Part One: Intro
Updated: Sep 28, 2021
By the time you read this, it will all be over.
If you’re reading this, I’m home safe, warm in my bed or back at work behind my laptop at the dining room table in my makeshift "WFH" station. I'm petting Wolfgang, or maybe I'm making a pot of coffee.
Whatever the case, I'm back at home in Space City. Back to nesting in my new apartment that I just rented with my partner.
So, where was I? What did I see? What did I do?
Let's start last year. Picture it: It's 2019 and if you've ever worn a medical mask, you're probably a physician or otherwise in the medical industry (or perhaps you live in another country where that was already standard, but I digress).
In July of 2019, I was turning 27 and my creative juices were flowing. I was itching for an excuse to get away and write. I booked a flight to New York and didn't look back. I spent a week living out of a small apartment on 13th Street in the East Village.
My mornings began with a jog down the East River; my days were filled with adventures to coffee shops, parks, and the New York Public Library. I worked on a ton of short stories (and finished drafts of a few of them), and even had time to head over to Broadway to watch Hadestown and Beetlejuice - yet another thrill taken for granted pre-2020: live theatre.
By the end of the week, I had found the serotonin I so desperately needed. I flew back to Houston and got back to work.
My birthday this year, like countless others' birthdays, has fallen in the middle of the Great Lockdown. Nothing special about that. I mean, think of all the birthdays that have taken place since March. My younger brother's, my fiancé's, mine, and in a few weeks - my older sibling's, too. Reminiscing about last year's adventure to New York, I pondered what could happen this year.
God, how I wanted to get away again.
But where to? I generally fly to NYC when I have the chance. Maybe a road trip? All of my previous road trips took me east to major population centers.
I've never driven any farther west than San Antonio, though I've flown to Los Angeles a few times. A flight doesn't show off the landscape the way a road trip does. At 500 miles per hour, 30,000 feet above, the mountains are past you before you realize it. The roadside attractions? You'll never know they're there.
The truth however, is that thinking about being locked up on my birthday while looking back at a prolifically creative working vacation the year prior had me feeling horribly selfish.
There are people dying. There is a rampant pandemic engulfing the planet and I'm sad that I can't do anything with my friends for a few months, or go back to Manhattan? Not only that, but I've been fortunate (and careful) enough to have not contracted the virus myself, either.
In all, my fate thus far as it pertains to the pandemic has been great. So what is it that gives me any right to feel downtrodden when there are people who have lost loved ones to this respiratory scourge?
At the onset of the lockdown, I thought I was well-equipped. I'm the type of man who enjoys his alone time and privacy. I'm not an extrovert - phone calls are the death of me, every time - and I know how to buy in bulk and meal prep so as to avoid having to make many outings to the grocery store, cafes, or the like. I thoroughly enjoy fitness, but I don't require my typical environment of Houston's massive Downtown YMCA; I'm more than capable of working out at home, and subsequently at my apartment gym once it was deemed safe (with additional precautions taken).
My "survival skills" made me perfectly apt to survive this with no illusions.
So what went wrong?
I do, I guess, miss experiencing things.
Allow me to be clear: There is nuance to this. As someone who writes in the realm of healthcare for my 9-5, I also fully understand that the lockdown and physical distancing measures are entirely appropriate and necessary.
Both of these things are simultaneously true.
So in the hunt for an experience while honoring the necessity of physical distancing to prevent the spread of a deadly virus, what is one to do?
I began to ask myself, Who do I want to be when this is over? What do I want to have accomplished?
My partner agreed to watch our child (Wolfgang, our dog) for the week while I packed for another road trip, my first since 2018.
(Before that, the previous road trip was in 2016... perhaps there's a pattern here.)
I wanted to say I'd climbed a mountain. I wanted to sleep in a hostel, taste the local fare, and do all of it in places where I wouldn't have to be near other people; wouldn't have to risk my safety or that of those around me.
I wanted to learn from it. Like all my previous road trips, I wanted to rely on myself to get there and back, and know that I'd accomplished that.
On Friday, July 31, 2020, I packed a suitcase and a few bags into my trusty Ford Focus and merged onto Interstate 10 West.
I watched Houston's hulking towers shrink smaller, and smaller still, until they disappeared from sight in my rear-view mirror.
My first rest stop would be Austin, Texas.
I wrote about my 2018 road trip for Spectrum South. I drove from my home in Houston to Boston and back with Wolfgang riding shotgun. Along the way I camped in my car, got lost in the Appalachian Mountains, had a terrific interview, and in order to afford gas money to get home, I tried to pawn silver (or was it?). Somehow I condensed all 17 days into 2,000 words. Read about it here.
- NOTICE -
COVID-19 TRAVEL PRECAUTIONS I IMPLEMENTED
Though this blog is written with a carefree, fun, and exploratory nature, please know that I took every precaution behind the scenes.
I tested negative for COVID-19 prior to taking this trip.
I avoided other people at all times.
If person-to-person contact was unavoidable (such as my accommodations in Part Six of this series), I was wearing a mask. That being said, person-to-person contact was a very rare occurrence.
I only booked accommodations where I could have the whole place to myself with no spaces shared with other people (except for Part Six).
I only booked accommodations where I could check myself in. Again: No person-to-person contact (except for Part Six).
I took sanitizing wipes with me and gave every accommodation a good wipe-down.
Though I talk about food and coffee here, I also brought a lot of non-perishable food with me which I ate in the car while driving. Any and all food that I did purchase was done so over the phone and picked up to-go.
Photos posted to this blog and my Instagram featuring me without a mask were only possible outdoors, distanced from other people - and the mask only came off for the photo.
If you are choosing to travel during this time, please be aware of all of the precautionary work that you must put into your trip to ensure that you do not contract the virus and do not spread it to other people.
If you cannot guarantee that, do not travel.