Hello, friends, it’s been awhile. Needless to say, the last week or so have probably been the toughest I’ve ever seen. Not just as a travel blogger, but as a human in general. Over the last few days, I wrote several versions of this post in my head. While still a little reluctant to publish this, I think it’s time. So here goes, a real life take on the Coronavirus Zombie Apocalypse from my home, and some plans going forward. It’s a long read, but anyone who reads all the way to the end gets a gold star. Hey, you’re stuck at home, so you have time!
Yes, Our Family Is Grounded Until Further Notice
First, the obvious – yes, I plan to suspend going anywhere until further notice. I had a round-the-world Business Class trip planned for mid-May, but I canceled that several weeks ago. And of course, by not waiting for the travel bans, ate $330 in change fees. Oh well. I also had a quick cross-country trip planned to try United Premium Plus and Delta’s Comfort+ and First Class products on the A220 the weekend after April 15th. That trip’s most likely toast at this point as well. But I learned my lesson – I’m waiting until my flights get culled in the massive upcoming service cuts. Then I can take a refund. Well, except on United, which now makes you wait up to a full year to get your money…
The big question right now surrounds our planned multimodal trip to Alaska in late June. While I booked my accommodations months ago, I’m holding off on any further planning for now. Maybe this mess ends by then, maybe not. Either way, with practically zero demand at the moment, there’s no incentive to book early and risk losing deposits.
Scenes from the Front Lines of the Coronavirus Zombie Apocalypse
I’d say the Zombie Apocalypse phase of this ordeal began in earnest last Wednesday. That’s when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. It’s certainly…odd…that the positive test of an NBA player finally tipped the scales towards chaos. But, so it goes.
The next day, I needed to stop by Kroger on the way home for milk and a prescription. My first clue something was wrong was the complete lack of shopping carts, anywhere. Once inside, the signs of the Zombie Apocalypse became evident. To start, the hoarders completely picked clean every shred of toilet paper and cleaning supplies.
On the other hand, the zombies largely left the produce untouched.
I then got to wait 15 minutes in the self-checkout line behind folks with 48 rolls of TP and 15 pounds of chicken. But it beat the manned lines, which snaked well back into the aisles.
By Saturday, our normal shopping day, hoarders had made their mark, though in odd patterns. Kroger barely stocked any produce. Except for a huge surplus of avocados, apples, and spinach.
Want meat, chicken, or seafood? Good luck. Not a scrap to be found.
I found hardly any pasta or sauce.
On the other hand, yogurt remained plentiful. As did whole milk, though lowfat milk was picked clean. And apparently, the hoarders don’t care about their babies, because I found plenty of baby food.
Luckily, I got most of what I needed, except beef for my son. I managed to find some the next day at a butcher shop nearby. (I refuse to provide the name or location, lest the hoarders clean them out, too.) The Indian store largely escaped the panic buying; produce remained plentiful, with only some diminished supplies in the rice and flour aisle.
Meanwhile, my cat Hercules had a good laugh at the world’s sudden shortage of TP.
For the record, I bought a Sam’s Pack on sale a few weeks ago. That’s either the finest example of blind luck, or I’m actually clairvoyant and never knew. And also, here’s a public service announcement. STOP THE HOARDING. Now. If you’re panic buying and hoarding, you’re an a$$hat. Period. You can sleep well knowing that the year’s supply of TP and beef you bought prevented someone who really needed it from getting some.
Crowds on the trains and traffic on the highway remained mostly normal last week. This week, though? It really is like a Zombie Apocalypse. I was one of maybe 5 people in my train car at 8 am this morning. This morning, I drove in, and it took 30 minutes to reach the parking garage in downtown Dallas from Plano. And the streets? You’d think it was a holiday.
As far as effects on daily life? It’s kind of all over the place. Dallas County, including the city of Dallas, is one step away from total lockdown. The trains and buses still run, and you can still go to work. But that’s about it, with restaurants limited to takeout and delivery only, and gatherings of more than 10 people banned. Other counties leave decisions up to individual cities. Here in Collin County, some cities restrict or close restaurants; others leave it to business owners, though many have voluntarily gone to take-out only. Thankfully, we don’t have a 24/7 lockdown like the Bay Area or Orange County. So you can still take your kid to the park or for a ride on the highway. For now.
