Columns

Taking the unexpected gifts of COVID-19 into post-pandemic life

On Jan. 17, 2019, Derek and I whooped, hollered, and danced at Northern Quest Resort & Casino as REO Speedwagon made us feel like teenagers again – albeit teenagers whose ears rang for hours after the high-decibel show.

We had no idea a global pandemic meant it would be three years before we’d return to the casino for an indoor concert.

On April 24, we eased our way back into the live music scene to see Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy. Clad in his trademark polka-dot shirt, he promptly tore into a number and busted a string on his guitar.

The enthusiastic crowd roared.

Guy, 85, delivered a lesson on the blues, tracing the history of the music and downplaying his part in its evolution.

Then he grinned

“I’m gonna play you a song so funky, you can smell it,” he said.

And he did.

Last week, we upped our funk level when we saw “Hamilton” at the First Interstate Center for the Arts. The promise of seeing this award-winning show is what prompted our purchase of Best of Broadway season tickets, oh so long ago.

While we’ve enjoyed the season, this is the show we’d most anticipated. Some things are worth waiting for and “Hamilton” is one of them. Who could have imagined a Broadway show about the architect of the American financial system would be such a phenomenon?

The stellar cast captivated the crowd with the musical’s mix of hip-hop, R&B and big Broadway sound and we were thrilled to see downtown Spokane bustling again.

I’m happy our calendar is again filled with all the activities we missed during the pandemic, but despite the fear, isolation and loss COVID-19 ushered in, the shutdowns also offered some unexpected gifts.

Recently, my friend Jill reminded me of our pandemic walks along the Centennial Trail. For years, we’ve stayed connected via lunches, coffee dates and countless happy hours. Suddenly, none of those things was possible.

So we took our conversation outdoors. Every week, we met at a trailhead and walked and talked – relishing in movement, in the beauty around us, in seeing another human face-to-face.

Spokane River seen from The Centennial Trail

Those outings were a bright spot in a dark, scary time.

It’s great to share a meal again, but I think we’ll lace up our walking shoes and hit the trail before our next happy hour.

Speaking of meals, weekly family dinners, including our two sons who don’t live at home, became sacrosanct during the shutdowns. Cooking is how I show love, so feeding these young men fed my heart.

Our little “bubble” of five savored the connection of familiar faces around the table, and we even brought back family game night. It gave us all something reliable to look forward to during an uncertain time.

Now that our activities have expanded, we’re considering making family dinner a monthly event instead of weekly. But I miss my grown-up boys, so you can be sure this mom will still regularly gather them around my table.

I got the hospitality gene from my mother. Not being allowed to see her for six months, even though she lives less than a mile away, was one of the worst things I experienced during COIVID-19.

When I finally received notice from her care facility that outdoor, masked visits were allowed as long as there was no physical contact, I immediately scheduled a visit.

We met under the portico.

“Oh, I can’t tell you how beautiful you look to me,” she said.

I laughed through my tears.

“Yeah, these masks make us all look good.”

Thankfully, now I can visit her room as often as I want, and though masks are still required, hugging is allowed.

While I’m delighted by the return of live entertainment and dining out, and all it means to our local economy, I hope I never lose the pandemic-sparked appreciation for things I used to take for granted.

The healing balm of a walk outdoors with a friend.

The boisterous conversation of a shared family meal.

The joy of a warm hug from my mom.

Perhaps I needed a pointed reminder that the things I value most don’t cost a dime.

Columns

Fans Keep on Lovin’ REO Speedwagon

He stood like a lonely Statue of Liberty, holding his lighter aloft, its flame flickering in the darkness. An actual cigarette lighter, not a pale imitation cellphone flashlight.

You should have seen by the look in my eyes, baby

There was something missin’

He swayed. Silent. Stoic.

You should have known by the tone in my voice, maybe

But you didn’t listen

The Thursday night crowd at Northern Quest Resort and Casino had already come unglued as REO Speedwagon unleashed “In Your Letter “ and “Keep Pushin’,” but something tells me the fan with the lighter had been waiting for “Keep on Loving You.”

Like any iconic rock band, REO Speedwagon knew fans had come to hear their hits and to bask in the memories that their music brings. And Lighter Guy, lost in his own world, was as my kids say, feeling “all the feels.”

And I’m gonna keep on lovin’ you

’Cause it’s the only thing I want to do

I don’t want to sleep, I just want to keep on lovin’ you

By the time the chorus rolled around, most of the sold-out crowd, including Derek and I, stood with Lighter Guy, belting out the lyrics.

When my husband saw REO Speedwagon was coming to Northern Quest, he quickly scooped up tickets. After all, the band was at its zenith when Derek graduated from high school in 1981. There’s nothing like a blast of music from the past to make you feel young again.

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With evangelistic zeal, lead singer Kevin Cronin whipped the middle-aged crowd into a frenzy – especially the super fan across the aisle from us. She whooped. She hollered. She pogo-jumped up and down and her air guitar skills were impressive.

“Rock ’n’ roll will keep you young forever!” Cronin hollered.

“Or else it kills you,” Derek said, shouting in my ear.

That was the last thing I actually heard him say for quite a while. It was the first time I’d wished for earplugs at a concert since Def Leppard played the Spokane Arena in 2017. Everything sounded like I was underwater no matter how many times I tried to pop my ears.

About four songs into the evening, things began to sound clearer.

“I think my ears are adjusting,” I said.

“What?” Derek replied. “I can’t hear you. They are really loud!”

Despite the decibel level, the band sounded great, but it was the crowd that truly made the show. In addition to Lighter Guy and Air Guitar Lady, Baseball Cap Gal, in front of us, was a hoot to watch.

With her curly hair pulled through the back of her ball cap, she looked to be having the time of her life. She rocked. She bounced. She shook her gray-streaked ponytail like the teenager she used to be. And she knew the lyrics to every single song, even “Tough Guys.”

We didn’t mind her exuberance a bit, as she was a tad on the short side.

“Oh, hey, I didn’t realize she was standing up,” said Derek.

However, one fan’s enthusiasm kept getting the better of her. She doggedly danced down the aisle to the front of the stage, only to be repeatedly danced back by a long-suffering, very patient member of the security team.

At one point she found Air Guitar Lady and they linked arms, attempting to lead her to worship at the altar of their rock gods.

A woman behind us leaned forward.

“That’s not going to end well,” she said.

Sure enough, moments later, Air Guitar Lady was back in her row, while Mosh Pit Hopeful was escorted to the nether regions.

You have to admire a band that inspires that kind of devotion decades after their last chart-topping hit.

REO Speedwagon still delivers a fantastic, high-energy show. “Ride the Storm Out” shook the room, and the crowd eagerly offered vocal assistance on “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Take it on the Run.”

Keep in mind these guys aren’t exactly teenagers. Kevin Cronin is 67, bassist Bruce Hall is 65, and founding member, keyboardist Neal Doughty is 72, yet they blazed through their entire set list, plus encores, without a break.

Who knows? Maybe rock ’n’ roll really does keep you young forever.

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