It’s tempting to view 2020 as a lost year — unbearably sad, politically divisive and rife with disasters.

But last Sunday I turned 65, a natural time to reflect on one’s life and consider what the future may hold. And I’m not ready to throw in the towel on an entire year, even if COVID-19 has halted so much of what Americans enjoy about life.

The death toll of 200,000 is staggering, and knowing it will continue to climb is truly unnerving. That Wyoming is isolated and has the second-lowest loss of life in the nation — 49 people at this writing — is of no solace.

The fact we’ve had no national or state day of mourning is astounding to me. So is the lack of a coherent national policy for fighting the pandemic. The hodge-podge of individual state responses — each assembled on the fly — is only prolonging our collective pain and grief. The inconsistent, often self-contradictory messaging tweeted from the White House has neutered the science, eroded the trust and shattered the national unity we need to mount a viable defense. 

How on earth is wearing a mask to protect others’ lives a red or blue issue?

I like to think that if my 21-year-old self had faced such a health crisis, I would have unquestionably taken such precautions. Then again, I remember celebrating my 21st birthday watching ZZ Top at the UW Fieldhouse in Laramie, standing a few yards in front of the speakers like an idiot for the entire show. 

I walked out of the arena stunned to see people’s mouths move without being able to hear a word they were saying. They weren’t kidding when they billed themselves as the loudest band in the world. Luckily, my hearing returned in about 12 hours.

So when I see footage of college kids partying, I get it: Young people feel they’re indestructible, regardless of era. Still, during a health crisis that has closed many campuses in favor of distance learning, I wish students would understand their behavior is putting everyone at risk.

Including me. I check most of the high-risk factors for coronavirus. I’m old, have had a stroke and heart surgery and I’m diabetic. Throw in chronic depression and it’s quite a mix. I have no one to blame but myself for two other factors: I’m overweight and don’t exercise much.

In addition to wondering how many years I have left to accomplish what I want to do, my thoughts frequently turn to what I miss most about pre-pandemic life.

I love being on the open road wherever my work takes me in Wyoming. Usually it’s to legislative committee meetings. That may sound boring to most people — and they often are — but watching people we’ve elected wade through the process of crafting laws and public policies can also be fascinating.

Except when it’s done, like it is now, over Zoom from people’s homes and offices instead of in person. Then it becomes mind-numbingly dull. A few legislators I’ve talked to think so, too.

Like most people, what I yearn for most is a return to “normalcy,” however it’s defined. For me, that means going to a restaurant, movie theater or concert without being afraid of catching COVID-19. Those things are off the list of activities for my wife and I, as is visiting our son in Colorado.

He is extremely worried about us getting ill, and I understand his fear. Scenes on the news of patients on ventilators who die without being able to say goodbye to loved ones are the saddest scenarios I can imagine. 

I visit my 86-year-old father every day, and while he is in reasonably good health, I can’t keep him from making his regular cookies-and-Pepsi runs to Walmart. He hates wearing masks, but reluctantly complies.

It’s not because he thinks he’s indestructible; he knows all too well how aches and pains intensify as we age. He is a Vietnam veteran, but thinks the pandemic is the worst thing he’s ever seen. That says a lot about 2020.

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The last six months have largely been defined by loss. Perhaps, though, the losses have helped many recognize the power of things we previously took for granted, like simply interacting in person with friends and strangers. If and when life does return to normal, hopefully everyday activities like work, attending school and gathering in restaurants with friends will be newly appreciated.

Reaching the age that used to be known as the beginning of “senior” status is something I can’t yet grasp. So far the only impact I’ve felt has been the transition from Obamacare to Medicare, which I’m grateful to have. Thanks, LBJ! The fact our nation guarantees healthcare for people who as a group need it most affirms why I chose to be a life-long Democrat. But it should be available to everyone.

Our country is politically polarized beyond what I ever thought imaginable, and sometimes I don’t know if I can keep my sanity until Election Day. Every day seems to bring a new conflict or scandal or natural disaster, and it’s easy to be disheartened. The only remedy I see is to make sure everyone votes, and hope the nation as a whole accepts the results.

If we don’t unite soon to defeat COVID and end racial injustice, I fear for the worst in our society. Our democracy is at stake.

The pandemic has led to much economic strife in Wyoming, where state government was already reeling from the loss of mineral tax revenue. I’d like to say we’ll find solutions, but I’m not feeling confident about the outcome. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel yet, and it’s frustrating that many of our elected leaders don’t seem to grasp the severity of the state’s fiscal problems. 

So here’s my birthday request: Please vote for people with new ideas.

In the meantime, as we all wait for a vaccine, it’s helpful to focus on ways that life can improve during the pandemic. I hope to be living proof that it’s possible. 

My wife is using our self-imposed isolation to make our meals at home and upgrade my diet. After staying off the links for 20 years, I’ve also taken up golf again. I’m still a duffer, but getting out and enjoying the sunshine is a great treat, though undoubtedly a royal pain for anyone who has the misfortune to get stuck in the foursome behind me.

Nearly 15 years after quadruple bypass surgery, I’ve been worried that the warranty on my heart is about to expire. For weeks I dreaded a trip to a cardiologist and the battery of tests that followed, certain that I’d have to go under the knife again.

I was shocked to hear that my ticker is still in prime working order. In fact, the doctor said if she hadn’t known I’d had surgery, she wouldn’t have believed it.

