Chase Frigen, who has lived in Madison for about a year, talks about his experience during the social distance measures in place in Madison in spring 2020. Chase talks about what his neighborhood looks like right now, and how day-to-day errands have changed due to the Safer at Home order. Chase discusses what working for Medicare health insurance is like right now, and talks about the impact on his work as a pianist for Perfect Harmony Men's Chorus.
Narrator Name: Chase Frigen
Interviewer Name: Danny Atwater
Date of Interview: 05/01/2020
[00:00:01] - Introduction
[00:00:51] - A look at the first few weeks of pandemic and Safer at Home
[00:02:58] - How the neighborhood looks
[00:04:23] - How he’s staying active
[00:05:14] - Impact on his job with Medicare
[00:09:03] - Impact on his job as pianist for a chorus
[00:11:25] - Impact on family and friends
[00:13:09] - Stories or images that stand out?
[00:16:12] - Good things happening now?
[00:18:43] - Wrap-up
[START OF RECORDING]
Interviewer: My name is Danny Atwater 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 Friday May 1, 2020, and this interview is being conducted via Zoom. Let’s get to our storyteller—please tell us your first and last name and describe your connection to Madison.
Chase Frigen: Hi, my name is Chase Frigen. I’m actually new to Madison; I’m about to hit my one-year mark of being a Madison resident. Currently I work with Medicare for one of the local health insurance companies, as well as I am the pianist for Perfect Harmony Men’s Chorus. So I like to stay active in the community that way, and I’ve gotten to meet a lot of people and see a lot of cool things because of both of those.
Interviewer: Thank you, Chase. Tell me, what have the last few weeks looked like for you in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Safer At Home order?
Chase Frigen: The last few weeks for me have looked like two different rooms in my home (laughs) and that’s it (laughs). Pretty much it. As far as just living in general, I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home, so that’s what I mean when I say I’m in two different rooms—I have like my home office and then living room essentially that I hang out in. It’s been an interesting experience, obviously. I’m only, I’m twenty…shoot—twenty-eight years old (laughs), and I haven’t had a lot of experiences like this before, obviously. So it’s been a new experience for me and been spending a lot of time kind of afraid to go out, I would say is—and I’m sure that’s a normal experience for people. I mean, I definitely don’t want to get sick and I don’t want to be a part of the spread of COVID-19 as well. Simple tasks that you took for granted before are now a chore, or even like I said, like a little—like, to me—terrifying. I’m a germaphobe as well, so that doesn’t help. But going to the grocery store is an interesting experience for me, there are—I tend to go to one of the Hy-Vee grocery stores in the area and they’re doing great where they have arrows on the ground, which kind of route people through the aisles so—to keep everyone at least, you know, six feet away like they’re recommending. But of course they’re not going to enforce that as—they’re not going to be dictators about it I guess you should say, (laughs) or yell at people for not following the rules, but you do have people who don’t follow the rules and that, that causes me a little anxiety actually, when I’m walking through the grocery store. It’s—and I wouldn’t have ever thought this would be how life would be before this all started. It’s interesting and it’s new.
Interviewer: When you look out your window, what does the neighborhood look like right now?
Chase Frigen: Quiet. (laughs) Everyone does a pretty good job; especially the first couple weeks of it you didn’t see anyone out. You maybe saw one person by themselves going on a run, or something, getting their daily exercise, which is totally fine. But the neighborhood that I live in has a lot of youth that is usually out in the front yard, or they’re in the streets playing catch, or what have you, and they—it’s been quiet, which I’m not used to. I won’t say that I don’t mind it (laughs), or that I mind the quietness, but it’s been different. It’s interesting to see. I’m glad to see that a lot of people have been paying attention to it, but I can tell that as we’re getting into the second month of this Safer At Home type of thing. People are starting to get a little tired of it, and not so much that it’s rebelling—I feel that people are still being conscientious of staying six feet away from each other and those types of things, but I feel like people are being a little more open to at least going outside, you know, like it was when it first started. I think there’s more knowledge now, people are washing their hands. It’s not as crazy as it was for the first couple weeks where everyone was terrified to go outside.
Interviewer: What are you doing to stay active? Are you doing things inside your home, or do you get out?
Chase Frigen: I personally, I do try to get out and go for a walk. I don’t always get to that point. We don’t have a home gym at our apartment complex, which even if we did I’m sure that would be closed down seeing as all public gyms are closed down as well, understandably. But funny enough, we have a Nintendo Switch and (laughs) we use that for—we have the just dance game. That gets me—my blood pressure up. It’s good enough; it works. We’re using technology in ways that we wouldn’t have thought to, but I definitely know I need to stay active so that’s been a fun way for me to stay active.
