Opinion » Letter From The Editor

Road Trip to NYC

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About 11 months ago, my wife and I became grandparents to twin boys. It was a joyous occasion, and we flew up to Brooklyn, where they live, just after their birth, last September. In the subsequent months, we flew back to Brooklyn twice, and the parents and their boys have made the trek to Memphis a couple of times.

That was mostly in the Before Times — before New York went through its horrendous bout with the coronavirus, and in the process, became the model for how states should handle the disease: Shut down non-essential businesses, issue a mask mandate, test relentlessly, trace infections to their source, and provide daily — honest — briefings from the chief executive.

A patio in Brooklyn
  • A patio in Brooklyn

Once the epicenter for COVID-19 in this country, New York has now gotten its infection rate under control to a remarkable degree, and it's obvious that the state has no intention of going back to the horrible days of late winter and early spring, when its hospitals and morgues were overwhelmed and bodies were being kept in refrigerated trucks. The state of New York has mandated that visitors from states with rising infection rates register with the state before they come and, once they get there, quarantine for 14 days or until they leave the state — whichever comes first. That would include visitors from Tennessee.

My wife and I had basically resigned ourselves to not seeing the newbies for a while. We didn't want to chance flying, and taking a road trip, staying at motels, eating fast food, and then quarantining once we got there didn't sound like much fun. Then, last week, there was a bit of a crisis: My step-daughter had just taken a new job with another law firm, and almost simultaneously their in-home daycare provider had a bike accident and couldn't come to work for a few days. After hearing about how her daughter sat in her first Zoom meeting at her new firm with a squirming, crying baby on her lap, my wife went into Mama Lion mode: "We have to go up there and take over childcare for a week!" Yes, ma'am.

This was last Thursday. Fortunately, we'd both recently tested negative for the virus. The plan was to hit the road very early Saturday, drive all day, park in a rest stop in Virginia to sleep for a few hours, then drive into New York on Sunday. No fast food, no going into gas stations, no human contact. Friday evening, we packed a couple of suitcases, filled a large cooler with fizzy water, juice, fruit, sandwiches, cookies, chips, etc. and put it all in the back of the Subaru.

"We should probably try to go to sleep really early, so we can get up at the butt-crack of dawn," I said. There was a moment of silence, then: "I'm too excited," Tatine said. "I won't be able to sleep tonight. Let's just leave now."

Realizing that this was no time for common sense, I just said "okay," and we hit the road at 7 o'clock Friday night, not a particularly logical time to leave on an 18-hour road trip. But we found some great podcasts and drank a lot of coffee and energy drinks, and before we knew it, it was 3 a.m. and we were pulling into a rest stop parking lot in Bristol, Virginia. After three hours of restless sleep in reclined seats, we hit the road again.

We had it down to an art: If we needed a "rest stop," we looked for exits with no signs for gas or food and drove to a farm road or quiet spot. If we got hungry or thirsty, we hit the cooler. We were road warriors. By Saturday morning, I was driving like water through a garden hose, sluicing through the hills of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and finally, the Holland Tunnel into the city.

New York City has changed. While working our way through modest traffic across Manhattan, we saw maybe two people without masks. Pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, sidewalk cafe diners, skateboarders, scooter-riders, cops, taxi drivers, dog-walkers, baby buggy pushers — everyone was masked. It was the same in Brooklyn. New Yorkers aren't messing around with this thing. There's a lesson here, and we need to pay attention.

I'm writing this from the sunny back patio of my step-daughter's ground floor apartment. I can hear the sounds of the city around me, but because of the patio walls, I can't see much ... except maybe the future.

I think I have to go change a diaper now.

Bruce VanWyngarden
brucev@memphisflyer.com

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