Alan Riquelmy: New normal used to be surreal |

Alan Riquelmy: New normal used to be surreal

Photo by Julian Lozano on Unsplash

The last time I had a cigar was the week before I moved to California.

It was at a bar in the Inman Park neighborhood of Atlanta, near Little Five Points, if you’re familiar. Very hip. We sat in large cushioned chairs while puffing on stogies and sipping martinis. Or at least I did.

The memory, almost 5 years old, is strong because it fails to fit into my routine of the time. A nice dinner, drinks and cigars, and a visit to the Clermont Lounge. (Please, no judgment on that last one.)

I figure it’s the way memory works for most people, though I don’t know. I’ve never delved into the particular workings of someone’s memory, what triggers one to reappear after years, what causes another to sink into oblivion.

The surreal is now normal, and normal is easily forgotten.

But for me, it’s mostly the times that aren’t the drudgery of daily life that linger in the dusty hallways of my brain.

Times like, well, right now. We’re cloistered in our respective homes, trudging outside in masks and gloves only when necessary because of the coronavirus. A trip to the gas station causes fear to boil up. Did I touch my face after handling the pump without sanitizing my hands?

I don’t know. I can’t remember.

The surreal nature of everyday life has become normal. Two weeks ago seems much more distant, and my memory of those first few days of sheltering in place isn’t what it was.

The surreal has become normal, and normal is easily forgotten.

It’s not like the five days I spent driving from Alabama to California. That’s a sharp memory. I can name every city where I stayed overnight. I remember learning about the shooting deaths of reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward as I moved steadily west. They were shot and killed during a live broadcast.

I remember diving into an indoor swimming pool in a hotel outside St. Louis. I had the whole thing to myself. In Hays, Kansas, I wandered through a park near the highway while talking on my cell phone. Afterward I had a steak at a nearby restaurant. The next day I disappeared, never to visit Kansas again.

I missed a turn in Cheyenne, ended up in a residential neighborhood, parked by the curb and studied a map for five minutes. Two days later I stopped at the Donner Summit rest area, looked at the historic plaque and figured they left something out.

I parked in downtown Grass Valley for the first time on a Friday afternoon, took a quick picture and tweeted that my quest was at an end.

That night I had an amazing dinner. I started work the following Monday, a routine began, and I can’t tell you what I had for dinner that night. Or the night after.

Now, in these odd times, I can pinpoint the day I last visited the laundromat. My last visit to Auburn is seared in my brain, as is when I filled up at the gas station, furiously sanitizing my hands afterward.

Those events are closer in time, and more memorable. Other, stranger events have passed into normalcy, and that’s led to the waste bin of memory.

I know I last visited The Union’s offices on a Tuesday, and that it was a cloudy day. But exactly how many weeks ago, I’m not sure.

I don’t know. I can’t remember.

Contact City Editor Alan Riquelmy at or 530-477-4239.

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