Cross-Country, COVID-19, and Sweet Lemonade
Part 1 – Heading West
By Christina Fain
This spring, I agreed to accompany a friend on a cross-country drive to visit her oldest daughter in Littleton, Colorado.
We are two Silver Sage moms with two eight-year-old kids. The pandemic has upended our lives, as it has for many of us, particularly Silver Sagers who are trying to build families and careers, and now find every expectation we had about this stage in our lives shattered or contorted beyond recognition.
My friend and I both lost our jobs due to the pandemic, and we had been under quarantine since March. The thought of fresh air was too much to resist, and the idea of spending time with our youngest kids was priceless. Our travel time would be open-ended and our budget very tight, but we made the decision and a week later were on our way. Call us crazy, call us adventurous, or call us opportunistic. I like to think we were an ambitious combination of all three.
The responsible over-thinker in me had researched the states we would be traveling to. I read several governors’ Executive Orders, states’ reopening guidelines, and checked motel rates. Thankfully, states were starting to open, travel bans were being lifted, and nothing was telling us not to take the opportunity.
So we loaded up our two children, two iPads, portable Wi-Fi (we are also smart travelers), buckets of sanitizer, Clorox wipes, and enough food and snacks to picnic our way cross-country.
After banning the phrase “how much longer until we get there?” we headed west on I-70, knowing this would be our main travel route, but hoping for a few fun detours along the way.
We could slowly see the landscape changing as we crossed Ohio and entered Indiana. We were leaving behind the mossy-green, rolling hills of Appalachia for the flat and fertile pastures and fields of farm country.
Our ride through Indiana and Illinois was uneventful. We knew that the governors of these states were still in strict reopening stages, so we did not want to spend a lot of time hanging around those states.
It was during this leg of our journey that we settled into our routine and established proper cross-country travel etiquette. Somewhere in the middle of Illinois, however, we realized we needed to take control of the backseat snack bag if we were going to make it without two hyper, sick-on-chips-and-candy kids on our hands.
My friend was driving, and I was the navigator. She made fun of the large, spiral-bound atlas I insisted on bringing. She insisted on relying on Google Maps exclusively, while I argued that sometimes a long-span visual was helpful. We reached a compromise and used both, but the use of my archaic atlas became an ongoing joke the entire journey.
After an eight-hour drive, we arrived in St. Louis, Missouri. We were surprised to get a room at a Hilton, with a view of the famous Arch, for less than $100. The fact that we scored a four-star hotel at a Motel 8 rate was our first sign of just how virulent COVID-19 is. After sanitizing and settling in, we donned our masks and headed over to the park to get a closer look at the Arch.
St. Louis was not eager to greet us. There was no one—no cars on the street, no taxis, and certainly no bustling crowds of people. St. Louis was a ghost town, and we were the ghosts. We sat on benches near the Arch in naive disbelief, looking at steps that should contain a plethora of tourists. The kids were excited, but we were starting to feel like actors on a movie set—a movie where the imaginary virus had claimed humanity. Knowing the COVID-19 virus is anything but imaginary, the word “eerie” came to mind.
Not knowing any different, the kids had a blast running and jumping around the Arch and the vast park that surrounds it. It was an experience they will never replicate. No one will ever be able to top “the time they had the St. Louis Arch all to themselves.” The weather was cooler than we expected, with the smell of a distant rain in the air. While the kids played, we will always have the memory of the surreal feeling that misty evening gave us.
Photo by Emerson Peters (WY, United States) @spemble
Tina began creative writing at a young age. Professionally, she has written for legal professionals spanning more than 20 years. As an over-thinker, mother of two, she draws her inspiration from her adult son and much younger daughter, as well as her personal experiences trying to navigate life’s beautiful complications. When not writing, she spends her time reading, hiking with her family and planning her next travel adventure.