”, is the silent message we share. The difference is that Edith’s feathers will come back. But me? Hmm…

I just finished listening to Dear Ann by Bobbie Ann Mason, an author I’d heard of but never read before. The book is epistolary, a love letter to the 60’s, to literature, to both the passage of time and being in the moment. I had just been berating myself for failing to get back on track with my deadlines and expectations and, in frustration, stomped off to go for a walk and finish the book.

With the last chapter, the entire tone of the book shifts. Ann, the main character, steps off the track of the story to spend a season of reflection. She does nothing much. She tramps around a lake and she sits on her porch in upstate New York. She talks with her father in Kentucky about different kinds of oak trees. “There’s water oak, blackjack oak, red oak and post oak”, he drawls . She befriends a white-tailed doe that brings its fawns to her porch. “She savored the workings of the day, its preciousness.”

As I walked and listened, all those deadlines and expectations fluttered away like spent feathers. I recognized what the author was saying here in a way I never would have before the Great Pause of 2020.

For one thing, I probably would never have read Bobbie Ann Mason’s book if one of my book clubs had not perished due to the shutdown, leaving me heretofore unavailable time for discretionary reading. I wonder if I might also have missed out on walking around the bend in the road and encountering, for the first time ever, a Western bluebird sitting on a tree branch above me. Would I have had the time for that walk? Would I have bothered to notice the flash of color that alerted me to the fact that this was not the usual sparrow or towhee?

I know for certain that I would not have taken the time to notice the difference between my Mexican lime and my Persian lime trees. And I absolutely would not have taken the time to grow my two sorry little Roma tomatoes – more next year for sure! Because I have time, I think of these things, lots of things, and store them up for keeping like jam jars on a cellar shelf. This can’t be all bad, can it?

Joni Mitchell comes to mind, as she often does for me. “Well something’s gained and something’s lost in living every day”

I’m going to be kind to myself on this particular purposeless day, and encourage the hens to do the same. Pardon us, we’re molting. In time, maybe we’ll all get our tail feathers back, and in the meantime, as Bobbie Ann Mason says,

“You could slow down a day; make it timeless. Each moment is only now. The only now.”

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My new best friend.

At least once a day someone – usually me – makes the slip of the tongue, which may actually be a slip of the heart. “Chloe”, we say, fully intending to summon Lily.

Ah, it is hard to let go, isn’t it? That golden girl of ours would have been fourteen last month and she ambles about in my memory even though she has been gone for more than two years. Oh how we loved her!

Lily pays no mind to being mis-called, probably because she pays no mind to being called. “Lily-come”, we have cried to her so often that it has become her de-facto nickname, usually followed by the wry comment: “Lily-not-come”. Because Lily pretty much does whatever she wants. She takes your request under advisement. She might come, or she might run off in the other direction. Or she might just lie there and stare at you for awhile giving you the distinct feeling that you are not the boss of her.

Same breed, different, different dog!

Chloe’s coat was so full that more than one earnest onlooker approached us and asked if she was a lion! Lily is smooth and sleek, all the better to race around the property hunting for the lizards and bunnies she will never catch and then leap into the fountain to cool off after her adventures. Lily is definitely not part lion – but she might be part panther!

Chloe could always be found on the back step, waiting for her humans. Lily can always be found – somewhere…eventually…

Where Chloe was a big, comfortable Cadillac, Lily is a finely-tuned Ferrari. She is a high performance model! Where Chloe would gaze at me with adoring eyes, Lily appraises me, as if hoping I will someday rise to her level.

Many is the day I’ve look at Chloe’s image on my phone screensaver and silently beg for her intervention. Two beautiful girls. Yet so very, very different!

Chloe was stately and plodding, Lily is lithe and bouncy – like Tigger!

But this past week, Lily lost her bounce.

When it started, we thought it was her “sensitive stomach”. Finely-tuned machines like Lily tend to be high maintenance. She threw up in the car. Oh no, carsick again! But then she started throwing up after meals. And leaving kibble in her bowl. The one thing Lily has in common with Chloe is that she never leaves kibble in her bowl. She became lethargic. Lily is never lethargic! She got us up in the night. And then absolutely refused to go back in her crate. Horor of horrors, accidents on the carpet. Something was very wrong.

