Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. ~Robert Frost
It all began sometime in early March. At least that’s when we started to pay attention but we now know, since listening to the Bob Woodward’s tapes, that Trump knew much earlier how deadly the virus was.
Around the time of my birthday, March 6th, one of the last times I sat at a bar, in downtown Wilmington, Vermont, the night before we left for Roanoke, Virginia none of us had any idea what lie ahead. The days of isolation, quarantining, loneliness, canceled dreams, lives on hold, financial concerns, and the fear of the unknown. And because we live in the United States of America we are divided on all these topics in times that call for unity. Some of us wear masks. Others feel it is a violation of their constitutional rights. Some believe in science and the advice of medical experts. Others believe in Donald Trump.
From the very beginning I wondered how we could live a good life when my daughters live far from home. When would I see the girls again? My Dad is 87 years old. How do I visit him without potentially infecting him?
Despite being healthy for his age, how much time does my Dad have left? How much time do I have left? How long will this virus linger and how much time will we lose with our loved ones?
When decisions and choices are presented it all comes down to one’s comfort level with risk balanced by intelligent choices on how to reduce that risk.
In late September I got the call from my younger daughter Michelle that she was leaving Missoula, Montana and moving to New York City. Three weeks before America shutdown due to Covid-19 she had lost her job as the beer and wine manager at Lucky’s grocery story chain. They had been bought out by Kroger’s two years earlier and now the majority of Lucky’s stores across the country were closing. A corporate maneuver that is all too often used to kill the competition. Her unemployment checks had reached their limit. She qualified for the $600 stimulus but didn’t qualify for any further aid and Mitch McConnell and the Congress couldn’t agree on a deal.
My father had helped the grandkids early on in the pandemic. She used his generous gift to advance her studies as a sommelier. Opportunities in her field were scarce in Montana. She’s 26 years old and asked herself how long she wanted to put her career on hold? How long before the money she had been able to save ran out?
She called to ask if I would be okay with joining her for part of the journey across the country. She had first asked her sister, Chelsea, “What do you think? Is it too much of an ask for Mom to do this in a pandemic?”
“Are you kidding?” Chelsea replied. “When has Mom ever said no to a road trip?”
I’ve driven long road trips with both my girls. I helped Chelsea move from Lake Tahoe to Frisco, Colorado then drove the rental car back across the Utah salt flats to Reno where I’d rented the car because if I left the car in Colorado the rental agency was going to charge me $600.
I also gave my old Subaru to Michelle and we drove it from Vermont to Missoula, Montana. Chelsea was right. I always show up and I never turn down a road trip. Of course the answer was yes. We agreed to meet in Denver because I’m familiar with the airport. She would drive solo through Montana and Wyoming.
On Sunday October 4th Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut was a ghost town. I was traveling light with a backpack and my pocketbook. No checking luggage on this trip. My contact lens solution and hand sanitizer were in a visible mesh pocket but it still got scrutinized by a TSA agent who put it in a metal box to check for what? Explosive chemicals? For some reason we’re also still taking our shoes off. There was only one guy in front of me and no one behind me when I went through the check-in. He was an older man and didn’t take his shoes off so I assumed we were skipping this procedure during the pandemic. I was wrong. The guy at the X-ray booth asked, “What’s your birth year?” “1957,” I replied. “Okay, you gotta take your shoes off.”
So we have a president who holds a super spreader event on the White House lawn for his chosen handmaiden for the Supreme Court but we’re still paranoid about the one known shoe bomber from years ago and the possibility of a 63 year old woman wearing glasses with a crack because she’s preserving contact lenses and had read that glasses help protect your eyes from absorbing coronavirus particles. Yeah, we’ve really got our shit together here in the U.S.A.
I managed to get a 3rd row window seat. I had also read window seats put you further away from people walking down the aisle. Finally we were up in the air headed to BWI, an airport I have been to so many times I have written blogs about it and use the hashtag #storiesfromBWI.
As we began our descent we passed over suburbs along the Beltway and a body of water I assumed was the The Potomac. I wondered what happened to those digital maps on the back of the seat in front of you and the days when pilots pointed out landmarks like “If you look to your left you’ll see the Grand Canyon.”
The woman in my aisle seat was playing word games on her phone. I became addicted to these games early on during the pandemic, when we were in Roanoke. The addiction lasted two days.
Below me were the suburbs where those mysterious elusive voters, the suburban women live. Swimming pools, baseball diamonds, nicely distanced homes, and evergreen trees not the riot of orange, yellow, and red leaves I’d left behind in Vermont. Earlier in the morning, back at home, I had read an article about an actor most people don’t know by name but they recognize his face. He is holing up in Newfane, Vermont during coronavirus. “I am in the safest place on the planet,” he said.
We touched down in Baltimore, south of Vermont. This is how we fly nowadays. I am headed South before I head North and then West. I am also headed for the unknown. Traveling in uncertain times through states unlike the place I live with people who have different opinions and attitudes about safety, science, and the advice of medical experts like Dr. Fauci.
The ladies room at BWI was a shit show. Everyone was confused about where to to stand. I waved my hand below the faucet. No water. “Come on now,” I muttered behind my mask. This cracked up the lady two sinks away from me. A brief moment of levity.
There was little time between my flights so I headed to the gate where it was quite a bit more crowded than Hartford.