Interviewer: You mentioned your two jobs—the Medicare job and being the pianist for a chorus. Let’s talk about both of those.
Chase Frigen: Sure. Well, starting with my insurance job where I work with Medicare, I hear a lot of interesting stories. I don’t have to talk to our members all that often, but when I do—I mean it’s typical when you have elderly people—especially now in this time people aren’t allowed to go out—they’re lonely. I’m lonely too, don’t get me wrong (laughs), but they’re lonely and they definitely talk a lot more now to me about non-work related subjects than I’m used to, which is not a bad thing; I’m welcome to it as well. And it’s interesting to hear all of the stories that some of the members have told me. For instance, I had one member who—I mean, we were just—to be honest I was taking a payment call for her, so I was just like “What’s your debit card number?” and then all of a sudden we got off topic and fifteen minutes later we’re (laughs) still on this phone call. And she and I—she had brought up the fact that her grandchildren, well, and also her children—her daughter had mentioned that her son, like, they got done—this was when COVID-19, the pandemic, first started where everybody was more like, “I won’t go out unless I absolutely need to. I’m going to get enough groceries for the week and if we don’t have enough we’ll make it work.” And this particular mother, she said that her son was still hungry after dinner, but they were rationing it out to make it through this time period of “No, we only go grocery shopping on Sunday,” or like, “One person goes.” And I found it interesting because the grandma was like, “Well, you know, if he’s still hungry after dinner—if you have a loaf of bread, give him some bread on top of that.” That sounds so archaic, and prior to this pandemic, no one wanted for things like that in these situations, or most of the time I should say no one wanted for that type of thing.
So it was interesting to hear that and I was like, “You know, that’s true. I’m eating meals that I wouldn’t normally eat, or I’m spreading things thinner than I would in my everyday life prior to the pandemic.” It’s interesting—all those things that we take for granted, I guess, outside of this time. And I think that’s one takeaway that—and I’ve had multiple stories like that from members too where it’s like “Well, we had to adjust our lives to live in this time.” And what’s interesting too—like I said I work with Medicare—so a lot of my, the people that I speak with, they are elderly. And even people that are in their eighties are saying, “I’ve never seen anything like this.” And that’s interesting to me, and I think it’s going to be interesting when I’m that age to be like, “Well, I lived through that,” and I can speak to that experience as well. And as much as it’s been terrible, I mean I know there have been a lot of people affected by this that have lost family members due to COVID-19, and that’s absolutely terrible and I can’t imagine and I’m fortunate enough to not have to go through that myself, but these—this is something that I’m going to take away from where there are things that I am no longer going to take for granted. That’s the small blessing for me—and I hope for a lot of others as well—is that they can take that away as just something to move forward with in their life and know that it’s not always going to be good, and so when it is good you should appreciate it.
Interviewer: Tell us about what it’s like to be a pianist for a chorus during this time.
Chase Frigen: (Laughs) Well, I—I’m not being a pianist for a chorus in this time and that’s so weird to me! (Laughs) I still, of course, play very often—It’s something that I love doing. It’s actually one of my things that I try to do every day. And it’s not even that I try to do it, it’s that I want to do it every day. It’s my me time, it’s my quiet time, it’s my meditation time. And honestly I’ve—I didn’t really know how I would feel about it at first after finding out that we weren’t going to be meeting for rehearsals and things anymore, but it’s been a good time to be able to use that time to practice and get better at my craft. Even though, I mean, I’m in a fine spot where I’m at right now, but I definitely want to take advantage of all this extra time that I have, where I am home, where before my social life and work life, professional life—I didn’t have all this quote, unquote, “free time” to devote to practicing anymore. I feel like I’m in college again; I’ve made fun little exercises for myself to do on a daily basis. I’m learning things about myself as a musician a little bit deeper because I have more time to devote to it. It’s interesting—I miss it. I miss rehearsals and I definitely miss performing.
We had a large performance that was supposed to go on right as the pandemic started, and all the leadership for the group did get together, and had a discussion, and it was a difficult discussion for everyone. And I weighed in as well on what my thoughts were, and it was best that we decided to call off the show. The venue that we were going to be in was close quarters for everyone, so—and that was even before it was really known to do the five feet apart, so in hindsight now, especially, I’m very glad that decision was made. I can’t wait to get to a point where we can reconvene (laughs) rehearsals. I’m excited to see everyone again, I’m excited to make music with everyone—making music by yourself just isn’t the same as doing it with an ensemble.
Interviewer: Are you in touch with family and friends right now, and how are they doing?
