COVID-19 story by Andres Torres, 2020

Andres Torres describes what the days leading up to the Safer at Home social distance measures were like for him and his family. Andres talks about his experience of hearing the news about COVID-19 as it applied to other parts of the world, and how information locally changed very rapidly. Andres describes going to the grocery store on the day that the governor's Safer at Home order went into place, and the anxiety of waiting for the incubation period of COVID-19 to pass for him and his family. Andres talks about library work and what that has looked like for him from home, and about the experience of putting a house on the market during this time.

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  • Identifier: covid19-054
    Narrator Name: Andres Torres
    Interviewer Name: Carrie Gostomski
    Date of interview: 6/3/2020

    [00:00:00] Start of interview
    [00:00:56] What is your Safer at Home story (leading up to Safer at Home)
    [00:25:00] What have you found during this time, in either your work or fatherhood at home, that you’ve really enjoyed the most
    [00:30:21] Have you felt any urge to paint because of what’s going on
    [00:33:44] Is there anything else you’ would like to mention before we wrap up


    Interviewer: My name is Carrie Gostomski and I am a library assistant for Madison Public Library. This interview is being recorded as part of the Madison Living History Project: Stories from a Distance series. Today’s date is Wednesday, June 3, 2020, and this interview is being conducted via the videoconferencing software Zoom. I’d like to have our storyteller introduce themselves. Please tell us your full name, and what is your connection to Madison?

    Andres Torres: Hi, my name is Andres Torres. I’ve been in Madison for just over five years now. I came here for grad school. I went to UW Madison and I was in their art program. I’m a painter by trade. And now I work for Madison Public Library as a Library Assistant.

    Interviewer: What is your Safer at Home story?

    Andres Torres: So, I had some interesting experiences leading up to the Safer at Home order here in Madison, and the closing of the Madison Public Library. In the days leading up--so in mid March, mid to early March--I was getting really stressed out because we had some plans: my daughter’s birthday is March 16th, and we had planned her first birthday party on Sunday, March fifteenth, I believe. As part of this birthday, my parents were going to be in town from South Dakota, and they were going to be staying with us for the weekend. Also happening at the same time, I had a friend, a good friend that lives in New York City, and he was going to be visiting Madison, and we were going to be attending a concert by one of my favorite bands called Shellac, and the concert was going to be Friday, March 13th. So basically, it must have been, like, either Tuesday or Wednesday, which would have been, I don’t know, the 10th or 11th, or something like that, is kind of when things started to get pretty serious in the United States, as far as COVID-19 is concerned. Up until that point, a lot of the news and stuff had been focusing on other places in the world, and the threat to the United States, and Wisconsin and Madison specifically, didn’t seem like a very real thing. I can remember talking about it with coworkers, and we started cleaning things a little bit better. We started putting hand sanitizer stations on every floor, and taking small steps. So it was something that was in of all of our minds. Information was changing so rapidly that just within a few days, the threat just became much more real.

    I can remember that Friday the 13th, that I was at work, I couldn’t get anything done, because all I could think about was that my parents were coming that night, and that my friend was already in town that day, and we were supposed to go see this concert that night. Tony Evers, our governor, had just created the restriction of no gatherings over two hundred people. And so, I was thinking maybe that the concert would be canceled for that night, but the venue can only actually accommodate around a hundred people. It’s this really small venue. It used to be called The Frequency; they’re just off the square, and now it’s BarleyPop Live; it’s a beer bar. I was hoping it would be canceled but it wasn’t; it was still happening, so it was still kind of like the decision rested on my shoulders. And (laughs) I mean, my friend and I had been planning this for months. We bought tickets months ago. He flew, literally, he flew in from New York City to see this show. And also, New York City, as far as the United States went, was the hotspot. That was something that was real. This was a problem in New York City and also in Seattle, at the time, were the two places where it was pretty serious. And so, I’m like, Oh, gosh! I have a friend coming from New York who’s going to be staying with me at my house. And my parents, who are both over the age of seventy, going to be staying with me at my house. This kind of puts me in a bit of a--between a rock and a hard place. And so I was just kind of talking with people at work about my options. And everyone I talked to--I talked to my supervisor, I talked to the adult librarian supervisor. And they were just like, Oh yeah, just tell your folks not to come, and don’t go to the concert, obviously. And tell your friend he just has to get a hotel or something. (laughs) Like those are just the easiest things in the world to do. Which was not the case. (laughs) Ultimately, I basically voiced my concerns to my friend from New York City about how worried I was. And he said that he would find other accommodations, and put the ball in my court and was like, you know, You do whatever you think you have to do; this is what I’m doing. And, as far as my parents go, they were already on the road, so I wasn’t going to tell them to turn back.