I sat in the kitchen after a sleepless night and Lily-not-come actually came over to me, unbidden, sat down with a big sigh and buried her head between my knees. She was, I think, actually asking for my help. That night I slept on the couch downstairs in my office with her next to me so she could go outside when she needed to and, of course, the memories flooded back of Chloe’s final night when I slept on the couch downstairs to be with her.

What is it about the way we love our dogs? How do they make our flinty little hearts so full? I am pretty convinced that God, gazing wearily upon his stiff-necked people, commanded the creation of dogs in a desperate attempt to soften some of our very rough edges.

That night on the couch I decided I didn’t care if Lily ever again came when I called her or not. I just wanted her to be okay. Maybe I even felt my dear departed Chloe telling me it was time to move on and focus on this goofy girl who needs me.

We finally got the answer to Lily’s malady – somewhere, somehow she had picked up giardia, a common and pernicious parasitic infection. Who knows where or how – the vet suggested that she could have gotten it on a trip to the beach. We have a vial of magic pills – so magic that Lily’s bounce is back in her step and she’s leaping over the hedges again.

Not coming when called. And I don’t even mind.

Oh, and she’s gotten an upgrade. Her crate’s in the garage. She’s sleeping upstairs now. On the floor next to my side of the bed. Just like Chloe did.

She’s my new best friend. Forever.

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14,600 days…and counting.

I guess it’s 14,610 if you count leap years.

That’s a lot of water under the bridge. A whole lot of spilt milk. Ups, downs and sideways and where oh where did the time go?

Happy 40th to us!

How lucky I am to have married the guy who achieves the impossible on any given day.

Love you, CE xoxo

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Family Album: Pet Friendly Weekend

After our third wave of house guests, we’re calling it Hotel Lily. It works like this: they can check in any time they like, but we can never leave. No one’s complaining – especially not Lily! We love having this crew come to visit because they love to love on the critters – and they bring their own!

Say hi to Moo-Moo

These guys didn’t mind taking a break from remote learning (insert big eye-roll here) to hang out in the pool.

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With Lily, of course.

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It’s her show. You might say she makes quite a splash.

Can’t do anything without her.

And it quickly became the Lily and Moo show. These two are made for each other!

They mostly hung out at home but there was one fun trip to the beach:

Everyone came home happy – and covered with sand.

No, don’t worry, they didn’t neglect the cats – Itty and The Countess suffered no lack of attention.

It only got sad at the end. Why, oh why, did they have to leave?

Don’t worry, Lily. I think they’ll be back:-) Bring Randy next time! xoxo

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It’s Caturday: 4 authors who get it write.

Every morning at first light of dawn, The Countess makes a balletic leap onto our bed and settles herself, sphinx-like, between us. As she swished her tail under my nose this morning, it occurred to me that I have fallen back in love with cats.

A few years ago, when our cats Cody and Dodger were locked in a perpetual war that would make current political antics seem tame by comparison, we declared “No more cats. Ever!” (Wouldn’t it be nice if we could declare “No more politicians. Ever!”?)

Both Cody and Dodger have gone over the rainbow bridge where they have hopefully reunited in peace and harmony, and somehow we threw caution to the wind and catted ourselves up again with Mischa and The Countess, who are, thankfully, devoted to one another.

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As The Countess set her inscrutable gaze upon me in the early light of day, I got to thinking of the ways of cats and how they slink into our lives when we least expect it. Even in books.

I’m only halfway through Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, but I am already well acquainted with one of the book’s most memorable characters, Behemoth the cat. Anyone who thinks of cats as inherently evil will be pleased with this pistol-toting, bow-tied demon sidekick of Satan.

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Another not-so-nice kitty is Lady Jane, companion to the “short, cadaverous, and withered” rag shop owner Mr. Krook in Charles’ Dickens Bleak House. Lady Jane is far from a savory creature but Dickens himself was a devoted fan of felines and was quoted as saying “What greater gift than the love of a cat?”

