We took a long drive this week. It was our first extended road trip in a while, but it also was interesting in other ways as well. In fact, I would say it was one of the more memorable drives I’ve ever taken.
It’s as if the country is reawakening from a long sleep. Some people are up and wide awake, some are groggy from the long slumber, and some are still snoring. As a result, the roads weren’t nearly as busy as you would normally expect on the Thursday before the Memorial Day weekend. In the early morning hours in Ohio, we saw lots of trucks on the road — a good sign, incidentally, for a resurgence in the nation’s economy — but virtually no cars. By mid-morning, as we rolled through northern Pennsylvania on I-80, the trucks still dominated the road and cars remained few and far between. The traffic picked up as we skirted New York City and Boston, but we didn’t hit any stoppages, even with lots of road construction. As a result, we made excellent time.
The lack of traffic is one reason why the Cannonball Run record — the wholly illegal effort to make the fastest drive from the Red Ball garage in New York City to the Portofini Inn in Redondo Beach, California — has been broken repeatedly during this national shutdown period. The new record now stands at less than 26 hours, which is mind-boggling and makes you wonder about the top speed reached as the cars zipped through the wide-open western states.
But the lack of traffic wasn’t the only reminder of the coronavirus. As has now become the norm, for me at least, once you are out of your personal space you become acutely conscious of every common surface you touch. Refueling means touching buttons on the gas pump and holding the nozzle. You don your mask as you enter gas stations — some stations have signs saying that masks are mandatory — and think about the safest way to open the bathroom door, flip up the toilet seat, and flush the commode if you need to use the facilities. (Your prim and proper grandmother was never more worried about the cleanliness of rest stops than you are right now.) At one stop, as I stood masked and trying to do my 20 seconds of vigorous, soapy hand-washing, a trucker stood next to me and brushed his teeth, which was a bit unnerving.
You put your mask on, again, as you pay at toll booths, which is probably the best argument ever for getting EZ Pass and just rolling on through. Every toll booth worker was wearing masks and gloves, and at the I-84 toll booth in New York City the attendant applied some kind of disinfectant to the dollar that I handed her. It makes me wonder if COVID-19 will drive another nail in the coffin of cash and spur faster adoption of contactless payment card technology. For that matter, it makes me wonder if toll booths where you can actually use the nation’s currency also aren’t going to be around for long.
In all, a very memorable trip. The coronavirus continues to affect just about everything.