O Brave New World/The Process

9000 miles (flown).

1800 miles (driven).

3 countries (1 layover).

6 states.

2 negative COVID tests, 2 quarantines, 2 offspring dropped at school, with fiercest love and optimistic fingers crossed.

4 curbside pickups from big box stores made to gather supplies for above-mentioned offspring school drop-offs. (The week of August 14 there were no flip flops, nalgene water bottles or Clorox wipes in Athens, GA.)

Country city creek corn cotton

masks convenience stores

kindness

cluelessness

But by far the strangest thing I saw during the last 20 days was when we, now two instead of four, checked into a midtown* Atlanta hotel two nights ago, before our flight back to Madrid. At the end of the familiar ritual of checking in, the desk clerk pushed a sleek box smaller than a breadbox but larger than an iphone across the counter toward me. She recited something about keys, clearly by rote, but I was so flat out tired I couldn’t even process it.

The lighting was dim. The lobby was entirely unpeopled, as had been the parking garage, the street we’d driven down. We’d spent the afternoon, visiting, COVID-style, outside and 6 feet apart, and I was sticky with sweat and covered with mosquito bites. I looked dumbly down at the box, which seemed to emit an otherworldly glow.

I’m sorry, I said. What exactly is this for?

My room key was in it, she explained. Freshly ultrasonically zapped for cleanliness.

I picked it up and walked toward the elevator, to press buttons pressed by who knows how many fingers. The next morning, I went to the lobby “market” for coffee, because the restaurant was closed for reasons of pandemic, where I was asked to sign a credit card slip with a pen passed to me by the clerk (nary a high-tech box in sight).

I would say this is America, but actually, this is the world, our brave new world, these days.

In Ohio, we drove down a state road at sunset, past a collection of Amish farms. It being Saturday night, young Amish bucks in teams of two sat in their buggies where state road met gravel, watching the world go by. Our last look back: a woman walking up a farm road, bonnet ties hanging, holding the hand of a child, sunset spread gloriously behind her.

The next farm up the road had planted in the dirt along with its crop of soybeans a Trump: Keep American Great banner.

In Kentucky, in a rest stop restroom, I overheard two elderly women with thick thick southern accents have this conversation:

Guess they don’t wear masks ’round here.

Well, I sure will then!

In Kentucky also, we drove the pike road from Paris to Lexington during the Golden Hour, past lavish horse farms and grass so lush and electric green you wanted to stop and eat it yourself. When we arrived at our hotel, a BLM march was taking place on the street outside the front door.

In North Carolina, though the sign on the door to a gas station explained that anyone going in must wear a mask, no one working inside had one on at all.

And so on. On Delta, the flight announcement was that masks that covered both mouth and nose were required. Take that, you chin-mask wearers!

In the Amsterdam airport, I saw a couple decked out in masks, face shields and white haz-mat type suits, complete with hoods. The cherry on top: matching bucket hats worn over the hoods.

Here, Madrid has a third of Spain’s rising COVID cases. School starts in a few days. I can’t figure out what the policies for that are, and I’m not so sure that’s solely because I’ve forgotten all my Spanish.

2020 isn’t over yet.

  • O Midtown, O Peachtree Street. Hardly a restaurant open. The office towers without people.

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