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Birthday In The Time Of Coronavirus, 39 Years Old

A different year than most.

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ASTORIA, NYC- I was betting on the pandemic panic being over by May 23rd, my birthday. Evidence was coming out that told us that Covid-19 isn’t nearly as dangerous as initially thought and the mounting adverse health ramifications of lockdown — not to mention economic — were becoming glaringly apparent. I thought the world would snap to its senses and call off the application of pseudoscience as policy: this isn’t Disease X, it hardly even kills anyone on its own, and what we’re doing to fight the pandemic is clearly far worse than the pandemic itself.

But I gave us far too much credit. May 23rd arrived and NYC was still in phase 0 of reopening. I would have a quarantine birthday.

I‘m 39 years old now. The only redeeming thing about that is that I’m not yet 40. But the effect is the same: I am in the thick of life; I am no longer becoming, this is who and I am and this is what I do. I have traveled my path long enough to have earned my label: writer / filmmaker. Someday when people ask who was that guy, there will be a simple one line response.

I did not have high hopes for this birthday. However, no matter what, I knew that it would probably go better than my birthday last year:

I’m now 38 years old and I’m probably too old to be whining about my birthday party. My sister didn’t show up. I told her the night before that I didn’t support what she was doing — that I thought she was wrong — and she was out of there. That was that. When she left New York to return to Montana she didn’t even bother to say goodbye. Not even a text …

I didn’t see that coming.

So I woke up in the morning happy to add on another layer of birthday to cover up the one from last year. I opened the door to my room and found that my kids had created a defacto gate across it with party streamers. They told me that I had to break through it, like a runner winning a race. I did so. They cheered. The living room was decorated and my wife and kids were busy making a carrot cake.

Birthday giftWe hung out for the day, ate hamburgers and chicken wings. Petra gave me a potato for my birthday, as she had been doing every year since she was a toddler, along with an embroidered Bills logo that she stitched over the past week while she was supposed to have been sleeping at night. Rivka gave me some drawings that she made. My wife gave me a chair.

As it was Memorial day weekend, I figured this meant that my birthday should be stretched out to three days — why not? On Memorial day we decided that we would go out and try to find a barbecue.

As bars and restaurants can’t have people sitting inside them some have started taking over the sidewalk. They set up grills and tables and serve food and drinks in the streets as the commercial districts of the city become defacto street parties. It’s a mildly cool reaction to the extreme governmental abuses of power. We found a bar grilling up hotdogs and I bought some for my kids.

We then went around the corner to a bar that had set up well-decorated barricades in front of the parking areas in front of their establishment. The local business association had petitioned the city to shut down a few commercial streets to traffic so they could set up tables outside for their customers — a sort of social distancing compromise, that made sense as Sars-Cov-2 doesn’t really spread outdoors. But yet again, the city chose the iron fist over science, so this bar just did it themselves.

Perhaps the only bright part of NYC’s Covid-19 measures was the fact that as you can buy drinks and consume them in the streets, my kids can join my wife and I on our forays around our neighborhood. We can walk, talk, joke around, and drink … like they do in Europe … or pretty much everywhere else in the world.

We spent the day walking south along the East River. It couldn’t have been a more perfect day…

… despite the fact that we had to continuously innovate places to urinate, as, for some reason that I don’t think anyone can understand, they shut down all the public toilets in the city and restaurants and bars don’t let you inside.

Ten years ago I celebrated my birthday in El Salvador. We were staying in the small city of Suchitoto in the foothills. While it was only an hour from San Salvador, it seemed a world away. We’d spend our days walking around on the cobblestone streets. Petra wasn’t even one year old and my wife was still proving to herself and everybody that just because she had a baby didn’t mean she couldn’t be cool.

My wife had a big party for me at the local expat bar and we invited the entire crew of regulars and pretty much everyone else that we knew — even the girls from the papusa restaurant that we’d eat at literally every night. The papusa girls fed Petra frosting from my carrot cake. It was the first thing she’d ever consumed besides breast milk and a lick of a pickle in New Jersey. It’s an El Salvador thing — Coca-cola is a staple for babies there.

Baby eating birthday cake frostenPetra ten years ago eating frosting.

This is what I wrote about it:

This was perhaps one of the biggest years of my life: since my last birthday I was married any had my first child. A big year. A lot seems to have changed, but really the plot is still the same. I still travel, I still write on Vagabondjourney.com full time. But so much more has been added to this plot, I now have a family to travel with me.

What stands out to me now is that, while I was still at the apex of youth, I seemed aware of its ephemeral qualities. I knew that big birthday parties full of friends would eventually be a thing of the past and I basked in it:

It made me happy to realize that I have friends here who were willing to come to my birthday party. It made me happier that they like me enough to buy me birthday beers. It is good to have friends, even if they are perpetually in the flow on the road sorts of friendships.