    And so, most of my plans went forward. I had a few other friends that were going to come in from out of town to see the show; they ended up not coming. So I ended up going to the concert that night, and tried to take as much precautions as I could have at a concert. I saw my friend. We literally only got to talk to each other for about twenty or thirty minutes, and then saw this concert, and then chatted a little while afterwards, and then I came home and my parents were here already. And, at that point, I felt pretty relieved because my biggest concern was potentially getting infected from my friend from New York City. Once he found other accommodations, I felt relieved and was like, Okay, this is fine now.

    Then we just had to figure out about my daughter’s birthday, which was happening on Sunday, but we ended up canceling it. We canceled that birthday party on Saturday, let everyone know that that was no longer going to be happening, and just kind of had a small celebration with my parents. And then on Monday, my supervisor started reaching out to some of us Youth Services staff--I work in Youth Services at the library--and it was funny because my anxiety level was so high for those, you know, Friday and Saturday, and then I started to feel a little bit of relief on Sunday, after I felt like I may have dodged the threat. And then I get a call from my supervisor that somebody at one of our library locations had tested positive for COVID, and that she had been doing interviews with the supervisor from that location all week, and so that she may have potentially exposed anyone that she had come into contact with that week also. (laughs) It just kind of reopened this box of anxiety inside of me. And then I was like, Oh gosh, I thought I had avoided the threat, while the whole time the threat was just right here next to me. And now my parents are still here, and if I’ve been exposed, maybe I’m exposing them to it. So, it was just—it turned out that I did not have COVID, so I didn’t expose anyone to it. None of my family has—none of us have been tested, but none of us have had symptoms that would warrant that. So that was just, that anxiety lasted another few days, because I just knew how long it could incubate, and I knew how long symptoms could take to start forming, so. And that was kind of my experience leading up to the Safer at Home order.

    My parents left that Monday, and I ended up going and getting groceries Tuesday morning. It would have been Tuesday the seventeenth, which, I think, is the day that the library closed officially. And I just had this, still, this anxiety going, so I was up really early, and I went to the grocery store, and got all my—got to the grocery store and there was hardly anybody in the parking lot, and I was like, Yes. I did my shopping; I got a huge, full cart. I was at Hy-Vee, and normally I always get a little bit upset at Hy-Vee because they don’t have nearly as many employees working cashier in the checkout lines, and oftentimes it’s in an attempt to force you to go through the self-checkout lines, which I have kind of an issue with. It used to be that I didn’t know how to use them very well, but now I know how to use them very well, and it’s more, I’m just taking a stance because it’s--yeah, it’s taking people’s jobs away and stuff. But, this particular morning, I had this huge, full cart of groceries, and I walk up, there’s only one checkout line open, and nobody is in it. And I checked out, and it was the fastest checkout experience I’ve ever had at Hy-Vee. And I was like, This is just weird. And then when I left Hy-Vee, the parking lot was absolutely full of cars, and I just realized that the clouds must have parted, and a little ray of sunshine shone down on my head and allowed me to get out of the place really quickly. Grocery shopping ever since that day has not been the same, you know. I have not had that experience happen again, but now I feel like doing little errands like that has kind of, to a certain extent, gotten back to normal. (laughs) Yeah, that was the time just leading up to this whole Safer at Home order for me. Yeah.

    Interviewer: It sounds like a lot. (laughs)

    Andres Torres: It was a lot. It was a lot and, yeah, the anxiety was real. It was a horrible feeling, really. A horrible feeling. And that anxiety has crept back from time to time over the last few months, you know. Since then, it’s really been a matter of getting used to this working from home stuff. So the stresses and anxieties have been a little bit different. My family is still taking a lot of precautions, as far as not exposing ourselves to COVID. But life has kind of settled into this, kind of a routine, I’d say. It was really strange, transitioning to work from home for me because, I would say, about fifty percent of what I did was work reference desk at Central library. And that was just answering people’s questions, interacting with the public, and that’s not something we were doing right away, so it was--and I’m sure this was the case for so many people--a struggle trying to figure out how to be useful in this new situation. And with things changing—the first few weeks, I feel like nobody really understood exactly what we were supposed to be doing. So I was just finding things that could be relevant to my job at the library, and doing research and professional development, and just kind of awaiting on instructions, and counting myself as being lucky that I was able to still be at home doing something and getting a paycheck.

