Out Of Office: Managing KUT Projects (From A Garage 'Office') And A Second-Grader During A Pandemic

May 22, 2020

"I think anybody out there with a second-grader probably feels my pain, but feels her pain, too," KUT Projects Editor Matt Largey says from his home "office."

Largey edits special projects for KUT (our ATXplained project, for example) and also does reporting. When Managing Editor Ben Philpott told news staff March 12 that almost everyone would start working remotely the next day, Largey knew just where he wanted to be: his garage – but with all the comforts of home (or office).

"I set up a lamp, so I have some nice lighting," he says. "And I even brought an old coffee maker out here, so that I don't have to go into the house all the time to get coffee."

The arrangement was great during the first few months of the pandemic when temperatures were cooler for the most part. But now that the 90s have hit, Largey has moved his gear inside.

He says he does expect to be working remotely this way for a while.

While Largey says he misses simple things "like just shaking someone's hand," he concedes, it's really hard to "believe we're ever going to get to that place" where it's safe to do things like that again "because I'm not sure that we're ready yet."

Largey is not the only one in his house with questions about the coronavirus pandemic. He says his daughter often has it on her mind.

"She brings up either COVID-19 or the coronavirus a lot," he says. "She asks me about things I'm working on for work that have to do with that. And I try to be honest with her."

What has staying at home been like with a 7-year-old?

"I feel bad for her," Largey says. "It's hard being away from your peers that you're used to seeing every day." But he notes that kids are resilient and that she's "getting by."

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, we'll be checking in with KUT news staff to hear how they are balancing the professional and personal during these stressful and uncertain times. Listen to the interview below or read the transcript to hear more about the silver lining Largey has found in the pandemic – including something he realizes he can easily live without.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

KUT Projects Editor Matt Largey: I set up myself a little desk here. I brought in a monitor from work, so I have my laptop and my extra screen. Got a little mixing board here next to me on this folding table that I have in the garage. I set up a lamp, so I have some nice lighting. And I even brought an old coffee maker out here, so that I don't have to go into the house all the time to get coffee.

I'm actually working next to my washing machine, which is normally in my laundry room. I'm going to put it back in there later this week.  

KUT: What is something that you found yourself really missing that you used to do or used to like that you just can't do right now?  

Largey: You know, I miss just going into a store and not putting on a hazmat suit before I go in. I take this stuff pretty seriously, so I put on the rubber gloves and I put on the facemask and have a bleach wipe in my hand and do the whole thing.

And I just want to walk into a store like a normal person. I just want to go to Home Depot like a normal person and not have to take all those precautions and just kind of wander around and not feel like I'm in a race to get out of there as quickly as possible.  

KUT: I don't think I will take it for granted again just to be able to walk into a store and wander around.

Largey: There are so many things that I took for granted before. I mean, just like shaking someone's hand, or it's just really simple, simple, simple things. If we ever get back to that place, it's going to take a long time before we feel really comfortable doing those things.

KUT: Do you ever think about – when that time comes – the first thing that you might want to do or place you might want to go once it's safe to do that again?

Largey: It's really hard for me to believe that we're ever going to get to that place. You know, we're starting to see the unwinding of some of these restrictions now. But in my mind, that time is still really far away where I feel comfortable going to do those things, because I'm not sure that we're ready yet.

And, also thinking a lot more about what it is I do need. I think if there's a silver lining in any of this, I think that it's forced us to really think about what is essential, what we really do need and a lot of the things that we do and that we buy that we don't need, that really are not essential.  

KUT: Are there some things that you're noticing that you're like, hey, actually, I can live without this?  

Largey: Yeah, sparkling water. I used to drink a lot of sparkling water. And it's like, what, three or four bucks for like a 12-pack or something. And just thinking about everything that went into getting that sparkling water into my refrigerator: like the making of the sparkling water; the canning of the sparkling water; driving it to the store; the people at the store putting it on the shelves; me or my wife going to buy it; bringing it home; putting it in our refrigerator at home – when really I could just turn on the tap and get a glass of water and have it be pretty much the same thing.

I don't know. It's hard for me to justify a can of sparkling water anymore.

KUT: I know you have a young person at home with you who is also staying at home. How is that going?

Largey: She's in second grade. I think anybody out there with a second-grader probably feels my pain, but feels her pain, too. I feel bad for her. And she's an only child, too. It's hard being away from your peers that you're used to seeing every day. We try, but she doesn't get as much physical activity. It's hard to keep her entertained.

My wife is doing a lot of that stuff, because she's not working right now. I'm working from home. I know that we're in a somewhat fortunate position. And I feel bad for parents who do both still have to work and maybe can't work from home. You know, while it's difficult, I know that it could be a lot worse.  

KUT: What did you tell her about why we're doing this and how would you say she's processing all of it?  

Largey: We told her the truth about it; we're doing this because we need to protect ourselves and we need to protect everyone else. We have to assume that we're carrying the virus or that we could pass it on to somebody else. To do that, we need to stay away from other people. She gets it. You know, she doesn't like it. She talks about it a lot. She brings up either COVID-19 or the coronavirus a lot. She asks me about things I'm working on for work that have to do with that. And I try to be honest with her.

We kind of assumed that school was not going to reopen this semester. I guess we kind of avoided telling her that for a little while, because we knew that was going to bum her out a lot. But when we finally did to tell her – when the decision was actually made and we finally did tell her – she took it a lot better than I thought she would. She was just like, OK. I don't know. Kids are resilient like that. So, she's getting by.

Got a tip? Email Jennifer Stayton at jstayton@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @jenstayton.

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