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A more genteel cat companion can be found in Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow, where a one-eyed Russian Blue holds court over the lobby of the Metropol Hotel where charming protagonist Count Rostov is being held under permanent house arrest. At one point, the Count’s normally sedate life is rambunctiously upended by the cat’s decision to teach a visiting pair of dogs just who is in charge. Cats always, always win. Appropriately, Rostov names the cat Kutuzov after the similarly victorious and one-eyed Russian general who was celebrated for his exploits in the Napoleonic and Russo-Turkish wars. Towles’ Russian Blue is fictional, but the real deal looks like this:

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I’ve only read one book by Haruki Murakami, but apparently he is known for populating his books – and his life – with cats. In a 2019 New Yorker profile he tells of an early childhood memory of a day spent with his father in a failed (thankfully) attempt to abandon a cat. Perhaps that memory is what inspires Murakami to keep cats on the pages of his book. Among the few comforting scenes in Murakami’s Norwegian Wood are those that include a white cat named Seagull. Like any self-respecting cat, Seagull is unobtrusive yet ever present, and somehow softens the despair that tinges most of the interactions between Toru and the women in his life.

Love cats or hate them, you simply can’t ignore them. On the page or on your favorite chair, cats are here to stay. Happy Caturday!

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Family Album: The Great 98

Life took a small turn towards normal last week when Phyllis was granted a get-out-of-jail-free card to celebrate her 98th birthday. After nearly SEVEN months in captivity at her retirement community, she got the go-ahead for socially-distant socializing during her big birthday week.

It all kicked off with Gail’s arrival. After braving masks and airports from Missoula to Santa Barbara, and toting a few mysterious parcels that caused TSA just a bit of consternation, she unpacked her bags to reveal her home-grown, homemade pesto and peach crisp. What a first-night feast we had!

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Granny was a little uncertain about being back out in the world but she was a good sport about it and had Lily by her side for moral support.IMG_7496

She looks pretty great for 98, doesn’t she?

Think of all the changes she has seen in her life! 

Frozen food was invented when she was 2; penicillin discovered when she was 6 and scotch tape when she was 8. Phyllis was 14 when sun tan lotion and electric blankets were introduced and 16 when the first ballpoint pens hit the market. She has many memories of life during World War II, when she and Lyle were first married and then started their family after the war. Lucky for them disposable diapers were invented in 1947! The television was actually created in 1926 but did not become a consumer craze until the 1950’s – just when she needed those Saturday morning cartoons for Steve, Mark and Gail.

Transistor radios debuted in 1953, satellites in 1957 and in 1963, lava lamps and, of course, the hula hoop!

She mastered ATM’s, computers and cell phones. Nothing fazes her, so no wonder she has sailed through the age of COVID with nary a complaint.

We gathered, along with dear friends Dave and Karen, to celebrate the big day:

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Not sure what she wished for when she blew out the candles – maybe for a lot less pandemic and a lot more normal. Here’s hoping everything is truly back to normal next year when she celebrates her 99th!

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Reports of its demise?

Sorry. I can’t stop thinking about it. Because it seems everyone is talking about it.

“LAND OF THE FLEE” screamed the New York Post last week. I guess their earlier and more staid headline “New Yorkers flee in droves” wasn’t quite the clickbait they were looking for. They needed a chaser to that “NEW YORK IS DEAD FOREVER” op-ed that even brought Jerry Seinfeld out of his Hamptons hideout to object.

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We hosted a small, socially-distanced cocktail gathering last weekend and a gentleman I had just met, gazing out over our California lawn and groping for a conversation starter, led with “Have you been reading about what’s going on in New York City?”

Um. Yeah. As a matter of fact, I have.

The headlines are a little hard to take. Especially when they come from the mouths of babes, as in our youngest, who told us somberly “You don’t want to come here right now.”

Okay, that might be partially because he (and his two cats!!) are lolling about the apartment these days. But I think what he really meant is that we don’t want to see NYC the way it is just now. Down at its heels. In déshabillé.

I console myself with history. Turns out they’ve been ringing New York’s death knell since the seventeenth century.