“Are you sure they were looking at your chart?” my wife asked. Yes, I am, and the news was the best birthday present I’ve ever received.

The risk of COVID is ever present, of course, and the only tools we have to rely on to keep healthy are masks, social distancing and making good decisions about where we go. But I can see a future when life starts to look like it used to. Whatever year it happens, I will use a good portion of that time to see every concert I can afford to attend. 

And if ZZ Top plays anywhere near Cheyenne, I’ll be easy to spot. I’ll be the geezer in the back row, wearing earplugs and a smile on my face.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Some years ago, Kerry, you and I managed a fantasy league baseball team together, and as far as I could tell, that was your idea of an exercise sport. Glad you’re still with us! It’s all gravy now, for a generation that never expected to live this long – even in a pandemic, we can appreciate the good fortune of a long life, much of it spent in amazing country with interesting people.

  2. I don’t know when or how I ran across WyoFile and your columns, but they have been a ray of light in a world of darkness. I came to Cheyenne 20 years ago (from Colorado) and am still delighted to run across anyone with a liberal bent. I will also be turning 65 in the coming year. I smoke, I’m fat and sedentary, and only by the grace of good genes have I avoided chronic disease (though I’m feeling the early effects of emphysema with the Mullen fire right now). Like you, my kids worry about me, and, thankfully, are old enough to see the value in wearing their masks. Wyoming has a hard road to row; people like you make me feel there is hope. Happy Birthday! Oh, and being at the front of the field in Boulder at a Stones concert was worth every bit of hearing loss I may have suffered.

  3. Kerry- the salient point is that you actually remember that ZZ Top concert.

    Myself, I never planned on making it past 30 since my life more resembled a Jackass movie than not. I can say from a few years beyond you a lot of physiological atonement is on the ” To Dew ” list…

    We shall co-miserate…

  4. Happy Birthday, Kerry. I’m grateful to have worked with you, and I look forward to savoring more of your commentaries for years to come. I hope our paths cross again one day!

  5. Happy Birthday, Kerry. Enjoyed your column this week. Don’t ever agree with your political views but enjoy your writing. Hope you enjoy 65.

  6. Your writing remains grounding to us isolated Wyomingites. Thanks for working with integrity, as journalists (like those of us “old school,” types grieve the loss of decent discourse and critical thinking). Keep on keepin’ on. And you probably paid for the ZZ Top hearing damage, but heck, ya only live once right?

    Be well, and many, many more to you!!

  7. Happy Birthday, Drake.

    Thank goodness the Tea Party was successful in keeping those meddling government hands off their Medicare.

  8. 64, truck driver, smoker, even though I underwent radiation therapy in Casper some 12 years ago. You know what my biggest fear is? It ain’t Covid-19, it isn’t the probable return of esophageal cancer issues, heart disease or diabetes (even though my 80- something mother has had, except for the throat issue, had them all and more). No, my biggest fear is some poindexter taking a pot-shot at me or tossing a rock from an overpass when I’ve got a 14 foot wide, 50 foot long, 15 foot high and grossing over 100k load on causing me to run over a smaller vehicle killing or maiming those occupants.
    I couldn’t care less about Covid-19 and I damn sure don’t wear a mask. The demoncraps want to come after my guns…bring it on, skin that attempt and see what happens. I’ll vote for Trump again. None of that worries me. Yes, I long for the simpler days, really yearn for them. But hurting or killing my fellow Americans, while just trying to do my job safely, and some moronic idealist with antifa-type leanings causing that type of mayhem just terrifies the crap out of me
    I just wonder, if I make to retirement , what will I have to look forward to?

    1. 2019 shows a total of 36,120 traffic fatalities across the country, even if 100% of these were caused by antifa throwing rocks off of overpasses, that is far less than the 200,000 deaths from Covid-19 in the past 9 months.

      If you are running 15 foot high loads, you are a foot higher than legal in Wyoming so hoping you are using the off ramps at those 14’6″ overpasses, that also will keep you protected from those same rock throwers.

      Me, I will continue to wear masks and social distance in public, while hoping that you pull the proper permits for your oversize loads and don’t have a stroke or heart attack while driving causing you to run over a smaller vehicle killing or maiming those occupants.

      1. Personally, I hope you do make it to retirement Mr. Estabrook, and I hope you do so sooner rather than later. As somebody who drives on Wyoming Roads, and who has nearly been killed or maimed by truck drivers operating their vehicles unsafely on several occasions (One as recently as 2 weeks ago), I would prefer that a 64-year-old man who is apparently at substantial risk of suffering an acute medical emergency such as a heart attack or stroke not be regularly operating a large commercial vehicle on roadways shared by others.

        I prefer this at least as fervently as I prefer that people not throw rocks at vehicles from overpasses, for any reason, though I don’t believe this to be nearly as likely an occurrence as somebody texting and driving, driving while intoxicated, negligently driving a vehicle with unsafe mechanical problems (I’m not a fan of having to literally dodge flaming tires flying off of tractor-trailers, to borrow from my experience 2 weeks ago) or a driver experiencing a medical problem causing an unsafe situation.

        In the meantime, I hope you will take a step back and take an actual, *rational* look at the risks you currently face and the risks that you yourself pose in both your occupation and in your life in general, because I think your fears are deeply and disturbingly misplaced.