Home Context COVID-19 Road Trip, Part III: Revelations and Return

COVID-19 Road Trip, Part III: Revelations and Return

Photo courtesy of Joe VanHoose

I didn’t meet an unpleasant person in Colorado. Nor did I meet anyone who wasn’t wearing a mask.

Florissant wasn’t much of a town, but everyone wore their mask at the market next to its one stoplight. The same scene occurred in Divide. Up the road, Idaho Springs had moved its entire downtown outside. At the Kum & Go at the end of the street, not only did the clerks enforce wearing masks, but they made sure to keep my friends and I from getting too close to the pizza counter.

At the end of the long weekend, I dropped off my buddies at the Denver airport and headed east. My friends are sure that everything surrounding COVID-19 is overblown. They were quick to bring up the latest CDC data about how few people are dying due to COVID alone. They weren’t happy about having to wear masks everywhere, but they did it just the same.

They believe personable responsibility should dictate our response to this global pandemic. I agree.

I believe we all have a responsibility to contribute to the communities we are in, and public health is part of that contribution. If me wearing a mask and staying away from people can make a me-sized dent in dealing with the pandemic, that’s all I can really control.

There isn’t much to look at east of the Denver airport in Colorado — just miles and miles of windfarms. I drove along I-70 looking at these giant, modern windmills right alongside older oil drilling stations. I saw our capability for newer, cleaner energies – even when they’re not making a big dent in our current energy needs – and looked around at all the wide-open spaces nearby. 

The windy day reminded me that we can adapt and find better ways to achieve our needs. Life as we know it is ever evolving, and we have to keep looking for better if better is what we want.

I assume we all want things to be better.

The same stories of social distancing and mandatory masks played out in Kansas, at the Billy Sims BBQ in Hayes and Munchers Bakery in Lawrence.

(Somehow, I got two donuts, a small cinnamon roll and a coffee for $2.77 at Munchers. The Kansas donut economy is extremely undervalued.)

Still, for two weeks traveling around the middle of the country, I found out how much of life as we knew it could be enjoyed even with facemasks and hand sanitizer stations and dots on floors telling you wear to stand.

But when I stopped in Spring Hill, Tennessee the next night to meet up with an old friend, I walked into the old normal. The mask mandate had expired the weekend prior, and the bar and grill we dined at was crowded without a mask in sight. We didn’t linger long.

The old normal is trying to return across the U.S. right now, and the number of COVID cases is on the rise again. These two weeks of vacation were just six weeks ago, and you can’t help but get the feeling of COVID fatigue.

It’s easy to get really comfortable with this disease. When no one around you is wearing masks or settling for anything less than a handshake, it’s easy to forget this virus can kill you.

Joe VanHoose, likely violating some sort of state law, ponders everything as he returns home.

On the other hand, when everyone is wearing a mask and doing all the right things, it’s easier for those who recognize the risks to go on with their lives – and even stimulate the economy. After living with a mask on for two weeks in more public situations that I would have thought – restaurants, stores, fly fishing outposts, and even casinos – I felt more comfortable than I had in months.

Of course, comfortable can be dangerous, too. Even states with mask mandates are seeing spikes in COVID-19 cases right now. Hospitalizations are up, even as the mortality rate declines. Our goal can’t be just to get comfortable with COVID-19. The goal is to be safe from it.

Still, for two weeks traveling around the middle of the country, I found out how much of life as we knew it could be enjoyed even with facemasks and hand sanitizer stations and dots on floors telling you wear to stand.

It’s one thing to be one of the few and proud following the CDC suggestions in Georgia or Florida or South Carolina or any of the other states that favor suggestions over mandates. But how much confidence can you have in the air at a restaurant in Pickens, South Carolina, where not even the servers are wearing masks?

Can you have more confidence in an environment where everyone is wearing their masks and keeping their distance? I sure did.

So, if you’re thinking about traveling, here’s what it’s like: If you travel long enough and wear your mask and give people their space and don’t get sick, it’s amazing how normal things feel again. Because nothing has felt normal for a while.

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Joe VanHoose is a writer and promoter based in Athens, Georgia. He is a Florida man who recognizes that Florida is too hot to inhabit, but rumor has it that he was a Gator Football booster for nearly 20 years. Joe has more enthusiasm than talent for playing music, but he can put you on a good band or barbecue restaurant just the same. On the weekends, you can find him in a haze of red clay at one of the dirt tracks of Northeast Georgia. He is not ashamed of the gospel of short track racing.