Out of service

Amtrak, the Acela corridor, N95 masks, a lot of unsubscribes, and 7 other things worth your time.

A lot of things are on the brink right now. Amtrak might be one of them.

Last week, ridership of the Acela, the comparatively high-speed train that runs from Boston through New York to Washington, was at just 1 percent.

As of Sunday, it’s shut down. Not a surprise.

Actually, what is surprising is that some non-Acela trains are in fact still running, as I’m not sure who’s riding them. Now, the railroad itself is “on the bring of financial calamity,” according to The Wall Street Journal ($).

On a conference call Friday, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said Amtrak will need a $1 billion bailout from the federal government to have any chance of continuing.

Tiny compared to what the airlines want, of course, and the Journal reports that the Amtrak money was included in the coronavirus bailout bill currently pending in Congress.

Although, I should hasten to add that the bill itself was completely up in the air as of when I wrote this last night.

About a third of Understandably’s readers live along the so-called Acela Corridor — basically between DC and Boston.

Maybe you’ll be the people most interested in what happens to Amtrak. I’m right in the thick of it myself, in New Jersey.

But even here, in my little town, people’s lives are affected very differently as a result.

For example, I left the house today only once, to go to CVS—asthma meds, just in case, and a few other items.

Otherwise, I’m more or less sequestered, trying to keep my small business going strong and trying not to drive my wife and daughter crazy.

We have a friend who is a veteran nurse at a major hospital in the area, and her life is very different. She and her husband both have essential services jobs. They’re both working long hours, school is out, and they have two small kids.

This morning, we heard that her hospital is almost out of N95 masks. She’s using the same one over and over.

I had two N95 masks in the basement — but they weren’t even new—from last summer when we had to do a bit of work down there. Obviously I know there’s a mask shortage, but: does anyone really want my old, used masks?

It turns out, yes they do. At least here, the choice is apparently between a gently used mask and one that’s been potentially exposed to COVID-19 repeatedly (or just using a bandana, as the CDC suggests).

So, my wife dropped off our little contribution to our friend, while I made frosting with my daughter and iced cupcakes.

And I have every reason to believe that if you wind up at that hospital in the next few days, there’s a chance a nurse who helps you will be wearing a used mask that I simply never got around to throwing in the trash last summer.

Diving more into the analytics of our readership, I can tell you that besides the 34 percent who live on the Acela corridor between Boston and Washington, another 40 percent live elsewhere in the U.S.

Then, there are maybe 5 percent in Canada, 2 to 3 percent each in the United Kingdom and India, and about 1 percent each in Australia, South Africa and Germany.

The remaining 13 percent are scattered around 157 other countries, some of which have only a single reader. (Hello Malawi and Vanuatu!)

(By the way, I can only tell in the aggregate where people are reading from. I can’t associate email addresses with locations. In fact, for the vast majority of subscribers, the only thing I know is your email and the date you subscribed.)

That makes writing this thing very enjoyable sometimes. I’ve had some really enlightening exchanges with people across the U.S. and around the world.

But sometimes … should I admit this? Ah, what the heck:

Yesterday was the #1 day in the history of this newsletter for unsubscribes.

It was a little dispiriting, I don’t mind saying, getting the notifications on my phone.

Others signed up in the meantime, but today this email is going to fewer people, net, than it did yesterday.

Most just left without saying why, but a couple sent “goodbye cruel world” emails on the way out the door.

If I’m being kind, they’re just not not interested in the same things. That’s fine. I care about the Acela being shut down; they probably do not.

But some were not particularly kind, and they accused me of being part of a conspiracy to blame Trump for the coronavirus pandemic—because I want him to use the National Defense Production Act to make ventilators and masks.

It’s not worth getting into it more. I try to play things straight, but if people didn’t like me pushing on ventilators and masks, they’re probably not going to be happy around here anyway.

But for those of you who are still here:

  1. First, thank you!

  2. And second, let me ask a favor, so I can turn lemons into lemonade.

If you like Understandably, would you mind telling a few friends to give it a try, too?

The key for me is finding “the right people” who “get” what I’m trying to do here. And since you’re all “the right people,” you probably know even more of “the right people.”

Thank you. And while I’m thinking of it, thanks for going down into your basement or wherever you might happen to have a few old N95 masks from a long-forgotten project, and donating them to people who can use them.

7 other things worth your time

  1. President Trump says he may push businesses to reopen soon, possibly in a week, against the advice of public health officials. (The Washington Post)

  2. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom is taking the exact opposite approach: a very strict countrywide lockdown for at least the next three weeks. (BBC)

  3. More U.S. states enacted strict rules, too, on Monday: Indiana, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, and South Carolina. Not Florida, though. (Bloomberg)

  4. Possible good news: A coronavirus patient says the anti-malaria drug President Trump has been talking about saved his life. (NY Post)

  5. From last week, but still cool: An open source 3D printing ventilator project rolled out a prototype in one week. (TechCrunch)

  6. Relevant: The CEO of 3M says he’s “disappointed” that any of his company’s N95 masks can be found in stores, because they should all go to health care workers. (CNN)

  7. The 2020 Summer Olympics will be postponed, likely until 2021. (Bleacher Report)

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