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Published: February 18th 2022
It was an easy drive out of North Carolina. And traffic was sparse. However, once we were in Virginia the pandemic reared its ugly head. There was no indoor dining at the McDonalds where we stopped for lunch. Luckily though, we were still able to order inside the restaurant and use the bathrooms. We were left however without a place to sit down and eat our food. I always refuse to eat in the car whose seat I am trying to get relief from after sitting in the same position for hours.
So I just drove. I had no idea where I was going, but I was convinced that there was going to be somewhere ideal to eat the burgers and fries we had just purchased. I barreled ahead, although my search was proving unsuccessful. Mom was getting increasingly confused about just what it was I was doing. Finally, things just boiled over and I gave up and pulled into a large parking lot. Eating in the car it was. But what was that off to the side? A grassy area with numerous picnic tables. And it was all for us. I couldn’t believe my eyes. So that is how
we came to eat our food under sunny skies on a perfect autumn day. This was actually much better than a fast-food dining room. My spontaneous conviction had been proven correct. Thanks be to God!
We were driving up to Charlottesville for the final stop of our trip and to see Mom’s first cousin, Monika, the next day. As we approached the small university city, I began to notice something I hadn’t seen the entire trip. Nearly every sign I had seen on the drive down and around Tennessee and North Carolina had been for Trump, but here approaching Charlottesville were large swathes of Biden/Harris signs. It seemed like the closer we got to the capital region the stronger their support became.
There were a couple things that surprised me about our downtown Charlottesville hotel. First that it was so inexpensive given its central location and overall swankiness. It seemed the most luxurious of the hotels we had stayed at, but for some reason wasn’t costing us an arm and a leg. The other thing was how empty it was. All our other hotels were bustling with travelers, but here it seemed that no one else was staying.
That must have been the reason for the discount.
With the trip winding down, we decided to eat in the hotel restaurant. We were the only ones there. The waiter thanked us for coming down to eat as if we were the only customers he had seen for weeks. While we were eating, a worried looking woman in a huge white N95 mask came down to pick up her food before nervously retreating back to the elevator. It was vaguely dystopian.
After our meal we went for a walk on the Virginia Mall, which we had seen the beginning portion of from the restaurant window. There was live music coming out of one bar. In front of the bar were set up outdoor tables. There hopeful groups of people sat and drank together, looking to bring back the good times. We kept walking down the mall. There was some activity, but mostly it felt empty. A beggar stopped to ask for change. I was missing our Tennessee holler already. Our trip was winding down, a momentous election was on the horizon.
* * * * *
The next day we drove over to Cousin Monika’s house.
Her daughter, Lily, was currently living with her. Lily had been living the carefree life of a young single woman in her 30s out in Oregon when the pandemic hit. Rather, than being holed up alone and isolated, she packed up all her things and drove cross country to stay with her mother. Many months later she was still there.
Monika’s house was in a beautiful woodsy area. In fact, it reminded me a bit of Austin. Charlottesville seemed to be getting hipper since last I had been there. After a slightly awkward greeting, where Mom and Lily eventually agreed to disagree on the subject of natural immunity, we all settled on their back deck. It felt strange, the last time I was in Charlottesville I was 12 and Lily was 7. Now I was 42 and she was 37. Here we all were 30 years and many changes later. It was like flashes in time.
We talked about some of our departed loved ones and learned a few deep family secrets. We told them about our trip so far and how we had wanted to see some black bears in Great Smoky Mountains, but hadn’t seen any.
Astoundingly, they said that they had black bears prowl around their backyard all the time. At one point, there was a sudden crashing and squabbling on the wooden railing behind me. I jumped thinking that it might be a bear claw. However, it turned out that it was just a squirrel going nuts inches away from my shoulder.
We had started out socially distanced with the two of them sitting far apart with their masks self-consciously being taken off and on. But by the end of the visit barriers were broken down, masks came off, and distances were abolished. The bonds of family were strengthened once again.
On the way back to our hotel, I wanted to stop at the Robert E. Lee Monument in Virginia Market Street Park. It had been the scene of such controversy last summer and I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about for myself. There were many forces that worked to have it torn down, but historical conservationists had stepped in and saved it.
The park itself was far humbler and smaller than I had expected. I thought it was going to be in some prominent location, but
here it was tucked into a secluded location. There was one person sunbathing while reading a book on the lawn in front of it. A group of African-Americans were laughing and having fun on some nearby park benches. The regal statue stood there, a reminder of the past. It did not seem to be doing harm to anybody and it gave this small corner of the world a real power of place.
Back at the hotel we ordered way too much food in exuberant celebration of a trip well planned and executed. We had put our money where our mouths were and lived our ideals. All summer we had said to all that would listen that we must get out there and live our lives. The only thing to fear is fear itself. There is a time for love and laughter The days will pass like summer storms The winter winds will follow after But there is love and love is warm There is a time for us to wander When time is young and so are we The woods are greener over yonder The path is new the world is
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