Heading to Tahoe to escape this pollution

The SF bay area has among the worst air on our planet lately and it’ll continue at least through most of next week from what I can tell. So we’re leaving for Tahoe this morning. There’s only so many days of being stuck inside that a family of 5 can handle – kids need movement, as does this parent. Also Saul is on vacation next week and school for Lev may be cancelled as well based on trends. And frankly we’ll get a much needed vacation for a few days. We likely won’t get another one this year so I’m justifying it as an excuse for some family R&R. We contemplated going to Boston for a week but I don’t feel comfortable being that far away from my doctor or hospital in case of infection or fever etc. Also flying is out of the cards for me. Going to Tahoe is about as far as I think is reasonable given these extraordinary conditions.

I’ve basically been stuck inside with barely any walking etc since these fires started and I think it’s having an effect on my body too. While my lungs feel fine because I keep the air filter going full strength basically all the time, I did start getting some terrible back pain the other day, probably from lack of movement (it’s certainly NOT from overdoing it on strength training – you have to actually strength train for that to happen – and that hasn’t been happening lately). Felt like I slipped a disk but this morning it seems to be ok.

So with that decision made my main concern in leaving is the actual drive. It turns out that cars are only partially effective barriers against pollution (despite what I thought before looking into it). At least one study showed the most effective strategy for reducing in-car pollutants is to keep the AC on, cutting around 30% of the outdoor pollution; basically the cold surface attracts pollutant particles before get into the circulating air. So if the outdoor air quality index is, say, 180 as it is this morning (“unhealthy”) that means inside the car it’s ~125 (bad for sensitive groups like cancer patients and kids), better, but still worse than staying at home. So we’ll want to keep the masks on while in the car. No, actually that’s only part of it; leakage as a result of poor fit, as one would imagine, is also a consideration (with kids futzing in the back that’ll definitely be an issue!). So let’s say worst case the masks are only about 50% effective at cutting those pollutants because kids protest mid-way, adjust them etc. That brings us down to an in-car AQI of ~65 (“moderate”), for about 3.5 hours. Not great but I think tolerable. Likely it’ll be a bit better than that. We’re basically trading off a few hours of bad for hopefully very good on the other side. The key here will be keeping those masks on. So, bribery!

In a moment of divine inspiration I introduced Saul to “Pong” on the iPad. He’s been playing it (or talking about playing it) nonstop for 3 days. He’s also now totally into chess. Between those two games he can easily get through a car ride. And yesterday I took the boys to the library to pick out monster-sized star wars and lego picture books. I also took out a bunch of cd’s to play in the car as kids music in the car really starting to wear on my soul*. As an aside here (it’s Sunday morning, indulge me) I haven’t taken out cd’s from the library in so many years. As a longtime Spotify user I’d nearly forgotten the joys of physical cds: holding the plastic case, seeing the cover, making kids carry the objects home. The biggest benefit though is the anticipation. As much as I love online services like Spotify there is absolutely ZERO anticipation because I can have EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW. Ironic right? But it’s true. I need to allocate brain power to thinking about those albums as I decide which to listen to, take them out of the case, insert into cd player, turn up volume etc. There is the design of an intended experience, and then there’s the manner in which folks actually experience the edges surrounding it. Important to consider both.

So we have lego books, cds, old school video games: check, check, check. In short looking forward to getting out of here and being in nature for a bit. Keep you all posted.

*Really, who thought infinite plays on kid music was a good idea? I mean if you’re going to donate then sure. But who does that with cd’s anymore? Idea: introduce a times-played counter onto kids cd’s. Some limit is set by the manufacturer, say 20 plays, after which the cd becomes unplayable. Or, maybe better still, the cd starts getting horribly scratched. Kids don’t usually like horrible scratchy sounds (except when it’s coming from their own mouths). So it’ll be their idea to never play it again. And I’d submit that a scratched cd is no worse for the parent than listening for the 65th time to the music together hello everybody song. I want no proceeds. Just someone please make this happen.

Boys load up on library books for the trip