Sheltering in Place – Two Very Different Stories

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By Dave Eckert

This has been a very painful period – locally, nationally, and internationally. Tens of thousands have lost their lives. Millions have lost their jobs. And all of us, in one way or another, have had our lives changed. With some states preparing to reopen to “normal” activities and business as early as next week while others extend the stay at home orders, in some cases indefinitely, I sought to share two vastly different experiences of these last two months from two friends.

Wanda Mann is a wine writer and social media guru based in New York City. I met Wanda on a press trip to Tuscany five years ago. She is funny, fierce, and extremely knowledgeable about all things vinous. Mann has been dramatically impacted by Covid-19, which has hit her city hard. Mann has been sheltering in her Manhattan apartment since March 9th, only venturing out when necessary for trips to the supermarket or the pharmacy. I spoke to her about her experience. “Like many New Yorkers, I live in a small apartment with no outdoor space, so being cooped up by yourself day after day, night after night, is tough. I haven’t seen my boyfriend in nearly two months, nor my mother, or any of my friends, and I don’t know when I will. It’s that uncertainly that makes this really difficult,” Mann shared. Mann says even when the pandemic passes and the sheltering stops, lives and actions will be forever altered. “We will be second guessing ourselves on everything that used to give us pleasure. Going to the movies. Going out to dinner. Even stopping by my favorite wine bar for a glass or two. I think we will be uneasy for quite some time even as things open back up,” Mann said.

Before transitioning to a life in wine, Mann was an event planner. She says she still has a handful of clients, but this has changed how and what she does for the foreseeable future. “You can’t do large gatherings anymore, so my clients, and everyone else out there, is working on how to be digital. The content will still be good, but the human interaction will be missing, and you can’t replace that,” Mann stated. Mann has done her part to continue interacting through the virtual world. She has started an Instagram Live Broadcast called Wine with Wanda that airs on her Instagram page every Wednesday at 5:00 pm Central. I was proud to be her first guest, and plan on having her on my Instagram Live Broadcast, which follows hers at 5:30 pm Central on my Instagram page, EatsandDrinkswithDave. Amid the disruption, Mann continues to stay positive and remain a voice of reason. She even sees some good coming out of all this tragedy. “People are discovering what really matters to them. Maybe now is the time to do that thing that you’ve enjoy, that you’ve always wanted to. I really believe people will be taking different paths when this is all over,” Mann commented.

Andrew Wegst is a good friend whose path during this pandemic is nearly opposite to Mann’s. Wegst, an Emmy-award winning filmmaker for WildAid who also shot and co-edited the last five seasons of my television show, Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert, is based out of the Bay area. Wegst says he and his wife sat in their tiny apartment in Palo Alto for a few days after the shutdown was ordered, decided that wasn’t going to work, then loaded up the car and headed to Baja, Mexico where his father has a cabin on the beach. The couple has been there ever since. Wegst calls it sheltering in paradise. “The first three weeks we were here I just kept feeling we were in this weird limbo. Every other time I’ve been here it was for a set amount of time and it was a vacation. Well, this isn’t a vacation and we don’t know when we’re going home, so it’s very strange,” Wegst told me.

Wegst says he tries to stick to a schedule and keep things professional, but it’s difficult. I don’t think he’s going to get a lot of sympathy.  “A normal day is getting up early because it’s starting to get hot down here. I have work to do for WildAid, footage to edit. I have a table set up outside. I try to stay focused on my work during the week. But I’m sitting there, and I look up and see the ocean with no one on the beach. It’s tempting to just jump in and go for a swim,” Wegst shared. I told you he wasn’t going to get much sympathy!

Wegst spends much of his free time walking the beach or hiking with his wife, heading out into the desert where he has taken, and posted, some amazing photographs. He’s gotten up three times at 3:30 in the morning to capture a shot of the Milky Way over one particular cactus. Wegst says he might have done that once in a previous trip, but three times just shows how difficult it is to fill the hours.

Late last week, reality came crashing down on Wegst and his paradise. He was nearly hit by a vehicle while returning from a grocery store about 40 miles from his cabin. The driver swerved to miss his car on a sharp curve, which she did by inches. But, she overcorrected, and the vehicle flipped over. The woman was tossed from the vehicle. He didn’t see the accident, but Wegst says he saw the vehicle fishtailing in his rearview mirror and knew it would crash. He returned to the scene and found the woman sitting upright, unresponsive. Wegst says the five or six minutes that followed will likely haunt him the rest of his life. “A retired nurse showed up and then a retired Canadian E.M.T. arrived. They worked on her for a few minutes. Then her cousin showed up and started wailing. They told me to comfort her as they began CPR. Minutes later, with her cousin sobbing in my arms, they said she was gone. Watching her die before my eyes and seeing and feeling the pain her cousin was in, it was just heartbreaking,” Wegst recalled.

Wegst emerged without a scratch. Physically unharmed, but emotionally scarred. He says it will forever remind him of the fragility of life. “People complain that they can’t get their haircut or go to their favorite restaurant. Well, it could be a lot worse,” Wegst said.

Like Mann, Wegst says he doesn’t know when he’ll be out of lockdown. And, just as Mann said, there’s no way things will or can return to normal.

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