“We can do this, we can do quarantine here.”
I repeated that mantra to myself as I brought in my Costco haul which included a lot of green beans, tuna fish, and a 17-pound grotesquely delicious rotisserie chicken. As you can imagine, no toilet paper or hand sanitizer was to be found. Leaving the warehouse club, I stopped to get that sweet sweet members-only gas, sitting in a line reminiscent of 1979 thinking about beating traffic on the Beltway to get from suburban Maryland to my 1-bedroom apartment in downtown Washington, D.C. An uneventful trip home made me grateful that I was heading in the opposite direction of the multitude commuting home.
After my third trip from the parking garage to the 6th floor of my building, depositing my prepper’s stash of rice and dried black beans in my pantry (and then my cabinet and then my closet as I ran out of space), I continued to assure myself that “we can do this.” I took my dog out and did the weird song and dance with fellow dog owners of waving and actively pulling back our pups to maintain a strict 6 feet distance, give or take a few for a particularly acrobatic lunge from the leash. Once my wife got home from work, she gave me the news that starting the next day, her company was going remote — or “distributed” as the more enlightened among us refer to it.
As I proudly displayed my doomsday haul to my wife, we both got changed to head down to the gym in our building. Just as the water bottles were filled and running shoes were laced, our phones buzzed with an email from our building. A quick scan displayed what we already knew: reduced hours in the leasing office, hand sanitizer at the reception desk, and, effective immediately, the gym was closed. The gym! Closed! The calculus had changed.
Isolation in a 610 square-foot box with access to a beautiful gym with treadmills overlooking a babbling brook is one thing. Isolation in a 610 square-foot box with little chance for recreation? That was the last straw.
That evening, as we were wallowing in our imminent isolation, the president announced seemingly worldwide travel restrictions. I heard rumors of a possible quarantine of New York City. While I wouldn’t consider myself a reactionary, I didn’t know if a densely populated area would be the ideal place to sit tight as a deadly pandemic washed over the nation. The choice was clear: We were heading back to Missouri.
We packed the car to the gills with suitcases full of toilet paper, Clorox wipes, and a whole lot of hand sanitizer I bought back in January, leaving at 1 a.m.
As you can probably tell, at this point I had worked myself into a bit of a frenzy. Nightmarish fever dreams of dry gas pumps and civil disorder flashed hot across my mind. But luckily for me, my worst fears were not realized. Not even close. In fact, contrary to my dystopic vision, gas prices were literally the lowest I can ever remember seeing them. Somewhere in Ohio, gas was $1.60 a gallon! It was crazy!
Both my wife and I are from the great state of Missouri. I am from the suburbs of St. Louis, almost close enough to see the silver glint of the Gateway Arch and smell the hops wafting from the Anheuser-Busch brewery. My wife, on the other hand, is from, how do you say, rural Missouri. We went to stay with her parents on their horse farm.
There is a lot to like here. As far as not being able to do anything or go anywhere, there are worse places to be. Property to walk. Horses to ride. Abandoned buildings to knock around in. Life is slow but pleasant. As we stretch into our fourth week of Missouri life, there are aspects that I am genuinely grateful for. Opportunities for true solitude are abundant and taking advantage of them allows for deep work on a level hard to attain in the city.
Looking back at our flight from the DMV I think my drastic actions served us well. I am thankful that my wife and I can both work remotely. I am thankful for the hospitality of my in-laws. I am thankful that I live in a country where freedom of movement has not been restricted and that we had the chance to choose where to ride this out. Like Mary and Joseph in Egypt, I hope that our brief (optimism?) sojourn back to the Midwest allows us to avoid danger while reconnecting with the less ephemeral aspects of what it means to be alive.
Noah Brandt is a public relations professional living in Washington D.C. and currently residing on an undisclosed farm in Franklin County.