The World Turned Upside Down…
Last month I was in the midst of building the April edition of Movin’ Out. It was a frenetic time for me, as all deadline weeks are, and it was during this mad rush of trying to reach the finish line that the world turned upside down for all us. News of the growing COVID-19 Pandemic that began in China in late 2019 had been discussed in the mainstream media since January. The Mid-America Trucking Show, which was to have taken place in late March, cancelled their 2020 show on March 11th and their Facebook page was flooded with hundreds of angry posts from people proclaiming that this was overreaction. Two days later, our local University, then on Spring Break, told the students not to come back for 2 weeks. Our local school district also issued a cancellation of classes through March 30th (which has since been cancelled through the rest of the school year).
The Pennsylvania Governor closed ALL rest areas along the PA interstates and closed the restrooms and restaurants on the PA Turnpikes. Porta-potties were installed at the turnpike exits. State liquor stores were shuttered at the end of business day on March 17th. By then, mass hysteria gripped pretty much ALL of America and grocery store shelves were stripped bare of toilet paper, paper towels, water, canned goods and well, pretty much everything. Hand sanitizer and Lysol had been bought out since late February. Stay At Home issues were given to many states and businesses were categorized as “Essential” and “Non-Essential”. The “Non-Essential” businesses were immediately told to lock their doors and cease operations until further notice. They remain closed at this time.
The number of COVOD-19 cases skyrocketed in the United States and continue to do so. Suddenly not only were Emergency Responders, including the Police, Fire and EMTs, being recognized as Front Line workers in this crisis along with the doctors and nurses, but Professional Truck Drivers, and employees at grocery stores and retail stores, warehouses and USPS, UPS and FedEx employees were suddenly being recognized with heartfelt and long overdue gratitude for working tirelessly to keep America Moving during these frightening and uncertain times.
During the first week of the shutdown, I spoke with Danny Bowser, a Professional Truck Driver for Cory Fox Trucking out of Cabot, Pennsylvania. Danny runs regional long haul with primarily liquid sweeteners, grain and water. PA had by then listened to the outrage by truck drivers, the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association and OOIDA over the shutting of the restrooms and the turnpike reopened their restrooms and select rest areas along PA’s interstates were also re-opened. Danny said he was still seeing a lot of bad hygiene in the restrooms. Four wheeler traffic was greatly diminished but the tractor-trailers were out there working hard to get much needed supplies to the stores.
In my conversation with Danny, he said that he makes most of his meals in his truck while he is out on the road. On two separate occasions, people offered to buy his dinner, including once at a Love’s Travel Center in Michigan. He said there was food availability at the places he stopped, but there was no place to sit and eat. Self-serve drink stations were also shut down.
He was wearing gloves to protect himself. Danny indicated that the mood of other drivers out on the road was mostly apprehensive with some drivers wanting hazard pay. Danny wanted to express his gratitude and said, “Thanks to everyone else being out here and doing what you do.”
My son-in-law’s family own and operate a cattle farm that spans several generations. He also has his own business, Glacial Till Farm, which produces organic produce. On April 4, Derek posted this message and photo to Glacial Till Farm’s Facebook page: “Hello everyone. This beautiful weather has the farm off to a booming start. I have been vigorously seeding soon-to-be delicious vegetables. This evening my 7 year-old daughter was helping me in the field. I had completed seeding a bed of greens with one more planned when I decided to lay down and rest my back. That’s when Mackenna came over and started this conversation:
Mack: “Dad, are you resting?”
Me: “Yes, I’m not sure [that] I can finish the last bed.”
Mack: “You feed the world, Dad.”
Me: “Well, thanks Mack, but I only feed a very small part of the world.”
Mack: “Yeah, but if all [of] the market farmers around the world work hard, we can feed the whole world.”
Inspired and energized, Derek did finish that last bed and continues to work early in the morning and late at night, every day in his garden after putting in a long day’s work at the family farm. He works seven days a week without complaint to provide healthy and nutritious food to hundreds of people.
I have never considered myself an extremely social person. I love to plan family parties, but large crowds of people trigger major anxiety attacks. I will, however, strike up a conversation with just about anyone – cashiers, people at truck shows, concerts or sporting events or just standing in a line with me. No one wants to do that now, they jump back (and we should all jump back) and maintain the six feet of separation rule. And that’s fine but suddenly the friendliness has been replaced with fear. There are no smiles, no little chit-chats – just fear and this breaks my heart. There’s political divide and unrest that’s tearing apart friendships. People have become self-appointed judges of everyone else’s actions, but the rules apparently don’t apply to what they do. I see behavior by some that is eerily reminiscent of neighbors and families being reported to the Gestapo during World War II. And this makes me angry and frightened and very sad.
I haven’t hugged or kissed my parents since March 8th. We drop off supplies and presents and Easter candy and maintain that distance. My grandkids keep asking if I am coming over to get them and take them on adventures and also up for their usual weekly visits to their great-grandparents. Instead, I just drop things off for them. She is now homeschooling a first grader, 2 preschoolers and also tending to a very active toddler in addition to maintaining a household. She must be exhausted but she never complains.
I had to haul a large garbage bag of plastic eggs up to storage when it became apparent that this quarantine was going to go on much longer than originally expected. Our planned egg hunt at my parents has been shelved until who knows when. Birthdays can’t be celebrated with loved ones and families. Proms, high school and college graduations are hanging in limbo. If you need to see a doctor or dentist, good luck getting into their building, because (and oh, the irony is so rich), most of them are not letting sick people in their offices.
As I sit here at my computer and type this column, Easter was six days ago. I read these words online, “Easter reminds us that hope should never be lost, for as dark as the path may seem, there always lies light at the end of it…”
I will admit that I have had a couple of breakdown crying jags over the past week. I am having a hard time processing and dealing with COVID-19. Being an empath, I am struggling with the sickness, death, sorrow and loneliness that has enveloped all of our world. I worry about the effects of the economy on everyone.
I stuck my big camera in my SUV on Easter and took a ride through our town and meandered on some back roads. I guess I was looking for affirmation that I could still have faith. That I could still have hope. That I could still find joy in these dark days. I pulled over to photograph a Magnolia tree in town that I have admired for years. The owner of the house was outside playing with his dogs. I called over the hedges and asked if it was ok to snap some photos. He smiled and said, “Of course! The tree is beautiful, isn’t it? I smiled back and told him that I had been appreciating the tree’s beauty for years.
I drove down a street that was lined in Cleveland Flowering Pear Trees. The white blossoms created a haven for weary souls. I spied daffodils and hyacinths. Families were out for walks and waved to me from across the road. And through the lens of my camera, for a brief, shining two hours, I rediscovered my faith, my hope and my joy…