Culture | Poetry | Travel

Five Mornings of Watching the World Go Mad

“I live
in the open mindedness
of not knowing enough
about anything.”
– Mary Oliver, Luna

I woke up early, restless and ready to move on from this place at 4:30 AM.  I get like this sometimes.  It’s the fifth morning I’ve woken up in a different place, this time I slept in Poughkeepsie, New York.  This town has meaning for me; I once slept in my car near the boathouse at Marist College back when it didn’t seem like a big thing to do such things.  I’d taken one look around the full boathouse we were all going to sleep in and opted for quiet over shared suffering.  Come to think of it, I still steer in that direction.

In a week of accelerating news stories about Presidential campaigns and Coronavirus, I’ve been operating under the cloak of business travel.  I gave up on trying to find a bottle of hand sanitizer after the fourth store clerk shrugged and talked of orders pending.  A woman in Glens Falls told me “the virus is close now, with confirmed cases in New York City and Albany”.  It feels too much like a scene in a movie for me.  I just want to have my hands not smell like gasoline after I fill up the car, but I guess I’ll need to ration what I have left in my travel bottle.  The world goes mad sometimes, and Coronovirus has kicked the hoarder’s nest.

I have more travel in the next couple of weeks, and candidly I thought about cancelling some of it.  Not because I’m an alarmist, but because I’m a pragmatist.  Who needs the drama of flights and edgy fellow travelers around you?  Who needs the potential lockdown of a city I happen to be in at the time?  I love the ocean but I’m just not hopping on a cruise ship right now, thank you.  I saw World War Z, I know what happens when the virus rips through a plane full of people.  I’m not Brad Pitt, there’s no way I’d survive that.

All this comes up when you wake up at 4:30 on the fifth morning of business travel.  I didn’t feel this way Monday morning in Buffalo, or Tuesday in Rochester.  I had some trepidation in Syracuse on Wednesday but felt great about the world on Thursday in Saratoga Springs.  Then again, it’s hard not to feel like the world is a beautiful place when you spend a little time in Saratoga Springs.  Which brings me to Poughkeepsie, on the shores of the Hudson River.  I once jumped in the frigid Hudson right about this time in March back as a freshman in college too many years ago after we won a race.  At the time that seemed the logical thing to do.  Sort of like buying all the Purell at the local pharmacy just in case you need it when Coronavirus madness starts going down.  Sometimes we get inspired by the odd behavior of those around us.  And that’s why I don’t watch the news or hang out with large groups of angry people.

Look, I don’t know enough about Coronavirus to know whether traveling the next two weeks is a good idea or not.  On the surface it seems better to just stay home and let things play out.  But I’m a traveler at heart, and if everyone else stays home I may just have a little more virus-free air to breath.  I do know I’ve really improved my hand-washing skills, and I try not to touch my face with my hands.  I don’t mind when someone doesn’t want to shake hands, but I don’t shrink back in horror when they offer their hand in greeting.  I mean, that’s what Purell is for…  if you can find any.

This all seems a little smug, and I apologize for that.  I’m taking a potential pandemic very seriously, but I don’t watch the news and I don’t hoard dust masks, vodka and Purell (maybe a little rum).  I think the best thing we can do is be a little diligent with our personal hygiene, stay out of crowded indoor places, and give those who might be a little vulnerable a little distance in case you have the virus and don’t know it.  If things spiral into madness tap into your water heater for drinking water and carbo load on rice.  All that is unsolicited advice from someone figuring it out like you are.  The only thing I’m sure about is that you really should wash your hands better.

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