    And then, as time progressed, it’s been interesting to see how this has just become normal for us, you know, doing these Zooms, and we’ve all had to figure out what work looks like for us now. And so, for myself, one of the hardest parts about it is the fact that one of the things I liked, one of my favorite parts about my job was my schedule. I was incredibly lucky, as are a lot of people at Central Library, because of the amount of people we have at Central, our schedules can be a little different. So I was only working one Saturday a month, and only one night a week. And I’m an eighty percent appointment, so I work four days a week, so I work Tuesday through Friday. Well, since I’ve been working from home, I have not been able to put in my hours in just four days, so I’ve been working five days a week, sometimes six days, oftentimes six days. I’m just kind of putting in hours here and there when I can.

    My daughter is home; she’s not going to daycare. Although her daycare did remain open, and has remained open throughout this whole ordeal, it was only open for essential employees’ kids, so it still wasn’t really an option even though it was open. And that’s been both really cool to have my daughter, Isla, at home, but also very challenging as far as getting things done and figuring out how that’s going to work. My wife, fortunately, has even more flexibility with what she’s doing. She’s a PhD grad student at UW and has a lot of flexibility, and has really cool supervisors and people that she’s working with that are totally understanding about things. And so, I guess, my duties have been able to kind of take priority, and she’s been able to work around all of that, which has been so helpful and has made this so much easier for me. But it’s--you know, taking care of a one-year-old all day long is also a very tough job, and so that’s not been the easiest thing for her either, but we’ve settled into kind of a routine: working, taking care of Isla during the day, and we try, almost every day, to do something to get us out of the house, which, ninety percent of the time that’s just going on a walk, so we’ve been exploring our neighborhood. We live really close to Warner Park, which has been nice because there’s so much opportunities for different kinds of trails and just not having to take the same walk every day, basically. So that’s kind of the routine that I have fallen into during the Safer at Home stuff. We’ve been ordering our groceries online at Hy-Vee, doing pickup. We only, about a month ago, started ordering takeout every once in a while, kind of in an attempt to support some local businesses, and do most of our shopping online if we need something.

    Oh! One other thing that I also did not mention is that about a month before the Safer at Home order was issued, basically in late February, we bought a new house, and we bought a new house without selling our old house first. We were just planning on, Okay, buy this house, move in; we’ll get an extended amount of time to move in, you know, take two weeks to move in or something, a couple weeks to move in, and then put our house on the market. Well, after we moved in and the Safer at Home order started and we had no more childcare, and now I’m working more days a week, it made getting anything done at the old house almost impossible. I would move things by myself, but Ranza, my wife, had to be watching our daughter all the time, so it was basically just me moving as much stuff. Luckily, her parents had visited us the week that we bought the house, so they were able to help us move most of the large things that I would need help carrying anyway, but definitely not all of the large things. And so we had enough stuff at our house to live and do the things we needed to, but so much stuff was still at the old place. All the work we needed to do was just not something that we could get done without help. And so, that house has basically been sitting there the last few months, and we’ve been doing little things here and there.

    But my wife’s parents came, they decided— I didn’t want any visitors for a long time, but I finally relented about two weeks ago, and we decided to let her parents come up and visit us from Kentucky. They were dying to come visit us because they don’t have any family or any community, really, down in Kentucky. Her mom works on a military base for a school. They were just chomping at the bit to come see their granddaughter. And I kept being like, No, we can’t. That’s just not smart. But, eventually, we were like, you know, Let’s take precautions as best we can. And so, on both ends we did, and her parents came up. For the past week and a half we’ve gotten everything out of the house, got it cleaned up. We just finished cleaning it yesterday, actually. And now we’re talking with a realtor about getting it on the market. Something I was worried about at the beginning of all of this was that property value was going to plummet, and luckily that’s not been the case. As a matter of fact I’m almost thinking it might be opposite, because no one, like, not many people are selling their homes right now. And so there’s still a lot of demand; there’s a lot of buyers looking for homes, but about half as many homes on the market right now. So that hopefully will bode well for us. But, yeah, that’s kind of a good summation of how the last few months have been going for me.

    Interviewer: Getting your house straightened and cleaned and ready to sell must have felt like a weight coming off of your shoulders, I would imagine.

    Andres Torres: Oh my gosh, it was--it’s been a huge weight coming off the shoulders. And not only that, but I’ve been having to mow two yards every week, as well as do the majority of the moving and stuff. I’ll be happy when I don’t have to mow two decent sized yards every week.

    Interviewer: I’m curious, speaking of more positive things, what have you found during this time, in either your work or fatherhood at home, that you’ve really enjoyed the most, or projects that spoke to you the most from work?

