With the advent of the “American Industrial Era,” workers became necessarily obligated to comply with fixed daily rituals of commutation to and from home and their place of employment, be it factory, shop, or office. Our readings reveal that, nevertheless, some people, continued to work from their homes, which practice continued into the 19th and 20th Centuries; such home labor consisting of laundrywomen doing wash for pay, for outside customers, preparing food and baked goods to sell to factory workers or doing at home, “finishing work” for shoe and garment manufacturers.
Outside employment mandated attendant social strictures, requiring conformance in the routine ordering the worker’s day to be in sync with his employers production and business schedules; viz., a fixed time of arrival, commencement of work and finishing time; after which the employee would customarily return home, usually to dinner and family. As a logistical matter, family schedules, especially, breakfast and family dinner time, and to a degree, family bedtime, on weekdays [i.e., workdays] were derivatively determined by the working agenda, of the wage earner.
Incident to the fixed and routine schedules, ritualistic, daily commutation to work became a fertile field for the establishment of social relationships with other commuters, sharing the same time schedules. As the years went on, many of these transient relationships morphed into active friendships, albeit, communicating only by first names. Typically, on a commuter rail line they would sit together, some perhaps, playing cards, but all benefiting from the welcome respite from the boredom exacted by repetitive, daily commuting. One might hear someone say, “Jack, how is your son doing with his college applications?” or, “Sue, is Jeffery back to work yet ?” Such regular, ephemeral interaction served as an anesthesia ameliorating the boredom of the weekday commuting routine.
The unprecedented advent of the Covid pandemic had all-pervasive implications for society, aside from the specific peril of the pathology, itself. By any measure, the most striking and impactful was the prophylactic necessity to curtail all societal interaction [quarantine] in addition to the wearing of a mask, distancing, and when it became available, the securing of the relevant vaccine. Avoiding the company of others, was markedly distressing and for many, virtually, traumatic. Aside from the serious pathological danger, of the virus, its sociological, or real- life, s implications were ubiquitous, as well as disorienting and life-changing.
Places of societal assembly, including business entities had to shut down, thus effecting a quasi-traumatic reaction from individuals grown accustomed to living by a fixed and scheduled routine of weekday commutation and employment. Understandably, the disruption of years of repetitive, mundane routine, left many in a confused and agitated state. The impact was somewhat less drastic and was attenuated, for employees who were enabled by their job to work at home, “virtually,” with their computers. During the long period of quarantine, fixed and formerly immutable personal routines were challenged by their lack of necessity, and unlimited time for familial interaction seemed unnatural and uncomfortably strange. The mandate to stay home and “shelter in place,” resulted in an abundance of confused and disoriented daily wage earners, who, suddenly were no longer required to ascribe to their previous, mandated lifestyles, including commutation to work. Especially disconcerting, was the vast amount of unsubscribed, or personal time, for those solely oriented to their weekly full-time work. Individuals who, in the interest of personal advancement and a fuller life, were wise enough to have cultivated outside elective interests, were far less stressed.
As society looks forward to the final demise of the Covid epidemic, an intriguing question arises as to its ability and willingness, to return to the inflexible schedules of the pre-Covid period’
* Taken from the aphorism, “Home is where the heart is.”