Flashback: A winter 2021 ‘pandemic morning’ at Stanford

Jan. 23, 2022, 9:17 p.m.

I wrote this piece during winter quarter of last year, a few days after I first came to campus (which was during the middle of Week 6 or so). One morning, I decided to record my experience — it’s interesting to see how much things have opened up since then. 

8:00: I wake up slightly before my 8:15 alarm in preparation for my 9 o’clock COVID-19 test with Verily at Tresidder. 

I get up and go to the bathroom, brushing my teeth and taking a shower. I’ve been here at Stanford for less than a week, and I’m still getting used to this strange and new “pandemic normal.” The bathrooms are different — plastic shields separate each sink and paper signs line each mirror. Some say “Temporarily closed” with a red X, and others say “Open for Use” with a green check mark.  They alternate between open for use and closed such that the bathroom is at half capacity, much like the rest of campus. Whatever they’re doing, it works — I am seldom in the bathroom when someone else is. 

Once I get into the shower, I am greeted by a familiar friend — that Stanford shower smell. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s not necessarily bad or good — it’s just there and nonetheless familiar. For the second time, I mistakenly start the shower with my mask on. Ah. The joys of quarantine.

8:30: After my shower, I take my caddy to my room (the shelves are unavailable) and get dressed. My belongings stretch over the span of the whole room — a one-room double. I have two beds, two wardrobes, two counters, two drawers, two shelves, two desks, two chairs, one mirror, one trash can and one fridge all to myself. I’ve used the room to its fullest, placing my food items on the left desk and numerous hair products (#goingNatural) on the left “counter” (a desk reserved for eating), and using another desk for studying. I didn’t bring as much stuff as frosh year, which required a UHaul for move-in. (That’s a story for another time.) After I’m done getting dressed, I grab the essentials — mask, keys and phone — and get going. 

8:45: I decide to walk instead of bike today. Even with Stanford empty like this, I still want time to take it in. It’s strangely calm, vastly different from the usually vibrant, incredibly hectic scene present. People don’t look around; instead they look down, avoiding all eye contact. I try to acknowledge people with a nod, but even this proves difficult. How is one supposed to express emotions with a mask on? 

8:58: As I walk up the stairs to Tressider, I can hear the Clock Tower bells. Due to the clockwork, they ring exactly two minutes before 9:00. 

As I reach the entrance, I put on some hand sanitizer, put my phone away (no phones allowed) and walk in. I go to one of the desks upstairs at Tressider Union. It has been transformed into a COVID-testing center with check-in desks placed neatly. I check in, give them my ID and tell them my date of birth. 

“Is this correct?” they ask. 

“No,” I respond before realizing that I was looking at today’s date. 

“It’s the morning,” a lady at the side remarks whole-heartedly. “We’ve all been there.” I smile as the lady gives me my COVID-19 test baggy and walk into the main area to get tested. I’m quickly directed to Station J, where I stick a swab in each nostril and rotate it 10 times before putting the swab into a container to be sent to who-knows-where.

9:02: I exit at two minutes past 9:00. The whole process is less than five minutes total. Walking down the stairs of Tressider, there are more reminders of the pandemic than just the emptiness. There’s caution tape around the black chairs that adorn Tressider, the waterless Claw in White Plaza and blockage in front of the bookstore. The birds chirp seemingly louder than ever before. 

9:04: My mom calls me. My heart beats a little fast. I answer the phone, and it seems louder than natural. As I walk closer and closer to my dorm, I see more and more signs of this strange new Stanford — rampant reconstruction and deconstruction that I doubt they would do in normal times, and large tents held down with cinder blocks. Some things remain the same: Meyer Green is still ever so gorgeous, and people can’t help but sit and indulge in its serene beauty, pandemic or not. 

9:13: Once again the Clock Tower bell rings, two minutes before quarter-past, as expected. Some birds — black birds, maybe crows or ravens — circle out into the distance. A group of athletes passes by on bikes. (I wonder which sport.) More people pass by me. I try to smile and say hi under the mask, but to no avail; they don’t respond.

9:15: Now I’m hungry. And it’s 9:15. Breakfast usually closes at 9:00, but luckily the dining hall is still  open. The food — it’s been interesting these past few days. The way it works is that you show the dining hall your health check to get food, but mine has been red because I travelled over 150 miles less than 10 days ago. So I show them my red pass and they kindly ask what menu items I would like. It is different from normal, but in the best way possible. They have a series of three or four complete dishes lined up. After looking at them hungrily, you tell them what you would like and they grab it for you, often adding extras or multiples of each item. And the food is really good too, better than normal for me. Tuesday they had strawberry French cheese crepes, neatly packaged with some papaya, and Wednesday they had sweet waffles with an assortment of fruits — and that was just for breakfast. 

Today, a full Irish breakfast (eggs, sausage, mushrooms and hash browns), blueberry pancakes and another breakfast item are on the menu, full on display. As I show my red health badge to a now-familiar face, he kindly asks me what I want and I tell him. He directs me to the side as he puts the food into my brown paper bag. Another lady comes and asks me if there’s anything else I want — fruits, desserts, drinks. She suggests I try the vegan oatmeal and adds it in the bag. 

“Anything else?” she asks. 

“Just water,” I say, not even intending to ask for the big blue boxed water that has become somewhat of a pandemic Stanford icon.

9:21: I walk out with not one, but two brown paper bags.

The scene outside Arrillaga is beautiful. They have places to sit with clear plastic shields separating each table, verdant palm trees and grass around. I can’t capture the beauty in words, but I want to sit there, soak it in and enjoy. There are small groups of people eating, laughing and enjoying the California sun. I make the short trek back to my dorm though, the paper bags in hand. 

9:28: I unbox (or is un-bag more appropriate?) the food. Two cups of assorted berries, two “Just Waters,” one oatmeal with chia seeds and berries, two Irish breakfast plates, one banana, two tangerines and a string cheese. I add the fruit to the growing assortment in my fridge, the likes of which I am figuring out how to consume or use so as to not waste it all. Maybe I don’t need to go to breakfast tomorrow. I add the “Just Waters” to my growing stack of now six, sit back down at my desk, clean my hands, take my meds and get ready to feast on what the rest of the day has to offer.

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