Nobody comes to my birthday parties anymore. I am an adult; a grown up — it’s just the way it often becomes. Not bad, just different. I appreciate what I had.

Birthday 2020I concluded that post with a line that really interests me now: “Sometimes you find yourself the architect of your time, but your time is always the architect of you.” It seems as if I may have been reaching towards being poetic, but there is something true about it. You spend your early adult days building up and defining who you are and then the rest of your life watching it crumble, fall apart, and fade away. I actually like the term “over the hill” because that’s really how it is. You climb the bell curve of life and then slide down the other side.

I’m still climbing. I’m not there yet.

Birthday post 2007

Birthday post 2008

Another birthday post from 2008

Birthday post 2009

Birthday post 2010

Birthday post 2011

Birthday post 2012

Birthday post 2016

Birthday post 2018

Birthday post 2019


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Filed under: Celebrations, Family, New York City

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: New York City

24 comments… add one

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  • Rob May 31, 2020, 8:13 pm

    Happy birthday Wade! Another successful trip around the sun is always a cause for celebration in my book & it sounds like you had a good day even with the political problems going on these days.
    As to the nation closed down for the flu.. no idea why, no idea who’s agenda this is following but I do know that back in 1968 there was a pandemic and no one noticed.
    Happy Birthday Wade!!

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    • Wade Shepard June 1, 2020, 10:25 am

      Thanks, Rob! Very much appreciated.

      Yes, this is all very strange. Trevor recently pointed out on Twitter that the CDC recently downgraded their rating for the virus to not very deadly at all and multiple stories have pointed out that it compares way better to the flu of ’57-’58 that nobody seemed to notice than the Spanish Flu of 1918.

      We’ve been duped. But by who and for what is not yet obvious.

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  • Trevor Warman June 1, 2020, 2:10 am

    Happy belated birthday.

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    • Wade Shepard June 1, 2020, 10:22 am

      Thanks, man! Someday hope to invite you to my birthday party haha.

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  • g June 1, 2020, 5:41 pm

    Happy Birthday Wade!! One more year before you’re officially over the hill. Thanks for keeping this blog going all these years, its somehow reassuring to hit your homepage and see that you are still writing and updating. I hope you take care and keep your family safe this summer. With a contentious election this november, it looks like its going to be a very long, hot, violent summer. Stay safe

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    • Wade Shepard June 15, 2020, 10:51 am

      Hello G,

      Thank you! I have to turn your comment right back around and say that it’s very reassuring to put up a blog post like this and to find a comment from you. Thanks for reading over the years. Very much appreciated.

      Yes, things are going nuts. It probably wasn’t the best year to try to set up a base of operations in NYC. But at the very least it’s been memorable haha.

      How have you been doing?

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      • g June 15, 2020, 7:48 pm

        Wade, I have been doing well. Not much international travel these days, mostly just domestic hunting and fishing trips (which aren’t at all bad, just different). I had planned to hike and camp a portion of the southern appalachian trail this summer. But because of the virus, looks like that will have to wait until they reopen the shelters along the trail. And some year hopefully not too far off, I dream of returning to Europe for another idyllic summer, possibly doing the camino al santiago. Definitely miss those long, long summer days the Europeans enjoy. As far as setting up a base in NYC this year, who knew?? But my guess is that life in the city is a good deal better than the media makes it look. Still, if I were you I would be wishing I was in Prague or some fairy-tale locale like that. Best wishes for your 39th year.

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        • Wade Shepard June 19, 2020, 11:10 am

          Hello G,

          Sounds as if you’re doing pretty well. Can’t complain about hunting at fishing trips, that’s for sure. The Appalachian trail will be there next year … unless the mob somehow decides to find it morally offensive …

          NYC is alright. Just kind of boring. You come here for the people. Barring that the place kind of sucks. It’s still an easy place to escape from — I have airports, train stations, and bus depots all around me. Can’t complain except for the fact that I’m finding myself on the opposite side of what’s popular here in the culture war. But I guess that’s our normal state of being as travelers haha.

          Yes, definitely wish I was in Prague.

          Excellent to hear from you again and thanks for the birthday wishes. Talk soon!

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  • MRP June 2, 2020, 10:43 am

    Happy belated Birthday Wade 😃.

    Am just back from an epic
    – but shocking – mountain road trip, and you’ve suddenly gotten older.

    Anyway, getting old’s alarming when you know that you are of another generation – that’s nearly gone from relevance; that’s how I feel about today’s travel / backpacking scene – dominated by selfie indulgence, rather than focusing on the journey and surrounding cultural/scenic beauty.

    History, here we come/are 🤪

    Anyway, keep living that vital life – Respect MRP

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    • Trevor Warman June 2, 2020, 12:10 pm

      Wade’s got more than a decade on us in a -ve way.
      Oh to be 39 again.

      My dads good now thanks.

