It was early March, and I was doing one of my favorite jobs — compiling my picks for the best upcoming concerts for the next two months for NEXTpittsburgh. I’ve been writing about music for 18+ years, going back to my days at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and relish the opportunity to shine a light on great music: local, national and international.

Then, one by one, the concerts started disappearing. Postponed. Cancelled. Ticket sales suspended. Venues like Spirit and the Rex and Mr. Small’s were going dark for an uncertain length of time.

I still have a file of half-finished concerts in my computer somewhere. My last show attended was D.C. gospel-garage-punk legends The Make-Up at Spirit on March 4. In my darker moments, I wonder if that’s the last concert I’ll ever see live.

Earlier, I had finished a story on the restaurant rows of Pittsburgh — those clusters of great restaurants that help define neighborhoods, and make them vibrant, walkable places that people want to go. When everything shut down, it didn’t seem relevant. Maybe, when we get back to normal it will see the light of day.

I used to go to an office every day — a shared co-working space called Ascender that my other employer, Markowitz Communications, rents in East Liberty. As an introvert, I had no idea how much I would miss talking to all the smart people running tech startups and social enterprises in the break room. Not to mention, walking to Trader Joe’s, Choolah, Two Sisters Vietnamese, or Kelly’s Bar for lunch.

Now my office — and really, way too much of my waking life — is at my kitchen table.

If I could set the entirety of 2020 on fire and push it into the Monongahela, I would.

That’s not to say there weren’t some bright moments amid the ever-encroaching doom. My cousin’s husband, a journalist and teacher, got the virus early on. After 10 days intubated in a medically-induced coma, he pulled through and made a full recovery.

My son somehow sneaked in a full season of Little League while wearing masks, and no parents or players got Covid.

Largely setting aside my usual wheelhouse — arts, entertainment and food — I helped cover City Design stories for NEXTpittsburgh. I reported on the many changes going on in Pittsburgh — a city unaccustomed to anything but stagnation for decades, and still unsure how to respond to its newfound vibrancy.

Wei Li, assistant director of Pitt’s Center for Therapeutic Antibodies. Photo courtesy of UPMC.

But the pandemic and the shutdowns suddenly became the only story for a looooong time. So I had to learn to talk about epidemiology, vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, industrial-grade P100 masks, virus-killing robots, a Covid-fighting nasal spray, virus-repelling textiles and computer modeling of predicted Covid spikes.

I also wrote about a furry llama named Wally whose blood has Covid-fighting nanobodies.

Wally the llama. Photo courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh.

I want to say it was exciting to learn about so many new things, giving this English major a taste of talking about science. It was certainly inspiring to see so many of the region’s brightest minds all focused on this one intractable problem. Of course, the polio vaccine came out of Pitt, and that talent and tenacity behind it are still very much in evidence here.

Shoppers don masks in the Strip District on a recent Saturday. Photo by TH Carlisle.

There were moments of brief joy here and there. I wrote about a socially-distanced pandemic front-porch wedding. I wrote a tribute to how much I love shopping in the Strip, and how it was weathering the worst of the pandemic lockdown.


Di Anoia’s Eatery helping out with 412 Food Rescue’s Community Takeout program.

Some people found new and impressive ways to help, like Dr. Mark Baratz. In his spare time, he came up with a plan called “Double Play,” to order meals from struggling restaurants and deliver it to those facing hunger. Inspired by this, 412 Food Rescue (winner of Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Award) used their organizational muscle to scale it up into “Community Takeout” with more restaurants and recipients. For a long time, I was a weekly volunteer for 412 Food Rescue, and it’s great to see them meet this moment.