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The city was a mess back in 1647 when Petrus Stuyvesant became director of New Netherland. Flight to the “suburbs” occurred during the recession of the 1730’s, but by 1750 New York was thriving again. Those pesky Irish immigrants were littering the streets by the end of the 18th century, camped out in hovels and “expiring from the want of sustenance”.image-placeholder-title

Still, it was the fastest-growing city in the United States, with swamps giving way to development of now-iconic sites like Washington Square and Bryant Park. Even Brooklyn began to thrive in the 1830’s when they began “installing street lights, clearing pigs from the streets and cleaning up grogshops.” Yes, there was cholera. And there were gangs. Pestilence and violence? Sound familiar?

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In 1849 the city was “drowning in garbage” (and worse).

And that, actually, is pretty much how I remembered my first visit there in 1975 when garbage strikes were more the rule than the exception.  Still, I couldn’t wait to return, which took many, many years but was worth the wait. Mayor Giuliani had managed to spruce the city up during his 1994-2001 tenure and it positively gleamed.

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For a long time.

And I know it can shine again. With apologies to Mr. Twain, the reports of the city’s demise have been greatly exaggerated now for centuries, and it has outlasted all those detractors. Can a little plague and some shocking mismanagement bring down my city? Say it ain’t so!

Counting the days weeks months til we can return…

“There is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless.”

– Simone de Beauvoir

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Family Album: Two Dog Nights

I’m Ace and I have a perfect life in the OC.

So why did we have to go anywhere?

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Something about an “endless lockdown”. What exactly could be wrong with that? I love being with my family all the time!

I don’t know what the big deal was. They said it was a “getaway”. Who needs one of those?

Well, we gotaway on our getaway and the first thing I saw was this really big dog!

She seemed like kind of a show-off at first.

But Caleigh seemed to like her.

There was a lot of food.

And reading, since I guess that’s what the old people like to do.

But there were also REALLY SCARY CATS! Yikes!!!!

I have to admit, though, everything was going just fine. Especially when Dad showed up!

But then…wait a minute! They packed up their car and didn’t pack me along with it! They squeezed me really tight and said goodbye to me! What was going on here?

Even Lily was confused. He’s staying????

And those CATS. He’s staying????

At first I thought this was going to be TERRIBLE. But then Lily was nice. She made me feel better about everything.

She plays with me now!

The old people aren’t good for much. But at least they walk…

And I’m still not sure about those cats…

But I’m going to ask my family when they return if we can take Lily home with us! She’s my bestest friend now!

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Family Album: Change of Scenery!

Lest life in the cocoon be too cozy, we headed down the road last weekend for the first time in a very long time. We’ve barely left our neighborhood in five months, and we hadn’t seen the SoCal family contingent since January. Way overdue for a meetup!

First stop: Santa Monica, where newlyweds Angie and Randy have some new digs happening. They’re currently kicking back in an ocean view aerie while they build their dream house. Poor them. They have to stare at this all day:

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When they aren’t checking up on the construction site:

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Moo is not complaining about the view.

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Stand-up guys: Randy, James and the CE

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After an amazing lunch at Wally’s (always, always order the Steak Frites!!),

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we were back on the road where, for the first time in this century there wasn’t even a slowdown where the 101 meets the 405. Who says there’s nothing good about a pandemic?

We made it to Newport Beach in a flash and stepped into a hotel lobby for what seemed like the first time in forever.

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We loved our little bungalow at Pelican Hill:IMG_6898

If you squint, it almost looks like Tuscany:

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Only one restaurant currently open and the menu is limited but we weren’t complaining and neither was Tina – Chilean Sea Bass with Forbidden Rice every single night…

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And the pool!

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And these two had at least one moment of relative peace for the first time in who knows how long:

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The CE had plenty of special grandpa time with the girls

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The girls made the most of their pool time again on Sunday, where they had it almost all to themselves.

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Another stop in Santa Monica on our Monday return trip, this one extra special for a brief sighting of Daniel.

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Last time we saw him was March 8 in NYC just before the COVID19 storm hit. Feels like we’ve gone full-circle plague by now. But hey, let’s keep our masks on, just in case…

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And if there are more waves to come, we’ll just have to cross that Rio when we come to it:

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