Another long (slightly less strange) trip

by Barb, posting from Portland, Maine for the first time in 2021

My husband and I just completed our annual 1800 mile drive from Key West, Florida home to Maine. I posted about this trip last year. Driving in the beginning of the pandemic, when we knew next to nothing about the novel coronavirus–how it spread or how to treat it–was harrowing.

Since we make the same trip at the same time every year, I thought describing this year’s journey, compared to last year’s, might tell us some interesting things about how far we’ve come–and how far we still have to go.

The visit

Last year, we arrived in Key West blissfully unaware and watched in horror as the pandemic crept up on us. All the bars closed at 5:00 pm on Saint Patrick’s Day, not to reopen. Slowly, hotels were emptied, then short-term leases, then our own long term lease could not be extended.

This year, the town was open for business–sort of. The bars and restaurants along Duval Street were for the most part operating, except for those that sadly hadn’t made it through the pandemic. However, Key West has long been a town where people cut loose and misbehave, and this year, misbehaving sometimes included mingling, maskless, in crowded spaces. So Bill and I avoided downtown.

Though there were visitors, crowds weren’t nearly at normal levels. For one thing, usually people visit from everywhere in the world and lots of Canadians stay all season. Not this year. And there were no cruise ships discharging thousands of passengers into the streets everyday.

It was a weird year to be sure. No house guests, no indoor restaurant dining, no live theater, or movies. A lot of the reasons we love Key West were not on the agenda. We did learn to throw dinner parties in our backyard quite effectively. Our table is six and a half feet long and one couple could perch at each end. We went to hear music outdoors. We dined in other people’s backyards, courtyards, and on porches and had a few dinners and breakfasts outdoors in restaurants. I swam in our backyard pool everyday. In short, we were very happy to be in Key West, even with restrictions.

When we left Maine in December, we assumed our age group would be vaccine eligible in April, right around the time of our return. However, when we got to Key West we discovered, somewhat to our surprise, that we were eligible in Florida. A lot of you have experienced this. When you’re not eligible, you accept it. But once you are you become obsessed with finding an appointment. We had our first Moderna shot the first weekend in February and the second the first weekend in March, so by the time of our trip home we were more than two weeks past our second shot. What a difference that made.

The trip

Last year’s drive was terrifying. Most of the states were passed through were operating under some sort of stay-at-home order. There were police road blocks at the top of the Florida Keys and on the Georgia/Florida border. We were using Clorox wipes on our car door handles inside and out every time we pumped gas. In each hotel room I wiped everything including the TV remote and the light switches. We had to be really strategic about where to eat and finding rest stops. We made the trip in three days. I texted my son’s family, my brother and his wife, and my daughter’s family as we rode by their exits.

The drive this year was more relaxed, though hardly normal. I posted this photo last year of the Port St. Lucie-Fort Pierce rest area. It was empty and the only open services were the restroom and the little store.

I wish I’d thought to take a photo this year. There were lots of people, though not quite the volume you’d expect to see on the Thursday before Easter. Everywhere we stopped, in every state, 99.8% of people were masked and people stood patiently, politely, and distantly as they waited to order or pay.

Last year I concluded my post by saying, “Every person we met was polite and respectful and doing their absolute best.” That was true again this year. I feel like people are more polite now than I have ever experienced. My son thinks it’s because of the masks. Normally, we use smiles to communicate with strangers–thanks, excuse me, your turn. Cut off from that, instead we speak to one another. I don’t know if that’s true, but it sure makes me feel great when it happens.

This year we did the trip in five days instead of three. We spent Saturday and Easter morning with our (vaccinated) son and daughter-in-law and picked up a little stowaway. Then the three of us had dinner Sunday night with my (vaccinated) brother and sister-in-law. None of this would have been imaginable last year.

Our stowaway

Last year when we arrived home, our niece and her best friend were here. They had fled their college in Manhattan in mid-March, telling their friends they would see them in “a couple of weeks”–once we had flattened that curve. They stayed with us until mid-May. They were both musical theater majors and I loved hearing them singing and dancing during their online classes.

This year, my granddaughter is here, taking her second grade classes remotely. I love listening to those, too. She just informed my husband, in her very serious eight-year-old voice, that when her teacher had to be absent for a couple of days, they didn’t have a substitute, but did their homework “asynchronously.” As someone who was present at the birth of learning on the Web, I got a little teary.

Readers: How about you? How does this spring compare to last spring? Has your life changed again or are you still waiting?

40 Thoughts

  1. At least we can go places this spring. No lockdown like last year. We are in the planning stages to visit NH to visit my granddaughters next month. Waiting on the 2nd vaccine and on when my sister is available so that all 5 of us siblings can be together again too. Travel to me is very important. We already booked our trip to Hawaii for next year for our anniversary. The hardest part is being separated from our kitties.

    1. I hope you have a wonderful trip to see your granddaughters. We, too, have a trip planned, in our case to Europe for the fall. We have to decide by June if we’re going. Of course, if most of Europe isn’t open, there will be nothing to decide.

