Monday, December 28, 2020

Early Pandemic, Off to New York

It was late Friday night, March 27. I was two weeks into the lockdown and home alone in my beloved house in Salt Lake City’s Avenues neighborhood. I was laying on my far too expensive couch, a mid-century modern piece that I had no business buying some four years earlier. But I love the couch. My couch-potatoism was in full mode when an idea began to take shape.

The uncertainty of the pandemic--which I took seriously from at least March 1 (this is going to be bad I thought)--stretched before me as a long void. We’d only been working from home those couple of weeks but it was clear it would be months more. I did not want to spend the next undetermined amount of time holed up by myself in my house, no matter how much I loved the place, in my bones that felt like a bad plan. It occurred to me I'd be better off going to New York to be at my sister’s farm where I could be with family and animals and in a beautiful spot in the country. She had plenty of space.

I went to bed and the next morning I tested my idea by contacting people, including my new boss. He had no problem with me working remotely from another location. Most everyone in my family thought it made sense to head east. I spoke with a few other friends to test the idea on them. They all said: Go! It was important to me to have some sort of reality check because it was a bold move in a strange time.

At about 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 28, after loading my truck, my pup Jack and I got in and pulled out of the driveway. I remember distinctly looking in the rear view mirror and thinking “I may never see that house again.” It was just that stage of the pandemic where uncertainty was so, so high. My 19th century house had just survived SLC’s 5.7 earthquake ten days earlier. Even at that point the aftershocks just kept coming. None were big, but they were big enough to feel. There would be more to come soon regarding my house, but that was still in the future. Jack and I pushed on, heading east on Second Avenue.

I reached out by phone to a handful of other work colleagues, one of whom clearly thought I was crazy--though she didn’t exactly say so. Hours later another friend demanded I turn around and come back. But no, I was off and going, with determination. This was what I needed to do. I felt grounded in that decision. 

At my first fuel stop in western Nebraska I stood alone on the giant fuel plaza with a system of gloves so I didn’t touch any public surfaces. A public announcement, echoing across the empty plaza, encouraged people to wash their hands. It was very Stephen King-like. There was something of a feeling that the world was ending and we were all unwittingly along for the ride. 

Darkness settled over our route on Interstate-80 but I pushed on with Jack, my loyal companion snoozing in his bed in the back of the cab of the truck. We drove till about 2 a.m. Central Time, 1 Mountain, or 12 hours since leaving Salt Lake. We made it to a Walmart parking lot in Lincoln, Nebraska. Walmarts are known as places in the RV world where you can spend a night in their expansive parking lots. We didn’t have an RV so I got in back on the bed I’d built for my dogs (I built it originally for Jake, my previous dog). I couldn’t stretch out, but I could lay down. Somehow Jack found a place next to me. He’s huge so it was quite a sight. 

Arriving in Ohio, March 29, 2020. 

I got about four hours of sleep before I was awake again and back on the road between 5 and 6 a.m. we pressed on and arrived at my mom’s in Ohio at 9 p.m. that Sunday night.

It had been a strange journey. Few cars were on the roads, mostly just trucks. The world had shut down and I felt like a refugee. 

That week was a wonderful week with my mom and I worked remotely from Ohio till Friday morning. On April 3 Jack and I did the final push to New York, only eight or nine hours further down the road.

Walking in Ohio w my mom on the right, a family friend, & pups.
I'd made it from Salt Lake to eastern New York without touching many public surfaces at all. I’ll leave some of the details out of this accounting, but it wasn’t all that hard. It would be harder for a woman for sure.

Heading east to be with family was the best thing I could have done. I am an introvert but didn’t and don’t want to face these pandemic days alone. Many people don’t have anything like the options I have and I am damned lucky. But none of it’s been easy, even for me.

I am far more COVID careful than nearly everyone I've been around this year, and also painfully aware that that hardly ensures I won’t get it or help spread it. COVID won’t kill all of us, but it has and will kill far too many, and it’s disrupting our world as much as I feared it would back in March. 

But life will go on and onward we all must go.

Few people were seeking out New York at this point: April 3, 2020. 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

2020--The Good Things of My Year

At Utah's Dead Horse Point

This has been a hell of a year, and . . . not a good one, yet much good has happened and all in all I've been beyond fortunate and lucky. 

So with gratitude here are 2020 highlights, focusing on the positive, I . . . . 

  • Got to spend a ton of time with my beloved puppy, Jack Powell
  • Sold my house before a bigger earthquake came! (We had a 5.7 quake in March)
  • Started full-time RVing again on July 11, something that's been on my mind more in recent years. And I love it! (I previously full-timed from 2007-2009) 
  • Still have my job at the amazing Natural History Museum of Utah working mostly remotely since March
  • Spent a lot of time with family, including:
    • A brief visit with my sister Elise when she came to Utah in early March
    • A five day visit with my mom in my hometown in Ohio in the early days of the pandemic
    • A month-long visit with my sister Cari on her farm in New York in April--the highlight of my year
    • About four weeks in Minneapolis and mostly in Wisconsin at my brother's lake cabin--including some time with him (he was gone more than he was there during my time there)
  • Had the privilege of riding horses when at Cari's for the whole month of April in a stunningly gorgeous part of our country including Listo, my favorite horse that's now living
  • Found a place to live in my RVs (old and new-to-me) for two months in Heber City, near Park City, thanks to my friend Darla
  • Bought the RV I've been wanting for a year, slightly used and at a great price, at a time when they're almost impossible to find
  • Sold my previous RV, the CampLite, to some dear friends 
  • Reconnected with my Xscaper friends in October and have been with them ever since--Xscapers is a group of RVers and a beyond amazing community of people
  • Mostly maintained my sanity with a few difficult moments
  • Though I lost my friend Steve, I was able to remotely attend his funeral service and it reminded me not only how amazing he was, but how special life is
  • Served on the Executive Committee of Visit Salt Lake where I've been a board member for about five years, needless to say in a difficult and strange year.
  • Witnessed the election of my friend Mark Kelly to the U.S. Senate! He's a rock star. 
  • Have not got coronavirus yet . . . and am hopeful I won't before I can get the vaccine
  • Am thrilled that we have a vaccine! #yeahScience!
  • Got an unbelievably killer solar setup on my new-to-me RV that allows me to live comfortably off grid, and I have been off grid since mid-October!
I greeted 2020 at an Xscapers New Year's event near Quartzsite, Arizona. I will bid the year farewell at an unofficial and unsanctioned Xscapers gathering about 50 miles to the east and an unimaginable year away from where the decade started for me a mere 12 months ago. 

While this post focuses on the positive--and I certainly have much to be grateful for--it was also a tough year. 

These are difficult times, but in a tip of the hat to the spirit of a slogan attributed to another difficult time, it's important to keep calm and carry on. 

Sending love from the Sonoran Desert in Arizona,

Jim and Jack
My new solar setup. Thx Andrew Pullen!

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