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In A Free State

I get out for a while and learn how the other half of the USA is dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

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SOMEWHERE, Florida- The difference couldn’t have been more stark. It was three weeks ago and New York City had barely budged at re-opening. The city had been locked down since mid-March, when private businesses were forced to close and eight million+ people put on house arrest in an abuse of power that has perhaps never been matched in US history. People in the streets were tense, angry, masked up, and unemployed. Seemingly having nothing better to do they rioted. There were ongoing demonstrations to eradicate the police which local politicians actively supported, the mayor had previously released 2,500 criminals from Rikers as part of his Covid prevention plan, and, unsurprisingly, crime spread across the city at a rate unlike anything that has been seen in decades. The Bronx was looted. Hundreds of people were shot, dozens murdered. My building was robbed on multiple occasions.

Many other Democrat-run cities across the country employed similar draconian Covid measures as NYC, threw their police under the bus, and sat back and applauded as armed gangs took control of entire neighborhoods.

I had to get out for a while.

When I arrived in Florida it became clear that I was in a place that was administered very differently — so much so that it was like I’d stepped into another country. The restaurants and bars were open, the beaches were full, shops functioned as though the Fifth Amendment was still valid, people moved about freely, and nobody wore masks. It felt like I’d stepped back in time to an era (circa 2019) when the USA was the standard of what I knew as normal.

Florida beach

I spent the next week with my best friend from home and forgot about the turmoil that was transpiring in New York. We hung out by his pool, drank beer, and found ourselves exasperated when reading the mainstream media reporting about how Florida had become the Covid epicenter of the world.

We were in a county of a half million people that had 1,600 confirmed Covid cases and something like 16 deaths in total. Almost all of the counties all the way down to Miami-Dade were reporting similar numbers. It was almost surreal — kind of like how the people in China must have felt when I told them the US media was proclaiming their town a ghost city that nobody lived in.

The reports seldom mentioned — or tried to play down — the fact that Florida was testing vastly more people than pretty much anywhere else in the country, so more positive cases were logically going to be recorded, or the fact that only 4,277 have so far died of Covid, or — the stat that really matters — Florida’s Covid deaths per million people is a mere 199. For comparison, New York had 32,445 Covid fatalities with a deaths per million rate of 1,668, or nearly eight and a half times higher than Florida.

When I was in Florida NY Governor Cuomo also announced another nonsensical draconian measure: anyone coming into New York State from Florida and a handful of other (Republican) states would need to quarantine for 14 days. It seemed to have been a move to accomplish nothing more than getting back at Florida in the early days of the pandemic when they required New Yorkers coming in to quarantine. Outside of this it was a moot measure: Covid has already spread through the New York population, and the virus is no longer localized to anywhere in the USA. Meanwhile, myriad vacation plans were wasted, family visits cancelled, and businesses destroyed due to the loss of tourism. The people of the US have become the play things of governors and mayors who seem to enjoy the feel of their soft white palms inside the iron mitts of absolute power.

But the reason why I’m writing this was because this trip made me question something I’ve never really considered seriously before:

Does that voting shit really do something?

Throughout my adult life I’ve watched people squabbling about partisan politics and getting uppity about voting with mockery. I’d never voted before, finding both parties basically owned by the same corporations and virtually identical in their core positions. I would always say that I vote with my feet: if one place starts to suck politically to the point that my life is adversely impacted I will just pack my bag and move on to a better place.

A thing that I never fully appreciated about travel before is the degree to which it puts you outside the world of politics. You are removed from your culture, far away from your people, in a land where what you have to say doesn’t matter — in a place where you are politically irrelevant. I’ve spent 20 years enjoying this position, not having to engage in squabbles and debates, being friends with the left and the right and everyone in between, being my own man rather than someone who grasps for identity via politics. But this game changed suddenly when the world shut down and I realized that I am stuck. Much to my detriment, perhaps, I began looking out my window.

The first thing I did upon returning to New York was register to vote.

Filed under: Epidemics, Florida, New York, New York City, Politics, USA

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 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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  • Lawrence July 14, 2020, 8:25 pm

    I messages a friend of mine a few weeks ago and I said “Thank God for Red States.” That is a sentence I never thought I would write. I have pretty much actively stopped reading the news, it gets me too worked up. Interesting, for me the final straw was being on some sub reddit and having New Englanders act all smug toward Southerners when by every standard the South is doing better! No matter what facts you lay out, people just believe their narrative. Hell, I am guilty of that as well.

