Over the weekend, I drove 14 hours around New Jersey and Pennsylvania and was reminded of the skill and courtesy of most long-distance truckers.
Piloting 80,000 pounds of mobile weight at high speed, the vast majority of truckers are better than any other category of driver.
I used to make long hauls in my car when we had places in Kentucky or Florida, and I learned to rely on truck drivers, particularly at night when traffic thinned out and we all could make time, legally, of course.
This past weekend I was reintroduced to that reassuring sequence of giving the truckers plenty of room to pass me, or merge in front of me. I would flick my bright lights a couple of times and they would ease that behemoth in front of me, and when that bulk settled into place, they would tap their brakes once or twice, producing the ritual blink that says thank-you. .
Many years ago, traffic was held up on Interstate 4 outside Orlando. When we got to the point of obstruction, a truck had jackknifed and turned over, strewing stuff all over the road. I doubt the driver survived. I made up my mind I would make sure all those trucks had room to ease carefully into the lane they needed.
Sure, once in a while some cowboy with white-line fever barrels too fast, tailgating or changing lanes without signals. He needs to get off the road and into a rest stop.
But most of them are really good – better than the yuppies trying to control a van with one hand while babbling into a cell phone, better than kids veering from lane to lane, better than seniors lumbering along in campers.
For decades, I put in so many miles for work and family that I came to relate to truckers. Years ago I bought a cassette at a rest stop north of Richmond, Virginia – Best of Road Music, Volume II, great stuff from Bill Monroe, Hoyt Axton, Red Sovine, Jerry Jeff Walker. One very sweet song is Blue Highway, by John Conlee, about a trucker who reassures his wife that his night-life is non-existent as he roams America “in this whining time machine.”
I want that trucker to get home safely. I want all of us to get home safely, when I am driving at midnight, and some trucker I will never meet gives me the tap-tap flicker of his brake lights.
(Nice truck video below)
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.