A2 COVID-19: Luke Bonner

Luke Bonner has a consulting firm, based in Ann Arbor. I first met Luke in 2018, when he was doing community and public engagement work for the Core Spaces project. He consults with companies from all around the country, working on economic and real estate developments in Michigan. In our conversation, Luke explains how his work continues from home (with the help of technology), his perspective on the seriousness of this pandemic, and how routines have helped him and his family keep busy.


This is part of a series of interviews with Ann Arbor residents, talking about personal experiences adjusting to (and adapting during) the COVID-19 crisis. This interview was conducted remotely via the ZOOM application. I appear in this video as “Mrs. Nelson” - we talked over the ZOOM account that I use primarily with my preschool class. Interviewed May 4, 2020



I'm talking to Luke Bonner who has a firm based in Ann Arbor that is real estate and economic development consulting. Is that it right?

Correct.

Okay, thank you for talking to me, Luke!


Of course!


So I'm asking everybody the same question and for everybody the answer is a little bit different: what kind of adjustments and changes have you had to make in your lifestyle during this pandemic? 


You know, I think I’ve been fairly fortunate that, from a consulting firm standpoint, I've been on the road a lot (generally on the road three, four days a week). To be quite honest with you, I think over the last four or five years I've made a habit out of working from home to begin with. We have the office in Ann Arbor - which we actually signed the lease last November and so I haven't been able to use it as much as I wanted to! - but I’ve got to be quite honest with you, the only difference is I'm home every day. All of the client work that I have right now, no one has stopped the projects that we're working on with them which has been really good.


The biggest change are the technological changes that everybody's using (like this one), like ZOOM. I’ve been on ZOOM all day today, been in ZOOM almost all day every day. So from that standpoint - from a working standpoint - we haven't been interfacing as much with clients individually. We've been using technology every day for all of our project meetings. I'll give you another example (I think you may have actually participated): we had a community meeting for the Packard project a couple of weeks ago. We did that over ZOOM and I thought it actually went really well. I think we had over 30 questions if my memory serves me correctly. The feedback I got was people liked how efficiently it was run. I think we answered every single question that came through. 


So that's a change. I think it's a change for the community, it was a change for us. But we had another meeting related to that project previous to that where we had 50 people in a room over at York. It was a lot of conversations going on, it was loud, everybody's mixing and mingling and that sort of thing. But we did the same thing, we just used technology to do it and I think everybody was still happy with the process and the outcome of it. 


From a work standpoint, I’ve comfortably kind of settled into working from home, working from my home office. I’m on my laptop and phone all day every day anyways, so I guess the real big difference is that we have a puppy in our house as of six weeks ago! So that alters the daily living of everyone in this house. 


So, in your household, are you taking any precautions with the day-to-day activities that are now looking very different? Like getting groceries looks very different, now that we're supposed to be quarantined and not exposing ourselves. Do you have any routines in your household around these activities that we can't avoid going out in public to do? 


Yeah, we have very much stuck to being very rigid on the rules. No rule breaking. Actually, my wife and I went to Costco Saturday? Friday, we went Friday… and that's the first time that we've gone anywhere and it was kind of weird! Not having been out, outside of walking around the neighborhood and playing outside with the kids and the dog and all that stuff. The only place that we generally go is we do curbside pickup for groceries so we get them loaded. Then when we bring them home, we take the extra precaution that we literally sanitize every item that we get from the grocery store before it goes in the house. If there are fruits and vegetables, we leave them in the garage for an extra day before we bring them in.

We've been very very cautious. We haven't really gone to any parks, we haven't done any of that stuff. We’ve really stuck to our home, our yard and to the greatest extent the neighborhood as much as possible. Even when we take our walks in the neighborhood, we make sure that we are six feet apart from people. When we're walking we kind of go to the other side of the street (hopefully not making people feel bad). We are trying to do everything we possibly can that the CDC says. We're exercising that as much as possible even in our small way because that's the right thing to do.


Some of the people that I've talked to have described feeling really cooped

up, that these restrictions - like having to stay in your house most of the time or just losing so many of the outlets that we used to have - it is feeling like our worlds have gotten very small. How have you overcome any feelings like that?


Yeah… I think it's perspective. You know this, too, having children. Mine are 14 and 11 so they can get a little antsy, but I think it's maintaining the perspective and the purpose of why we're doing it and it's not lasting forever, this isn't how we're going to be forever. I think that we haven't necessarily felt cooped up. 


I think it would be very different, quite honestly - I’m not sure if other people have said this but - it would be very different if it was like mid-December or mid-January and it was like negative 25 degrees outside.


(laughter)


A little different! It would be a very different scenario and you probably see this. The amount of people in our neighborhood… I see people walking through the neighborhood I've never seen before in my entire life! I think it's because there are more people home now and for people that generally are busy and I don't see them coming and going - well, everyone’s home! There are so many people out walking around, there’s so many new people that I didn't know live here and the kids say: there are so many kids that live in our neighborhood, I had no idea!


