The airports are empty. The highways deserted.
LGA, New York City- There’s nobody here. In 20 years of travel I’ve never had LaGuardia to myself. I’ve never had any airport terminal to myself… I scan the gates. There’s clusters of two, three, five people where there’s space for dozens. Flights are departing with less passengers than I have fingers. My flight had nine.
A stewardess told me that the day before she flew to Key West with six passengers.
“When do you think you will be shut down?”
“Could be next month. It could be 12am tonight. We have no idea, things are changing so fast.”
I’m flying to Rochester to pick up my car. News broke that NYC is locking down and we don’t know what this is really going to mean. Many of our neighbors have already fled the city.
“Getting out of here?” I asked a guy who lives a floor below us as he was exiting his apartment with a suitcase.
“Yes, while I still can.”
SARS-COV-2 is already everywhere in the USA. It wasn’t contained, so don’t have a situation like in China where Wuhan was blockaded to keep people who may be infected from getting out. It’s too late for that now, and really doesn’t matter if someone in one place stays there or goes somewhere else — the entire country is contaminated.
So our question is where do we want to be to weather this storm? We don’t want to be around our parents — so Rochester and Maine are out. The only other options are staying in NYC or going to my best friend’s house in Florida. He’s an airline pilot who’s probably on the brink of being furloughed. From where I’m sitting, hanging out with him drinking beers around his pool and talking about the Bills while this blows over sounds pretty good to me.
I arrived in Rochester a little after 11pm. My parents had dropped of my car off in the lot for me. They didn’t sit around and wait for me because they didn’t want me to take the chance that I could infect them. They aren’t exactly old, but old enough to take this precaution.
I got in the car and drove to a nearby hotel. It was almost midnight and the check-in lady was chatty in that particular I’m-freaking-out-in-a-time-of-crisis way. She said the same worn things about Trump, job losses, and how she really just wanted to drink some whiskey. At least liquor stores are considered an essential business and would not be closed during the lock down that would be starting in roughly 24 hours.
I sat in my room and did nothing for about ten minutes. I usually find myself restless when I first pull into a place. Coming into a town and going right to a hotel and going straight to bed is something that just feels askance to me — even when coming into my hometown I still feel the same way. I would normally go for a walk, find a bar, have some conversation. Travel gets the wheels spinning and it’s tough to settle them all alone in an empty hotel room.
But traveling did make me feel better. The act of motion through a landscape is something that I’ve become so used to that I crave when I don’t have it. I’ve been stuck up in New York City since the end of February, half of that in quasi-quarantine. I was looking forward to the ride back.
My complementary breakfast at the hotel was cancelled. I guess coronavirus means people don’t need to eat anymore.
So I went to get breakfast at a Wegmans. They had their coronavirus protocols in full swing. I ordered a coffee and the guy processed my order, and then meticulously turned around and put on a new pair of surgical gloves, slowly poured the coffee, handed it to me, and then removed the surgical gloves and tossed them in the trash. The operation took him over five minutes. He did the same thing for the next customer.
My parents forgot to load a car seat into my car so I had to swing around to their house to pick one up. My mother set the car seat with a bag of goodies for my kids on the porch. They watched from the window as I picked it up. I spoke with my mother through the glass, as though she was in prison or something. We pressed our hands together on opposite sides of the glass. I guess this is how you visit your parents in the age of coronavirus.
The highways were empty, as could be expected. It felt a little Mad Max — as though I was traveling through the after effects of some colossal end-of-times event. Many rest stops were arbitrarily closed. I guess coronavirus means people don’t need to pee anymore. The light up road signs that would normally be alerting passengers to accidents or foul weather ahead now said things like, “Stay home. Save a life.” Over and over again as I drove down the highway I saw this message. I wanted to counter them by saying, “Stay home. Prolong the crisis.” But that’s not a very popular opinion these days.