I decided to skip my usual visit to Obrycki’s. There was little time between my flights so I headed to the gate where it was much more crowded than Hartford. A woman wearing a hat that said Vermont Terps was standing at the charging station. As if it were the old days, I struck up a conversation. She was from Burlington. We agreed we felt very safe in Vermont and flying felt jarring and nerve wracking. “Are we crazy to be doing this?” I asked. Then told her about my daughter and our planned road trip.
She told me she now lives in Colorado and she hadn’t seen her sons and grandkids in a year and a half. I told her about my older daughter, Chelsea, who lives in Breckenridge, Colorado and how there had been an outbreak of Covid-19 after Labor Day and the weekends after when people from Texas and Iowa, not always wearing masks, visited the Rocky Mountains.
“I am hoping she can meet us in Denver. She’s feeling better. She’s been approved to go back to work and is having another test tomorrow. I haven’t seen either one of my daughters since Thanksgiving in Missoula. It’s been a long two weeks worrying about her and this flight to Denver.”
We both agreed life is short. We do what we can. We take what precautions are available. The plane could crash. We could be diagnosed with cancer or stricken with a heart attack. Life is uncertain so we live and we love as best we can.
On the flight to Grand Rapids, Michigan (I told you I was headed North before going West) I got the 3rd row window seat again. I was glad I had paid the extra $25 for early boarding. Something I never do.
A throat clearer was sitting across the aisle from me. Someone behind me sneezed. I had been wearing my mask for over four hours. My glasses kept fogging up. I thought about a shot of whisky then changed my mind because that would require me taking my mask off. A few people chatted loudly on this flight but a half hour later all was quiet. Very few people took the stewardess up on her offer of water and crackers, myself included. My sister had told me, “Don’t take the snacks.”
There were no TVs on at BWI. Maybe they took them down to stop people from congregating. I didn’t know how Trump was doing with his own battle with coronavirus. I didn’t really give a shit. I was angry he was getting the best of care while my daughter fought her Covid battle in her studio apartment with bottles of aspirin and Vitamin D along with her boyfriend and her friend next door, all three of them infected with Covid 19, and Athena, my granddog who was feeling fine but missing her daily hikes. There is also a counselor who calls once a day to check in and ask if she needs food or drug store items delivered.
We are flying across a field of clouds. The woman now sitting in the aisle seat looks like Jill Biden. She reads something on her Kindle and snaps gum behind her mask during the entire one and a half hour flight. The clouds look like large white boulders and pass so close by I feel like if I could open the window I could reach out and touch them. Then we enter the cloud bank and the ride gets bumpy. A crying baby at the back of the plane sounds like a cat. My ears pop. I want to ask the gum snapper if she has more gum but we’ve never established eye contact.
I don’t have to change planes in Grand Rapids but I do change my seat to the front row window seat before a new batch of travelers board the plane. A man all suited up and wearing plastic gloves boards the plane and starts wiping down the seats and the tray tables. The steward takes a seat in the row across the aisle that is designated for flight attendants only. He eats a homemade lunch and reads text messages on his phone.
I had read a direct flight would keep you from increased exposure. All I can say is good luck finding a direct flight.
My third aisle seat mate for the day is a woman a little older than me and from Michigan’s Upper Peninsular. I tell her about my daughter Michelle and the road trip we took in my old 2002 Subaru when we the drove through the Upper Peninsular to the Painted Rocks. She told me she was flying to San Francisco to visit her grandchildren. Both her sons live there and she hadn’t seen them since Thanksgiving.
“Same here,” I said. “I’m hoping to see both my girls.”
I told her about Chelsea and how her friend was working at the outdoor farmer’s market and a visitor from Iowa wasn’t wearing a mask. When she told him it was mandatory he yelled at her. “He could have been the spreader,” I said.
“Yes, he most likely could have been. They’ve been spiking in Iowa. I really don’t understand people these days,” she said. “I hope your daughter recovers quickly. We can only take so much. Life goes on. We have to see our loved ones.”
“Exactly,” I replied. “Just be safe. Follow the rules and hope for the best.”
Coming out of the clouds the land below was flat with very few trees planted on a checkerboard of brown and green squares. There were barns and manmade ponds. Silos and baseball fields. A sign that said Davenport Football. We were flying above Iowa which in a few days I will be driving through.
A half hour later the landscape is more barren and bleak. There are circles within the squares. No signs of life. Very few houses. We are flying above the Eastern Plains of Colorado.
Although I have been to the Denver airport numerous times I’d forgotten how confusing this airport is. I skipped the first train that came by because it was too crowded. The 2nd one was fine but I didn’t realize it was headed in the wrong direction. It took me to the United Airlines baggage terminal but it didn’t matter. I didn’t check any bags.
The escalator to street level was packed like a tin of sardines. The lighting was dim, apparently an electrical problem, and a man about my age stepped aside and said, “I don’t need to get involved in that mess.”
“Neither do,” I said and waited six feet from him.
I called Michelle. She was already on her way and within ten minutes she met me at the sidewalk where I was waiting. The most nerve wracking part of the trip was over. I am sharing this story two weeks later. I am assuming I survived the airports and the three flights along my journey. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be and now the road lay ahead of us. A mode of travel where I feel far more in control, but we shall see.
…to be continued.
Have you flown during coronavirus? Are you considering flying? Have questions? I’d be glad to answer them.
Are you finding it difficult not to see some of your loved ones during these trying times?