      Did you once say that ur best travels are behind you? Clearly not, on those mountain roads with your ciao bella at the wheel and running out of gas……would ur van run on Baiju?

      @Wade yes invite me for next years birthday bash.

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      • MRP June 3, 2020, 8:02 pm

        @Trevor. A baijiu-powered vehicle would be the answer 😁 These days travel is still awesome, just a different approach from the craziness of my 20s, 30s, 40s.

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        • Trevor Warman June 6, 2020, 10:22 am

          Lockdown just got extended by 30 days….. the only improvements, none of which affect me, curfew from 9pm til 4am and some local restrictions lifted along the coast. Nairobi is still ‘nothing going in, nothing going out’ which paralyses the country . A few small hotels in towns west and north of here are open. Those with just rooms available.. but not many. Will do some day trips…

          The reasons being… re opening will cause a massive spike in cases and they dont have the facilities to cope with that…. which is what Wade was saying ages ago…

          The announcement was good. I watched the live stream. Straight to the point. No messing and stumbling. None of the bolloc*s that comes out of Boris or Thrumps mouths..

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    • Wade Shepard June 15, 2020, 11:04 am

      Thank you!

      Definitely, man. I always wondered how people get “old” and their generations become irrelevant and how would I know it when that happened to me. I guess it’s when you look at the younger generation and start thinking how much they don’t get it — how much they’re missing the plot. I would like to say that older travelers probably thought that about us at one time too … but, man, at least we really looked at the places we were traveling through, made friends, read books, got in trouble. and sought to get off the map. These kids now seem tame, lame, and boring — do they even have sex anymore? Or are they too scared of being “cancelled” for being too male? Isn’t the young generation supposed to shake things up and break the rules instead of creating a zillion new ones to follow?

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  • Lawrence June 2, 2020, 6:41 pm

    Happy Birthday. You are 3 days older than me!

    Would like to hear your thoughts on what is happening in NYC

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    • Wade Shepard June 15, 2020, 11:06 am

      Happy birthday to you too!

      Oh man, my thoughts — as usual — are not very popular. Basically, I stand with most of the planet in feeling that everyone with US citizenship is inherently privileged.

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  • Georgiy Romanov June 3, 2020, 6:48 am

    Congratulations, Wade! I was never forgot how your blog inspired me to travel on small bicycle in Japan! You still motivate me to do moves for pursuit my dream. Even interest in the New Silk Road woke up thanks to you. I’m 34 now. 5 years difference. last week scammers stoled money from my bank account, but read this as they stoled one year of my life from me (my brother took a credit on my name to start a new business). Lesson learned.

    I hope that close to your age I will independent from my work and will become a filmmaker, journalist on my own. Happy birthday to you! Stay health!

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    • Wade Shepard June 15, 2020, 11:08 am

      Thank you, man. So sorry to hear that. How did they scam you? Can you get the money back?

      Yes, keep making those films! You’re getting better.

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      • Georgiy Romanov June 18, 2020, 6:24 am

        I will do my best to bring those money back, but scammers know their business and how to deal with holes in the bank’s system. The scheme was really clever. Fraudsters knew my phone number, card details, and my name. They were able to fake the official number of the bank, got into my confidence by indicating that my data was transferred to third persons. After that, with the help of my voice, they took possession of my money. According to the bank, I was transferred money by myself and they see no reason to consider these transfers illegal. Now the police are investigating this case. There is a chance to return the money, but how long it will take is unknown

        Besides, This story help me to reach new height on my Russian blog. The story got a big resonance and a new source of income from advertising on the blog became available to me, which, I hope, will grow and help me to pay off the debt.

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        • Trevor Warman June 18, 2020, 6:42 am

          Thats great that the story grabbed peoples attention.

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          • Trevor Warman June 18, 2020, 6:46 am

            Latest installment on my own blog…. https://www.nomadicbackpacker.com/fears-and-frustrations.html

            Part 2 coming tomorrow

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            • Wade Shepard June 19, 2020, 11:34 am

              Man, sounds as if things are getting pretty dire. If they are that scared of the virus then they are going to be locked down for way longer than July. It’s not going away — especially in places that have had so few cases.

              In the USA, at least, it’s spread fast and is making its way through populations — plus a lot of people have had enough of the restrictions and are no longer complying.

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        • Wade Shepard June 19, 2020, 11:23 am

          At least something good seems to be coming from it!

          It’s crazy how easy it is for people to steal from others now.

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  • Trevor Warman June 20, 2020, 2:38 pm

    Am trying to find a way out of here, not easy with these evac flights and lots of unclear rules https://www.nomadicbackpacker.com/time-to-leave-but-can-i.html

    Everyone is saying EUROPE is open. Yes for Europeans in Europe no one has laid out rules for the likes of me …

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    • Wade Shepard June 30, 2020, 10:10 pm

      Excellent that you’ve gotten this figured out. You’re free!

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