  2. The quilt I placed in the senior center closet in early March 2020, expecting to pick up the hand-quilting the next week, is still patiently waiting and the staff is estimating I MAY be able to exhume it sometime this fall, maybe? I had my first Moderna shot on March 24 and am still waiting to hear when I shall be able to get the second. My Sunday Soup Lady, who has served faithfully since (I think it was) April 2020, will stop effective the first Sunda in Ma so she can return to Hospice duty. Meanwhile, I battle the daily flood of emails (presently 7,887 unread) and am woefully behind on ARCs. Booksprout is NOT pleased.

      1. Indeed, but I don’t have the time to work on it at home (all the ARCs and unread emails), so it is probably just as well it remain in the closet.

  3. I hugged a few vaccinated friends on Saturday for the first time in a year and it was glorious! I nearly cried. So glad your trip home this year felt safer, Barb.

  4. This spring is pretty much the same as last year. I’m still waiting to become eligible for the vaccine shots. So I’m not running around maskless and doing whatever I want like far too many idiots out there.

    I have one thing to look forward to for next month but that will still be distanced and masked.

    So I continue to write CD reviews, watch TV and read books. I am still working so that’s good. Though how much longer that will continue is always up in the air.

    1. Always up in the air–as things have been from the beginning. I was interested that we didn’t see any “maskless idiots” on our long trip. (Well we did, but like .02.) My husband thought it is like seat belts. Some people don’t wear them when they’re running errands near home, but wear them on the highway. Same with masks. Statistically, neither makes sense.

  5. Not much has changed here in Ottawa. Ontario entered its third province-wide State of Emergency lockdown last week as the COVID cases surge higher than ever before.

    But with pandemic fatigue and the unusually summer-like weather, it is not a ghost town like during last spring’s lockdown. The parks and trails have been filled with people getting their daily solo exercise. And businesses and restaurants are doing curbside pickup.

    Ontario is way behind in vaccinations. Less than 2% of Ontarians are fully vaccinated and about 12% have received their first shot with the second shot delayed up to 4 MONTHS later in order to partially vaccinate more. It’s a vaccine supply issue. They just started booking appointments for the 60-64 age group and then the large group of essential workers are next. So right now, I am not eligible for a vaccine until June/July so I am hunkering down inside, except for my daily walks or bike rides.

    1. Maine is at 38% first shot, 28% fully vaccinated. We hope to have a real summer season, but if we don’t have Canadian visitors, it won’t be.

      1. BARB: With the surging cases and lockdown in Ontario, and a new lockdown in New Brunswick, I doubt that they will open the CANADA-US land border any time soon. And the 3 Canadian Maritime provinces are forming their regional bubble again (not including Newfoundland this time) so that option is out for us Canadians wanting a summer getaway to the coast for the ocean and lobsters!

  6. Getting my second shot this morning! I will be glad to feel more protected. This spring is much better, our campground this year will be opening on time, no delays like last year, so we’re excited to get into our seasonal lot!

    1. Yay! Kathy! I get number two this afternoon.Glad that you are sharing this day.

  7. For us, this spring starts with a sigh of relief. Both hubby and I have gotten both vaccination shots and are in the two week period after the last injection. This year, although still different from years past, is a lot brighter than last year. Although we don’t have any major bucket list trips planned for this year, we aren’t having to go through the sadness and major disappointment of canceling all our plans for much anticipated trips. With staying at home, we are able to plan and have a much bigger veggie garden as well as many blooming flowers because we know we will be here to water and to enjoy them. With medical issues and being seniors, even with the state opening up more and more, we have decided to play on the side of caution and will still remain close to home for the most part. However, it is very nice to be able to at least travel the 300 miles to visit with hubby’s Mom who is 91 and vaccinated as well.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. I’m so glad to hear you’ve gotten both shots–and your mother-in-law, too! We are also sticking close to home, though it is great to be able to see close family.

  8. My life has definitely changed since Spring. Good or bad, I’ll be happy when there is a little normal, at least for me.

  9. Pittsburgh is quite definitely less of a ghost town this spring. Although cases at the University of Pittsburgh continue to refuse to go away, business are now allowed to be at 75% capacity (with masts and social distancing). The Diocese of Pittsburgh has followed suit in expanding Mass seating – I might actually go back to church in person. But most exciting, by June all four members of my critique group will have been vaccinated and past the 14-day window, so we are planning to meet in person for the first time in over a year!

    1. What a happy reunion of your critique group that will be! We have a Zoom group of Maine authors and spouses that we’ve met with almost every Friday for a year. We’re getting together end of April and I can’t wait!!

  10. I’m fully vaccinated and flying to see my mom in Florida on Wednesday. I remember last year we’d planned our annual Wicked retreat and sometime in late March I told all of you I wouldn’t be able to come. And then we realized it couldn’t happen at all. We kept saying maybe in June and then maybe in the fall. However, maybe this fall it will happen!