Chase Frigen: Yeah, I think that we live—you know obviously this isn’t an ideal situation, but in the era that we live in technology, I think that it’s easier than it would have been in the past, I mean, in past different pandemics that have gone on. We have—we’re meeting today, we have Zoom. We can get together as people—there’s Facetime, even Facebook allows you to chat with people if you have a webcam or a smartphone that’s capable to do that, and obviously just calling people as well; it’s easy to stay in touch. It’s funny for me—I feel like my parents’ life hasn’t really changed very much. My mom is a stay-at-home mom—she’s great at it (laughs). My dad, he does work—he works, actually, in telecommunications, so he was deemed as an essential-type of worker. So he still continues to go to work, and they have their own boundaries that they have in place because of COVID-19, of course, due to that. But their lives haven’t changed very much, it’s “Dad goes to work, Mom stays at home and does home keeping things and hobbies.” It hasn’t been too different. I think I, like, more that I’m home, my mom and I actually do get to talk a little bit more often, even if it’s just via text or something. Yeah, I think it’s, in a weird way, even though we’re distant, it’s bringing us closer together in a weird way too, because we do check in on each other, obviously, because we’re all concerned. Yeah, it’s been a blessing in disguise a little bit, I’ll say.
Interviewer: Are there certain stories or images that you’ve seen in the last few weeks that stand out to you—that are indicative of this moment in time?
Chase Frigen: Mmm (laughs), yeah. I think for me—and I think this comes from more of an opinionated standpoint—living in Madison, in particular, I’m sure everyone has seen over the last—I think it was just last weekend—obviously there are people who have been displaced with work because of this COVID-19, because their workplaces wasn’t able to accommodate some type of way for them to be able to continue to go to work safely, so there are a lot of people who are upset with how long the Safer At Home order has been and so there were the rallies that were going on around the Capitol. That was widely broadcast, both on social media and just in the news in general, and I struggle with saying that is wrong to do because like I said, I’m fortunate enough to continue to work from home. My job has taken very good care of us and I have an essential position that I do work in, so it’s not necessarily fair for me to make this judgment call I feel, but I am so mad that that happened. This is protecting people. This is something that we need in order to prevent the spread and to lower the curve of COVID-19—it’s necessary. I’m upset with the fact that they did that because, I mean, there were—I think they said—I don’t even, do you remember how many people they said showed up to those rallies? I actually don’t.
Interviewer: The number fifteen hundred sticks out in my head.
Chase Frigen: That’s what I was thinking too. But I mean, that many people—and obviously they were not—they were all rallied together, not following the five feet apart rule, or not even rule but just guideline. I don’t think they realize that had one person in there been affected by that virus, that spread to so many people around them. It did; it’s going to. I don’t want to hear that it caused a spike in COVID-19, like I sincerely hope and I pray that’s not what happens from this, but that seems like such a terrible decision that was made by those people who wanted to rally about it. I feel so bad that their lives have been displaced because of it, those that are affected by it, and I can only imagine what that looks like. I can only imagine what that looks like. I don’t know what that looks like, but that could have prolonged it for months more. You know? I don’t know. That’s one image that I’ve seen that I guess I’m not—that really sticks out to me that I’m passionate about (laughs) I guess you could say.
Interviewer: What are some good things that you see happening right now?
Chase Frigen: I think that people are taking a lot more—they’re appreciating things more. They’re not taking things for granted as much as they used to. Like I was talking about earlier, there are simple tasks that before this pandemic we didn’t even think twice about; it was just something that was easy for us and I think that that’s a good thing that people are—it’s opening their eyes like, “You know, I have it good here.” And that makes me think of people in other countries who don’t have it like this, like this is their everyday life is things like that don’t come easy to them like going to the grocery store for whatever it is you want, things like that. Some other good things that I’ve noticed as well—let’s talk about our healthcare workers. I mean, they’re putting in hours and hours and hours. They’re working on the front lines, essentially; they’re putting themselves at risks of exposure twenty-four/seven when they’re at their jobs, and they’re not necess…—well, they’re not getting paid more for this either. They’re still going to work, they’re getting paid their same amount and I can’t imagine that. I mean I work basically in the background of the healthcare industry, but I can’t imagine being on the front lines and the fact that they seem to show up every day, they’re helping people. The company that I work for actually owns clinics as well, they have a medical group side to their business as well, and we get periodic emails showing here’s how many people that we have seen and have tested positive for COVID-19, here’s how many people have been discharged, here’s how many people are on the mend, things like that. And that helps me feel good in what I do, seeing all these people are getting help—the help that they need. Of course, we get to see the sad side of that as well, that unfortunately there are those that don’t make it through the illness of COVID-19, but there’s a lot of good going on through what is a mess.
Interviewer: Well, Chase, thank you for sharing your story with us today and for taking the time to do so.
Chase Frigen: Well, thank you very much for asking. I’m happy to be part of a really cool project.
Chase Frigen: Thank you.
Chase Frigen: Thank you.
[END OF RECORDING]