Covid-Chaneling Punxsutawney Phil

I think I know how Punxsutawney Phil feels. He emerges from a comfortable dark hole, looks around at the universe, makes a decision about how the future might look and returns to his comfortable dark hole.

The thing about it is, Phil only has to do this once a year. We above-ground types are being asked to do it over and over, and it can be trying for the average citizen. Meanwhile, pity the poor mayors and governors who are – in the total absence of national leadership – trying to advise us. Punxsutawney Phil has, at least, an Inner Circle (don’t look at me, this information comes straight from Phil’s Wikipedia page) to advise him about the forecast. We’ve got Anthony Fauci. But God only knows (and She has an awful lot on Her plate these days) whether science and reason will or will not be allowed the microphone.

(This space being mildly committed to avoiding overt political statements, I will skip right over the resemblances between Punxsutawney Phil and that other prominent American who sometimes pokes his head above the black hole of despotism and stupidity he inhabits, sniffs the hostile atmosphere and sinks right back into a comfy chair to watch Fox News.)

But out here in the real world. San Francisco, for instance.

Shadows in the park

California, having successfully addressed the coronavirus early on, recently proclaimed semi-liberation day. Announcements of Phase I re-openings were made. Everyone prepared to emerge from whatever dark hole of confinement he or she had been inhabiting. Then apparently way too many citizens of the Golden State threw caution (and masks, and social distancing) to the winds. Infections are running rampant, restrictions are being re-imposed, plywood that had begun to be removed is being nailed back in place. It is beyond bewildering.

So, much like Punxsutawney Phil after a lonnnng hibernation, recently I ventured out of the dark assisted-living hole I inhabit. Authorized to go for an unsupervised walk to restore my health and sanity, I set out, due uphill, for Lafayette Park high atop San Francisco. Here is how it went:

Blocks 1 and 2: Everything’s fine. But when did I get this out of shape?

Block 3: OMG, a person not wearing a mask is walking right toward me. Do I step into the traffic to avoid his germs? Should I call 911?

Block 4: See that lady walking into the apartment building a few yards to the left? She is coughing. Coughing. I summon my diminishing strength to sprint across the street before the light changes.

Block 5: Thank heavens, the park is in sight. At least all those steps at the entrance are shallow enough that I can probably still handle them. And there aren’t a whole lot of contagious-looking people hanging around. It’s important to be out in the sunshine. I need to keep that in mind.

Block 6: But here they are. CROWDS. How do I know whether that group all smushed together over there is really a family? If I take my usual uphill path, can I maintain six-foot distance from everybody? All these happy people, what’s the likelihood they are asymptomatic covid-positives? Anyway, don’t these people know about masks? The view of the Bay is spectacular.   

Going home it’s all downhill.

This essay first appeared on, interesting site I’ve been writing for these past few months. You might want to check it out too.


  1. Fran, thank you for your column and especially today as I got a chuckle out of it! And, thank you for the beautiful picture that swiftly brought back wonderful memories of San Francisco and our neighborhood! We are living in Hood River, Oregon which is also beautiful and where my husband grew up. I still miss SF but have found plenty to do here including, following in your footsteps, helping organize and work in our homeless shelter.

    Thanks again for your columns! And, happy July 4. Fran Finney

    Sent from my iPad


    1. What a treat to hear from the #1 Fran! We’ll try to keep SF together for a return visit from the Finneys one day! Peace & cheer until then.

  2. Happy fourth of July! And what a gorgeous day! I’m so pleased that you got to get out and get some sunshine and fresh air. Much love, Terry

    From: Fran Moreland Johns Date: Saturday, July 4, 2020 11:38 AM To: Subject: [New post] Covid-Chaneling Punxsutawney Phil Fran Johns posted: ” I think I know how Punxsutawney Phil feels. He emerges from a comfortable dark hole, looks around at the universe, makes a decision about how the future might look and returns to his comfortable dark hole. The thing about it is, Phil only has “

  3. Oh, My! Life in Long-Term Senior Living! Glad you could get out! Sorry it was traumatic…
    In this LTC facility, we were “opening up” – eating lunch together, properly socially distanced, of course. And then they discovered that a previous employee had been infected with Covid-19, and we’re now locked down tight again: meals in the room, masks at all social events, etc. Sigh…

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