  11. Last spring we were at our home in SW Florida near Ft. Myers. I was working remotely for a law firm in Miami that closed it’s brick and mortar office on March 14th for “two weeks with the reopening to be revisited.” As far as I know, they are still revisiting. In July, with numbers climbing in Florida at an alarming rate we decided to go to our Maine home for the duration of the crisis. Not willing to trust restaurants or hotels at that juncture, we rented an RV for the trip and overnighted at rest-stops. Our only exposure was gas stations – that thing drank gas. Like you, we wiped everything that might have come in contact with human touch inside and out. We made the trip in 4 days.

    This year my husband has been fully vaccinated with the one shot J&J. My second Moderna is this Friday and I’m looking forward to the cutting of the COVID hair. We haven’t been to a restaurant, or begun entertaining – outdoors is too cold in Maine for dinners, but we are looking forward to resuming a more normal life. And an icon of hope, we’ve received our first wedding invitation to a July wedding here in the Maine.

    1. Congrats on the vaccinations. I have a friend who also did the rent-an-RV thing. My husband is keen, but I’m wary of driving one. It will be lovely when weddings, graduation parties, and other rites of passage resume.

  12. Wow! What a difference a year makes, Barb. This time last year, older kiddo had lost their job and younger one was home, taking their college courses online.
    Today, older kiddo is working two jobs, younger one is back on campus, and all of us are at least partially vaccinated. Hope springs eternal!

  13. Barbara, I loved reading your perspective on the changes from last year, and it’s great to read everyone’s comments, too. I haven’t reflected on the difference from last year enough yet… here in suburban Boston, my middle schooler will be going back to school 5 days a week starting later this week, plus we are going to visit fully vaccinated grandparents for the April vacation (plus I am also vaccinated). I am closer to my tween/teenagers than I thought possible due to the close quarters over the last year, and they are closer to each other- a silver lining for sure.

    1. My son and daughter-in-law have decided my granddaughter will finish the school year remotely. She’s done well academically, though as an only child, it’s been very lonely. If she went back to physical school, she’d have to change teachers and classmates so they’ve decided it’s too disruptive. Of course, I love that means she could spend a week with us and a week at my daughter’s house.

  14. Thanks for writing the comparison. Very interesting to see what is different from one year to the next.

    I don’t feel like my life has changed that much. I’m still working from home and will be until mid-summer at least. I LOVE it and don’t want to go back to the office. So many of my co-workers were laid off last year in early summer, so that’s made work so much harder. We are having church in person again – outside and distanced, so that is one big thing that has changed. (We do still have an online option, but I’ve been going in person.)

    1. I agree there are advantages of working from home. Glad you are able to go back to church safely. It looks like hardly anyone is back to the office. This trip and the last one were they only times we haven’t had to figure in rush hour delays. Didn’t see a single true rush hour.

  15. As with everyone else, all our travel plans last year were canceled. Our daughter wasn’t able to visit at Christmas. Lots of things changed. Our daughter never was able to find a “real” job after hers disappeared with COVID. She finally decided AZ was no longer a viable place to live, both because of the lack of work and the lax attitude to the virus. After being fully vaccinated, I flew to AZ to help her move here to Lancaster, PA. We made the 2337 mile trip safely in a moving van towing her car. We stayed at hotels and ate take-out in our room. We always wore masks outside of the car and rooms, washed our hands a lot, used a ton of sanitizer, and felt safer and safer as we proceeded east as more people were masked and distanced themselves.

    She will get her first vaccination on Saturday and we feel that after that we can start to really do some things as a family since everyone else is fully vaccinated. It was just so wonderful to be able to hug her after almost 2 years.

    1. You also had a long trip. We once drove a moving van from Key West, stopping at various family members’ houses to drop off furniture from my parents’ house, but we weren’t towing a car.

  16. Thank you Barbara for this blog entry. I found it so interesting to read about everyone writing here. We have had our two Moderna shots and two weeks ago we were able to see and hug our Grands for the first time in over a year. Lots of happy tears and wow have they both grown taller…not something you notice on FaceTime visits. We are not planning an out of state vacation this year and will be continuing to mask and take precautions. I have a feeling we have not seen the last of COVID, but I am certainly ready to see the end of it!

  17. I’m so glad you made it back without incident, Barb! Spring here is different than it was last year since my kids have gone off to their apartments and colleges unlike last year when they returned to the nest!

  18. I’m late to respond to your post, Barb, but I found it very reassuring as my husband and I contemplate our own travel plans north to Cape Cod from Florida. We’re both fully vaccinated (Pfizer) and anxious (in every way!) about the trip. Thinking more positive now, thanks to you.

  19. Interesting post, Barb, about the differences between last year and this one. Things are slowly opening here in Los Angeles, and we’re starting to get eligibility for vaccines for all adults. I’m still waiting, but I’m happy for a cheery spring with hopeful blossoms and chirping birds.

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