Pandemic Road Trip
Let me be clear: This was out of necessity, not some spring-break adventure voyage. I was perfectly content hunkering down in isolation in Virginia, wearing my grandma panties, sweatpants and watching Netflix treasures like The Tiger King and Love Is Blind. I ate sad groceries delivered by Instacart, a company that deserves a class-action lawsuit for its trickery, horrible customer service and pandemic price gauging. But my husband and I needed to get home to Arizona. My three darling young-adult college-age bonus children awaited our arrival. Unfortunately, home was 2,288 miles away. And there was no way in hell I was getting on plane. So, after much spirited negotiation, I reluctantly agreed to drive 34 hours from East to West. I blackmailed my husband to get the family a new fuzzy dog for a reward. I dreaded this endless expedition navigating multiple COVID-19 afflicted states. I was reluctant to return home, because even though the game of pandemic sidewalk chicken with Arlington’s unmasked joggers had been annoying, I feared the fun-loving Arizona culture would eventually fare far worse, with health regulations ruining their “freedom.” The journey began the first week of April when there was so much coronavirus mystery and misinformation. At that time, we all thought we risked hospitalization or death from one wrong move. My husband packed our Honda Odyssey like he was MacGyver: five-gallon water bottles filled with gasoline and water, rope, batteries, bleach, a transistor radio, canned goods and other end-of-the-world survival equipment. I located whatever disinfectants and paper supplies I could find. Caring friends donated PPE, and I made delicacies like tuna sandwiches. Our goal was to stop as little as possible. In the game of viral roulette, I wanted to guarantee we were not one of those couples who mysteriously picked up the illness after following health protocols perfectly. Dammit, certainly not after watching that video of the Michigan Internist disinfect all his groceries and religiously following the taxingly miserable process myself. How many housewives want to asphyxiate that doctor after the CDC deemed sanitizing the groceries unnecessary? Personally, I am certain I may suffer long-term complications from huffing all those bleach aerosols. We drove west on Interstate 40 almost the entire way. I calculated where we could stop according to which counties had the lowest number of infections. Too petrified to enter any gas stations, I grabbed our coveted toilet paper and peed in the woods or behind abandoned buildings. My friends are always flabbergasted that I drive a minivan since I don’t have soccer-age children to haul around, but I’ve always joked that I could sleep in it if life got complicated. I was wrong. My goal was to drive straight through Southwest Virginia and Tennessee, because I felt infections there were too high. We grew fatigued outside Nashville and opted to pull over in a condominium parking lot and test the soporific effects of the minivan. It was the most uncomfortable two-hour catnap I ever had. At 6 a.m., I saw a man’s face illuminated by his computer screen staring back at me through his sliding-glass door. I was living in “The Glass Castle.” Each state we passed through had a distinct personality, with some clearly taking the virus more seriously than others. Do not speed on the recently paved Tennessee highways, because there are more concealed police traps collecting your hard-earned money than anywhere in America. Although Tennessee is lush with natural greenery, the nanosecond you cross the Mississippi River into Arkansas, the atmosphere changes from rich to poor. Our pit stop to fill the gas tank was filthy with litter. Plus, Arkansans had not yet received the memo about masks, and they stared at us like we were a couple space aliens when we emerged from our vehicle with our faces covered. I could feel the red infectious Trump energy in the air. My husband begged to stop at McDonald’s. I surrendered thinking his Big Mac was definitely not worth our lives. Our first stopover for a decent wash and rejuvenation was a newly built Courtyard by Marriott in Oklahoma City. I anxiously checked for the highest reviews for hotel cleanliness. The front desk made it clear that the hotel was for native Oklahomans only. Normally, this would piss me off, but in this case, I thought his discrimination was an excellent sign. I happily said okay, then executed a savvy loophole by booking the room through my Bonvoy app. At that point, they had to let us stay there. We had a lovely view of the parking lot and Walmart, where people dutifully lined up at sunrise to buy toilet paper and supplies. The minute I entered the hotel room, I furiously wiped down everything imaginable with Clorox wipes, while stripping the bed to replace the sheets with my own sanitized set. My husband took a different approach, simply sporadically spraying Lysol everywhere. The price of gas in Oklahoma was $1.08 per gallon in April. Unbelievable. Next destination was Santa Fe, N.M., which resembled a dystopian scene out of The Walking Dead. The Plaza was a southwestern Ghost Town, minus one Mad Max motorcycle gang. Santa Fe’s leadership delivered a strong message that this place took the virus seriously. The only evidence of life was at Whole Foods. Even people in the parking lot donned N-95 masks. It was the exact opposite of what we experienced in Arkansas. The next day was a mad rush to get back to the Valley of the Sun. By the time we entered Arizona, traffic increased as if everything was normal. The reality of the situation became alarmingly clear. As I had expected, the state of fun and sun did not take the pandemic seriously. I didn’t need a gypsy turban or crystal ball to crack that case. I quickly became the Howard Hughes of my town, while the locals continued to go to the gyms, salons, restaurants, bars and pool parties as if life was normal.
Tragically, we all know now how that turned out.