    Andres Torres: Yeah, so I guess, as far as work goes, (laughs) I’ve been really fortunate, actually, to be involved with some of the work groups that I’m on. And this work group, with the Living History Project, which I am also involved in, is probably the best thing to have happened. It’s funny, I was talking with my wife the other day about how I feel like I’ve been more productive as a library staff working from home than I was, almost, in the library. Just as far as being involved with things and getting things done.

    Now I just started doing phone reference also, and that’s been super, super cool. I was very nervous to start that. Like, I literally—my first shift was on Monday, and I wish I could remember the name of the scheduler who’s doing the schedule, but thank you so much, because she schedule—my first shift was a five to seven on a Monday, which was kind of easing me into phone reference. I think I only had about four calls, but all Monday, before five o’clock I worked like eight hours, just looking at resources and stuff to try to prepare myself for doing phone reference because—myself, like most people, are probably just trying to anticipate the most random questions that you might get once a year, a question like that—We just want to be prepared for everything. But, once you actually start doing it, it’s just normal questions that are well within my skill set. So that’s been actually really rewarding for me.

    It was kind of funny, my first shift I had three calls in the first hour and forty-five minutes of a two hour shift. With fifteen minutes left in my shift, I got my fourth call at like ten to seven, and I was on this call until 7:20. (laughs) And I don’t think I actually helped the lady with anything; she just wanted to talk. She wanted to talk about all the books she had on hold. She wanted to talk politics. She wanted to talk about protests. And honestly, I enjoyed talking to her, but I struggled to get a word in edgewise, and it was really—normally, I’m pretty good at kind of putting an end to a conversation, being like, Okay, that’s great. Well I got to go, sorry. But it was so hard to do in this situation. For one, because I wanted to humor the lady and talk to her about these things, but the other reason is, I couldn’t figure out a polite way to tell her that I had to go. And then when I finally did, I think I just worded it like, Well, if there’s not anything else I can help you with, I need to make myself available for other callers, as we have a lot of people calling. Which was actually kind of a lie because it was already past seven o’clock and we’re done at seven. So then I finished with that call and I felt a little bad about letting the lady go, but oh well. So, that’s some stuff at work that’s been rewarding.

    At home, it’s been really cool to just have our daughter here and get to be with her so much of the day. And I found that, the other day I was doing—it was one of the days when we basically spent all day working on the other house, moving, cleaning, and stuff, and she–our daughter–was with her grandma and, halfway through the day I found myself thinking about her and being like, Oh my God, I want to see her and I miss her right now. (laughs) I literally only had been away from her for like six hours or something. It made me remember what it’s like to be at work and stuff too. So, yeah, those have been the highlights, I guess, of this time.

    Interviewer: You had mentioned at the beginning of the interview that you were a painter by trade. I’m curious: have you felt any urge to paint because of what’s going on, or have you just been so busy that it’s kind of more a hobby?

    Andres Torres: I guess I haven’t done much since my daughter was born, as far as my creative endeavors go. And in this new house, yeah, it’s weird because at our old house, I had a studio that I would work in, and after Isla was born, my studio kind of started becoming more storage for things. Then it was this point where I had so much stuff in my studio that it was like, if I wanted to start working on it I would need to reorganize and clean. And so, then things started piling on top of each other. And then we moved into this house, and I love the house that we’re in now. It’s a lot—the reason we had to move was just because of space; we just were living in a tiny house, and with a new member of the family, we just realized we needed more space. We literally could not—there was nowhere in my house where you could, like, lay down and not be touching something, or running into something. And now we have a lot more space, but this house does not have a place for a studio for me. So that was one of the things—I was thinking that I was going to maybe build a studio in one of—this has a double garage, and so I was thinking I was going to try to build half of the garage into a studio, which might still be something that I do. But now, since I’ve been living here, I’ve been thinking about other things that I could do with that. So, as far as—I have not been able to get much done artistically, although I did do a few drawings during some MPL town halls that I—I was inspired by an artist friend of mine who had been on a social media hiatus for the last two or three years. And he just rejoined social media and started posting some of these drawings that he’s been doing, which kind of inspired me to do a few of my own. But then I kind of stopped doing that. I have strange work habits as an artist; I really go in these spurts. So I have these long periods of not doing stuff, and then I’ll have these bursts of creativity and output. So I’m hoping for something like that here in the future, now that I’m starting to get some of these other responsibilities out of the way. Hopefully I’m clearing a little bit of space in my life for that creativity again.

    Interviewer: Is there anything else you would like to mention before we wrap up?

    Andres Torres: I don’t think so. Thank you, Carrie.

    Interviewer: Yeah, thank you, Andres, for your time and for sharing your story.

    Andres Torres: You’re very welcome.