Happy Holidays: 2020 Is Finally Almost Over

I’m fairly sure it’s safe to say that 2020 will be a year no one forgets. That’s part of the reason I’ve decided to do something different this year.

If you’ve been following the blog for a while now, you probably know that for the last five years I’ve been sending out Christmas cards to friends and family. This year, I’ve decided to share my annual letter here because while this was a really crap year, there was some good in it, and I think it’s important to remember the year for what it was. Happy holidays.

14 December 2020

Greetings from Portland where despite what the media may have you believe, no, the city has not been completely destroyed — not yet anyway. That said, what a year, huh? While it wasn’t all doom and gloom, saying it sucked would still be an understatement. 

Photo of a black cat in a box.
I should have known the tongue sticking out would be a sign.

So let’s actually start with the good this year. After four years of living alone, I finally took on a roommate this year, a rather fuzzy and demanding one. In April I finally decided it was time to adopt a cat from the local humane society and now have a one-year-old troublemaker named Jiji (and yes, that is a Kiki’s Delivery Service reference).

I have also once again moved in to a new role at Kroger. In March, I took my last technical support call on the phone and am now on our Shared Services Team. I am, however, technically on loan to them, so no big pay raise yet, but I am eventually going to be salaried. I was supposed to be in June, but COVID pushed a company reorganization back. I just started this week on the second half of what I was supposed to be doing in my new role as well, so I’m hoping to finally see that pay bump before I’ve been on loan a full year.

With that in mind, January marks my five-year anniversary with Kroger, something I wasn’t expecting to have. Kroger was  never meant to be a long-term career for me; it was supposed to be something temporary while looking for a better position. While it took four years to find a better position and is one still with Kroger, for the first time in the five years I’ve been with the company, I think I can actually say I’m legitimately happy in my role.

Photo of a five-year award catalogue.
My super exciting five-year award catalogue from Kroger.

It is a bit funny to call it “a” role because I’m really doing two (plus occasionally all the other things I did before). As previously mentioned, I just started on the second half of what I’m now doing, which is reporting and analytics, in addition to workforce management, the other half of the role. It’s a mouthful, but my full title is now Reporting & Analytics, Intraday Analyst, Workforce Management, Shared Services. In a nutshell, it’s a fancy way of saying I manage schedules and KPI reports for Kroger’s call centers.

Moving on to things in Portland, while you might have noticed this card is coming from a new address this year, I haven’t physically moved. As I mentioned last year, the city has shortened all the streets in my district from “southwest” to now just “south”. USPS will stop honoring the SW address mid-2021, so make sure to start deleting that extra “w” when you send me snail mail.

As I mentioned in the beginning, the city hasn’t been destroyed, but downtown is still in a seriously sad shape. I thought seeing Christmas lights in palm trees in Melbourne was weird, but seeing holiday decorations illuminating boarded up windows is something else entirely. It is going to take a very long time for downtown to recover from COVID and the looting from earlier in the year — if ever. I honestly do not expect Apple to reopen their downtown store, and I know countless independent businesses that will not be either. Powell’s closed two of their locations this year and while the flagship City of Books is still open, they are struggling significantly. They were one of the last bookstores in the area to re-open for indoor shopping and even that remains heavily limited. 

Selfie with fall colors in the background.
Yes, I need a haircut. I know.

Now that fall color is gone, the Japanese Garden has also seen visitor numbers plummet. I’ve heard from more staff there than I’d like to that the garden would be unlikely to survive a third closure. The week of peak color for fall color was the busiest week they had this entire year. While the quiet is a welcome change, it would be more welcome if it wasn’t because of an almost 80% drop in visitors and therefore revenue.

Public transit is hurting here too. For the first time in years, a proposed expansion failed to pass in every county that voted on it. While ridership numbers are starting to go back up, they are still less than half of normal. Three new trains that we desperately need for Streetcar are now 21 months behind schedule and are at risk of being cut entirely due to funds. If they do get cut, it would be catastrophic as our oldest trains are very close to hitting 20 years of service and are overdue for a mid-life overhaul. LED lights are finally being installed on car exteriors, but switching to vinyl seating is costing 28 times more than normal because of COVID — per car.  That said, thankfully, public transit is still running, just with significant service cutbacks.

Photo of a livestream on a TV in a living room and Discord chats on an iPad Pro.
How to run a convention in 2020: Zoom and Discord from the living room.

As you could likely guess, I did not travel anywhere this year, but I did still run a convention, if just from my living room instead of the Oregon Convention Center. For a digital event instead of in-person this year, it did go a lot better than we were expecting and while revenue was much less than normal, so were expenses. Who would have guessed paying for web streaming traffic is much cheaper than renting out half of a convention center and a hotel? While we do hope to return to an in-person format in 2021, we learned a lot about hosting one digitally and would not be opposed to a hybrid digital and in-person event. It would actually greatly expand our reach.

So, while this year may have been a dumpster fire (literally on more than one occasion both downtown and in my district), it could have been worse. Without bragging, I do think I am fortunate that my job is in the retail industry, or at least the grocery side of it. While COVID did mean I had only a week to get trained on my new role (our physical office closed the week after I started because of COVID), it is a role I am enjoying. It’s still one that keeps me extremely busy and makes me want to rip my hair out from time to time, but it’s one that finally offers some real room for growth. I’ve been very happy to see several of my former co-workers move in to new roles this year as well, both at Kroger and elsewhere. 2021 probably won’t be a great year either, but I hope it’s one of recovery. It’s highly unlikely things will ever be the same as they were before, but I hope as we recover from this year, it will be one with lessons learned that hopefully will allow us to joke about 2020 someday.

Photo of a black cat sitting next to a cat tree.
Jiji totally “helping” me at work.

Hoping you are able to find at least some joy this festive season,

Stephen J. Weber (and Jiji. Meow.)

P.S. As the tree downtown says this year, “Spread joy. (Not germs.)”