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.
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.
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.
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?