    The same dynamic is playing out in Australia. The states that do worse but with correct (left-leaning) governments get praise while everyone else is a heartless grandma killer or 5G conspiracy theorist. I just have to take a step back and realize my life is pretty good from where I sit, so try not to worry about it. It’s tough though.

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    • Vagabond Journey July 15, 2020, 10:18 pm

      Yeah, no kidding, man. I find myself shocked when I say the same things. When we were in our 20s it was the religious right who were the bad guys. Now the left has taken their place … and seem much worse. At least right wingers leave you alone if you’re not buying their shit. The left wing is all about forced compliance, and has brought everyone into their battle — if you’re not with them then you’re an enemy. It’s really bonkers, like something out of a bad sci-fi novel. All the premises on which our society is based upon are being attacked — even the enlightenment and science. Right now they are calling it all “racist” but I believe this is just a strategic buzzword that they know people will rally around. It’s a power game — they don’t want to create a more equal system but a system where they are in control. This is how these things start.

      Haha, yes, they control the narrative, man. Crazy how biased they’ve become in regards to Covid measures. They all bash Florida but California — which is just as bad — they don’t dare touch. Or Belgium — they don’t dare bash Belgium because they are lead by a liberal female. It’s just a political game. The reason why NY is so good now is because their response was so bad in the beginning and enough people got it that it’s no longer really spreading. It will be the same for everywhere regardless of strategy. What’s going to be interesting is China: they didn’t let it properly spread and have a long road ahead — unless they want to be closed for years.

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  • Kyle B. July 15, 2020, 1:18 pm

    If there’s a silver lining in this as far as travel goes, people seem to be staying closer to home and getting outdoors more. We’ve been Upstate several times to see family and it doesn’t really look any different than usual. That view has been nice, since being at home in NYC can warp your perspective.

    We tried finding a campsite in the Adirondacks the last few weekends and literally everything is fully booked. I don’t think anyone is really holding off on travel plans, they’re just staying close to home. Wish we could fly to Japan or somewhere right now, but I’ll take some camping on a lake as a second option.

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    • Vagabond Journey July 15, 2020, 10:29 pm

      That’s very true. We’re Americans and are kind of bullheaded — we’re not going to let anyone tell us we can’t go on vacation haha. Good call on getting away upstate. NYC makes you nuts.

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  • Jack July 16, 2020, 7:09 am

    Ha! Don’t humor yourself that the red states are any better. They are just as messed up and in your face as the other states, just not on this issue. And there are two false and diametrically opposed narratives going on. They have just put just about anyone and everyone in the US in one of two camps. I’ve managed to stick myself in neither group and the lefties and righties locally think I’m loonie.

    The only store in my small town for buying little things that pop up is a Dollar General. It is managed by a crazy white woman who knows everything. I recognize her car so I don’t go in when she is there. It works good until one day she switched the car she is driving. I got an earful and it felt like she was chasing me down the store telling me all the latest crap.

    See I have this big problem. For some reason, poor white trash redneck people think I’m one of them. They feel like they can walk up to me like an old friend and that I’ll 100% agree with them. I didn’t realize that this wasn’t normal until I actually came back to the US in 2013 and it seemed like too many people started talking to me about random stuff. I don’t even go to bars. Me? I just want to be left alone.

    Wearing a mask has helped me out immensely. The mask signifies that I am not one of them. See, the mask has become a political statement. If you are liberal you wear a mask, if you are conservative then you don’t. Biden= Mask. Trump= No Mask. While people leave me alone, I am still mischaracterized politically.

    But how does that make me loonie? I believe that masks are a personal choice. If you want to wear one then wear one. If you don’t then don’t. I feel the same way about seat belts. One of Benito Juarez’s most famous quotes is “Respect for the rights of others is peace.” We need to respect the rights of others. It’s a very basic tenet in my own religious beliefs. Seems simple, right? Ha! America is all about whatever one’s notions about their own rights is.

    I believe that goes to figuring out who’s domain it is and then respecting that right. In my house, if you want to visit then you are wearing a mask. Don’t like it then use your right to choose not visit my house. If it is important enough to you, then you will wear a mask. If your visit is important enough for me then I’ll choose to not. You aren’t being forced, you are being given that right. Walmart is going to require masks to shop at its stores in a few days. My wife has to be an enforcer of it and she is preparing to accept a heap of abuse at people who think its their right to not wear a mask. My advice to hear? “Yes, you have a right to choose whether you wear a mask or not. Walmart has a right to choose whether you enter the store or not.”