So I don't think, number one, I don’t think we necessarily feel cooped up because we've been in a weather situation that's allowed us to get out a lot. So if my wife and I’ve got to take an hour-long walk, we take an hour-long walk, right? Send the kids out on their bike when things get a little restless in the house. Then it's all maintaining the perspective of why are we doing this. 


I think the hardest part, in all honesty, is my wife's mom has been sick this entire time. She just had a surgical procedure last week so the hardest part is not being able to go down and be with her mom and her dad. That's been the toughest part of this, it's been really tough on her. They talk every single day, which is good. She just can't do anything to help them, which is what she would normally be doing right now.


So I think perspective is really really important, especially for the kids, and understand why we're doing this and you know it's not going to be forever. The kids these days have access to news like you and I do, so the amount of questions that we have to ask about the random and crazy things they see on the news all the time, making sure that we're just being honest with them and addressing those questions and that sort of thing. 


Yeah, I mean, if that answers your question… you know, it's getting outside as much as we possibly can, I think that's been huge. I think the weather has been great for that (thank God it’s not mid-January!) and just keeping perspective and why we're doing this. 


Would you have anything specific to say to people who are feeling so overly restricted by these guidelines that they are fighting against them, basically? We've had these… we've seen these protests in Lansing, we’ve seen this window into folks who are wanting us to return to normal and wanting to just carry on back to the way we were living three months ago. Would you have anything to say to those people? 


Well, probably! I think keeping perspective on it is really important because the one thing that people tend to say is, well, you know this isn’t as bad as everybody said it was going to be and you look at the numbers from the flu every year and this, that, everything else. But the reality is we’re talking about like one month. One month of real reporting so far, right? So if you really look at March and April, that's a lot of people that got sick in like six weeks and a lot of people died in like six weeks. And that’s condensed timeframe AND we started practicing social distancing AND we were under a stay at home order.


So if you took that six week period and said, okay, let’s say we never did anything. Well, I think the numbers would be fairly significant, you’d be looking to be looking at a death number of around two million. You look in the state of Michigan, there's forty-three thousand cases and four thousand people have died. That's a 10% mortality rate, that's not very good. So I think the perspective is like really the most important thing.


It's like a teenager: why am I being punished? Look, you’re not being punished, okay? This is… there's nothing that can control what’s going on other than what we can control ourselves which is: let’s just stay put, right? We're doing this for the reasons that we can get back to normal life much more quickly versus having this continue to draw out longer and longer and longer (which nobody wants). It can be hard. Everyone's got their different things that they do every single day and their different routines and their different networks that they belong to and the people they hang out with. But the perspective you need to keep is that this has been as bad as advertised. 


I don't care what anybody says, when you look at a one-month period of time it's been as bad as advertised, especially here. It's not like it is here everywhere else around the country. There are other places that haven't experienced what we have and there are other states that aren't going through what we're going through. My best friend lives in Phoenix. Maricopa County has 4 million people. They've had 75, I think - as of like two weeks ago, he was telling me - they had like 75 COVID related deaths out of 4 million people population and like 2200 cases. 


So it's very different from other places across the country. Just like anything else on social media, you can't look and see what someone's doing in Arizona or Nashville or Texas because it's very different there than it is here. It's bad here so we have to deal with it that way. I just… I'm too black-and-white on it, I guess. 


Those are actually all the questions that I have! So, do you have anything else that you didn't get a chance to say, that you'd like to add? 


Well, what are you doing? What are you doing, just to say sane, I guess?


(laughs) I’m talking to people! I’m actually making lots of silly videos for my preschool class, that's how I’m keeping busy. And focusing on City Council stuff.


Yeah, well, City Council is enough to keep you busy, for sure, and definitely preschool. My kids have had ZOOM classroom like everyday, so they're busy with work, so that routine, I guess… We've had a routine here, so then maybe that's another very important thing to talk about. The kids are in ZOOM classroom, we have a workout, we have a dog that we have to take out that takes naps, and then talking to people. 


I'm working, so my day goes by super fast and then, from time to time, I have buddies, we’ll do a ZOOM call like every couple of weeks. My wife is doing calls with friends and stuff like that. Staying connected with people is really important. I think that helps not feel so isolated when you can constantly talk to people. And keeping a routine. The routine’s been nice, it's making the days go by quickly. 


I feel like my days are going by quickly, quicker than I expected they would. 


Yeah, me too. I mean, like right now, I feel like…it’s already four o’clock. I've been working since, I don't know, my first call was at nine o'clock this morning and I haven't got out of this chair, all day. But I feel like a lot of days are like that: you look up and it's like 4:45. It's like, oh my gosh. You know? 


I feel like the days are going by fast but I think the routine kind of helps when you have certain, your own little milestones throughout the day: now you know it’s noon, now you know it’s two o’clock, now you know it's five o’clock, now the dog goes to sleep at 8:30… now it's time to watch some Netflix before the kids go to bed. So yeah, the routine’s been nice. 


Well, I thank you for talking to me! Thanks for the time! 


Thanks for having me! I appreciate it! 

Elizabeth NELSON

DEMOCRAT for Ann Arbor City Council Ward 4

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PO Box 2243. Ann Arbor. MI 48106-2243