See the USA On COVID-19: Moving Cross Country During the Pandemic
Day One: Yuma to El Paso
We left Southern California March 26, headed for Punta Gorda, Florida.
We didn’t know what to expect, driving cross-country with our sole possessions. We were headed toward a new home we hoped — but did not know — we could reach. The United States in coronavirus quarantine is stark, lonely, sometimes terrifying, and ultimately, magnificent.
Driving east on the 8 toward Yuma, we encountered a late snowstorm. My heart pounded as we drove through at least ten minutes of wind-driven, near white-out snow. Fortunately it was barely above freezing and the windshield didn’t ice.
Like all desert towns, Yuma has a harsh beauty, magnified by isolation and “stay at home” orders.
We stayed in the Howard Johnson’s, but there were no crisp, rubbery clam strips this time, just a basic room with a small cockroach and a decent shower.
When we arrived, guests were socially distancing one each to the long breakfast tables. Breakfast wasn’t served; instead we got sack breakfasts in the morning.
Before I realized how impossible it would be to write up each day of the trip due to the devastating emotional impact of seeing the USA on COVID-19, I asked the clerk at HoJo’s, a 20-something woman with bright brown eyes, what she thought about the pandemic.
“We’ve been talking,” she said. “We’re overpopulated and maybe the government has decided to do something about that.”
Arizona was as locked-down as Southern California or moreso, with only fast food drive-thrus open. I saw many questions in the eyes of people we encountered. Everyone seemed to be socially-distanced.
Yuma is the beginning of Arizona, a border town on the Colorado River. Nearly every billboard along the highway advertises medical or dental services in Algodones, the Mexican town just a few miles across the border. Many people are unaware, but I’ve known for years that U.S. residents have traveled to Mexico for more affordable medical and dental care, and for prescriptions.
With the border closed, all that is stopped. I wonder if some people got prescriptions for COVID-19 medications before the shut-down order came.
We had to leave as soon as possible to make El Paso by the next evening, an eight-hour drive.
I was grateful for the Cheerios cereal bar and apple we got in our “go breakfast”.
Someone had wrapped the apple by hand. Even I knew that wasn’t going to do anything except spread little viruses if he or she had been infected.
The road is nearly empty. It’s just Bruce and Gambit, me and the Jeep, and a few trucks. We cross the glittering ribbon of the Colorado River and I wonder if I will ever see this desert again.
I didn’t know how lonely it would be. It is unspeakably lonely in these vast desert spaces, wondering what may lie ahead.