    Ha! American’s don’t even know what real choice is. It’s like the old RC Cola commercials. They want Coke or Pepsi and can’t fathom a third option. They want the illusion of real choice but are scared to confront real choices. They want to be told what to think and when to think it. And they want someone to puff them up about what they have chosen.

    It just hit me last night though. It’s a microcosm of the whole border wall debate and a powerful look at how hypocritical the left and the right are. Those against illegal immigration think that Walmart has no right to restrict entry. Those who are for open borders are all for restrictions. Think about that one long and hard until your brain bursts.

    And me? I am still not registered to vote. I won’t vote. I don’t want any part of the system and I’m doing my best not to be part of the system.

    And yes I am ranting, but that’s ok. I’m a loonie. It’s probably a good thing that I don’t vote.

    When do the borders up back up?

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    • Jack July 16, 2020, 8:32 am

      And I think I need to say this: I wouldn’t want to be anywhere where I was required to do something or not allowed to do something. I couldn’t have handled New York during their lockdown.

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      • Vagabond Journey July 17, 2020, 10:41 am

        Yeah, NY and CA are going full on totalitarian. So many rules, so many taxes, so many reasons to leave. They don’t seem to get that people with money have a choice of where they live … and cities survive off of people with money. The real hit to NYC is going to come when the city realizes how much tax revenue they’ve lost. Cutting a billion from the cops for BLM … probably more because cuts like that are inevitable. Much easier to cut funding to the police to appease the mob than trying to explain why there’s not enough in the coffers to go around.

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    • Vagabond Journey July 17, 2020, 10:35 am

      Haha yes, that’s true. Before the Dems started going super left (I.e. authoritarian) it was always the red states that I viewed as being restrictive on individual liberties. But what the Dems have done with this crisis + forced vaccination in some states makes my former adverse feelings towards the reds seem rather flimsy.

      Yes, I’m usually a loonie in the middle as well. But what I experienced in NYC during the lockdown (and afterwards as they allowed rioting and mass murder to make a political point) has turned me into a temporary reactive Republican haha. I could never have imagined the left getting so insane that they make the fucking Republicans seem moderate — or even progressive. What strange upside down world is this?

      I know what you mean about how irritating it is to have people come up to talk with you as though they just expect that you are ONE OF THEM. I experience this oftentimes with the left. They just take me as ONE OF THEM and when I make it clear that I’m not they don’t really seem to know how to handle it. They get pissed — as though I just stomped on their view of the world.

      While I often don’t agree with those on the right, I do enjoy talking to them more as they offer me the respect of the Other — they never just assume I’m one of them and they don’t expect me to have the same opinions … and tend to be prepared for real dialogue or at least debate.

      The mask thing has be excellent! I’m the opposite as you: I refuse to wear the mask anywhere I can and send the message that I’m not one of the mob haha.

      Yes, respecting the rights of others is peace. Doing the opposite is conflict. It’s interesting how much the left is craving conflict right now — trying to force their worldviews and beliefs on others and getting angry when they don’t comply. It’s getting pretty scary. But, as you put it, both sides are hypocritical in their positions.

      I feel for your wife. That’s not going to be an easy job.

      Yes, those borders opening up again … we need to get out of this land of loonies.

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      • Trevor Warman July 17, 2020, 12:01 pm

        Man what a freaking mess…. come to Kosovo its awesome here…. ok there are no buses to Skopje but can go to Albania and then to Skopje and to Serbia and then be Trevor’ed (thats me) in Serbia again … until…. until what ? Moldova got pushed back til August 1st . Wtf.. its mental… but am luvin’ it.


        Glad i got out of Kenya… cases gone from 5k to 12k in what 3 weeks … its not going to well…

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        • Vagabond Journey July 17, 2020, 9:43 pm

          I guess rather than chasing the front of the pandemic it would probably be best to start shooting for the back end — planning to go to the countries that now have the highest case counts, as these are going to be the ones opening up for real. In NYC it’s just about gone … and it probably won’t come back because it’s gone because enough people have already had it. Italy is looking good, as is Spain. Iran should be doing pretty well pretty soon. It’s strange, but it’s probably going to be the most inept countries who weren’t able to contain the spread that are going to be the winners here, as their populations are now protected. I guess aim for idiot countries … like mine haha.

          But, man, what an odd trip this has been for you. When you start out on long journey you have no idea what’s going to happen but this, man, this is nuts! Have fun chasing opening countries. That’s actually a cool way to travel.

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