The Personal Toll
I struggled with whether or not to write about this at all. But I think it’s a story that needs to be told. Frankly I don’t care so much about the temporary travel hiatus. It might seem like I travel constantly, but that’s really not the case. Usually, I generally take short, quarterly review trips, and one (sometimes two) family vacations. Often those family trips are just a few days in the car, like our visit to White Sands last year. I can live a few months without going anywhere. I also want to level-set by saying that I am NOT expressing an opinion on the approach to battling coronavirus. Honestly, I don’t know what might or might not work, but I’m sharing the real hurt to a real person watching this unfold.
Over the weekend, and especially by Monday, I found myself on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I finally talked myself off the ledge, but the panic feelings still come and go. Why? The daily barrage of bad news which just gets worse each day. Some of it actually is factual, but it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s fearmongering. Disinformation runs rampant, especially on Facebook – where, of course, EVERYONE gets to be an armchair health expert, and has to make it political to boot. (Seriously, I’m done with Facebook.) What really drives my anxiety, though, are these increasingly extreme forms of social distancing that some push, leading to these lockdowns spreading across the country.
Look, I get most of you have good intentions. (Some of you, though, are just a$$es.) But you need to understand, a doctor on TV saying “stay home if at all possible” translates to “don’t go outside for any reason unless you need to drive yourself to the hospital” to a lay person. In the meantime, you see everything in the world around you shut down. First it was just faceless airlines and hotels. Then, it spreads to neighborhood restaurants. Now, some areas have mandated total shutdowns of any business deemed “nonessential”. And you read news reports about the “shelter in place” order in the Bay Area, which from afar sounds like the cops can tell you to go back home just for letting your kid play in the park.
We’re told by the experts that this won’t last long. Short-term pain for long-term gain, they say. But the reality is, nobody knows. Maybe after a few weeks, we start peeling back the onion and slowly start returning to normal. But what if this turns into a United Creeping Delay™, where 2 weeks keeps getting extended for 2 more? I work for a small family-owned business, and I have no concerns about my well-being. The owner of our company, a very generous man, has our backs. I’m incredibly lucky in that regard, but many people aren’t. A small business might survive a 2-week shutdown. But what if demands for social distancing spread for several months? Marriott already announced tens of thousands of layoffs. How many more if we’re still dealing with travel bans on Memorial Day? Marriott likely survives. The neighbor with a shop in the strip mall likely doesn’t.
And that’s where this leads. The idea of being a prisoner in your own home for potentially months, as you watch people’s livelihoods die around you, is simply soul-crushing. After 9/11, and even during the 2008 financial crisis, Americans banded together to go out and support local business where they could. Now? We’re powerless, told by the scientists and public health experts to stay at home. The reality is, nobody knows if this really is “short term pain for long term gain”. Maybe demand returns back to normal in a matter of months – or maybe it lingers for years. If it’s the latter, “your sacrifice helped save a life” is cold comfort to the shop owner destroyed and on food stamps for the next year.
My point? I don’t really have one, other than please, have some empathy for those of us struggling with this new normal. Some of us just can’t “forget about the economic impact”. Either we’re in a job that can’t be worked from home and is at real risk of getting cut. Or we care about the potential devastation, and feel powerless to step in and help. Maybe some recognition that taking my kid out to the park isn’t going to kill anyone. And that the emotional toll of all this is a real danger in addition to whatever the virus does. “Keep up your mental health to keep your immune system strong” doesn’t jive with “just freaking stay inside”. Recognize that and actually try to help, rather than responding with snark. And that the constant calls for lockdowns are, in fact, feeding the current panic buying/hoarding frenzy.
Plans for the Blog Going Forward
On the bright side, I have a severe backlog of trip reports, and now I have some time to get caught up. I’ve made the decision to continue on with those. Maybe some of you get some inspiration for the future after things return to normal. (They will, eventually.) Or maybe it just helps you kill time while you’re stuck inside.
Oh, and all of you hoarders that happen to be reading? I seriously hope you choke on your year’s supply of TP.