Knowing how mild the winter was going to be would not have made a difference. Getting away for a while after cold weather sets in is as much about color as warmth. Don’t get me wrong, shedding the boots and parka, if you can swing it, is great. The body rejoices. But being reminded that the world is more than a clenched fist, the color of newsprint, may count for even more.
We were gone three weeks, managed to miss at least one winter storm. What we were unable to avoid was the corona virus, also known as COVID-19. The news about people getting sick in Wuhan, China started trickling in before we left. I am embarrassed to admit that prior to becoming ground zero for sickness and death, I knew next to nothing about Wuhan, let alone that 11 million people live there, making it larger than New York City by a factor about the size of Chicago.
By the time we were set to board our first flight to a sunnier clime, it was clear that COVID-19 was a thing, though the numbers in the United States were oddly low — one here, a couple there. It was relatively easy to figure the odds were in our favor, in spite of the communicable wretchedness of contemporary air travel. But with the virus acting as a kind of white noise, the discomforts and indignities that are the air traveler’s usual lot (screaming babies, the young woman next to you barfing into a bag, the guy — also sitting beside you — having a bad trip in the full-on Timothy Leary sense, rocking back and forth, blurting scraps of indecipherable language, spilling his beer, followed, finally, by the glassy-eyed Jesus freak who suddenly grabs your hand in his clammy paw, saying, as though through gauze: “I’m Thomas”) were amplified.
We arrived at LAX in Los Angeles at the unforgiving hour of 5:30 in the morning. There we watched various members of the airport industrial complex arriving for work in advance of the usual storm of people dressed as though they were about to go on a blind date in a refugee camp. It seemed quiet, as they say in Western movies, too quiet. Hard to tell if everyone was actually being their natural selves — or trying their best to act like it. After all, there was work to do: drinks to pour, magazines to sell, stressed ticket holders to guide to through check-in. It was all strangely reassuring. If these folks, whose livelihoods involved meeting and greeting literal hordes of walking petri dishes were getting on with life, well, so could we.
We’re home now. Been here, lying low, until we’re sure that we’re ok. The latest information indicates there’s a 5-day incubation period, so we won’t be visiting my wife’s nonagenarian mother until that span has passed. We check our screens for the latest cancellations and closings. What was supposed to be a busy stretch has gone preternaturally quiet. It’s all right. The piney squirrel that lives above our deck seems glad to see us; there’s fresh birdseed to eat.
This, I guess, is what’s called a soft landing.