Familiar stops on a regular route to the San Juan Islands of Washington’s coast were oddly different, and unmasked a certain amount of indifference to the pandemic. Above, patrons at a favorite coffee shop appreciate the food and java and a staff that wears masks, even though most are not. Below, masks were few and far between at a rest stop, indoor super-store before the author boarded the ferry for the final leg of his journey.

It had been 12 weeks since we left home when we left Oregon for the first time since early March. We did not want to take this trip, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime necessity that demanded our attention to a matter in San Juan’s. Before leaving, we gathered our “virus kit” with masks, sanitizer, and gloves. Then, we discussed all social interaction protocols as if consulting a camping trip checklist. Leaving the safe bubble of Oregon for the “Hot Zone” of Washington felt awkward despite all the delusional “Phase 1…Phase 2” optimism in defiance of all objective threat from the virus.

 Perhaps the most significant change since the onset of the virus is the separation from other humans, specifically evaluating whether we are a direct threat to their health or they to ours. In the car, the sense of traveling in a protected capsule was palpable, but with 400 miles to the ferry terminal, we had to make a rest stop. Again, more weirdness when doing something we have done thousands of times routinely before. Before the pandemic, we were not obsessive “Germaphobes,” though over the past 10 years have developed hands-free ways to use public facilities. In the past, it was more of a game, but now, not so much. Now, a simple bathroom break requires high-level awareness: go in, do not touch anything, wash your hands, rewash them, do not touch the hand dryer, do not touch the door, and even though you just washed your hands, splash on some sanitizer for good measure when you get to the car again.

Anyone navigating the I-5 corridor through Tacoma and Seattle knows traffic can be insanely slow, so we left plenty of extra time in case of delays. Alas, with fewer people on the road, we sailed through Washington and found ourselves with four hours to fill before the ferry sailing. Twenty miles from the ferry terminal, in Burlington, we stopped for gas and purchased food at Costco. The parking lot was full, and almost everyone wore a mask. Except for the masks and directed social distancing, it felt normal. While I got the food, Nancy got the gas, but this required a different protocol because in Washington, most gas stations are self-serve, and Nancy did a round of hand sanitizer. Once I returned to the car, off came my mask and then performed another round of hand sanitation.

Three hours before the ferry arrived, we drove to Anacortes, hoping to get takeout. Much to our surprise, our favorite restaurant had a large OPEN sign. It didn’t feel right, but poking our masked faces through there were properly spaced tables and a fully masked staff. No masks for about half the other patrons who sat close to each other chatting la-di-da, as if there wasn’t a concern in the world. Call it Phase 1, Phase 2, and Socially Distanced, but it did not require an epidemiologist to discern there was little objective (Can you say, Ah-choo!) protection. In the back of my mind, the little voice said, “Since I already had the virus, I hope there is immunity to reinfection.”

In the Anacortes ferry terminal waiting line, we remained in the car, as did most others, but a few people wearing masks walked their dogs. Arriving on San Juan Island, we had no contact with others. The next day, we kept our distance while visiting our neighbors, taking comfort that, like Oregon, the San Juan’s have had few cases. Everyone we saw was isolated long enough and trusted they were virus-free. 

Nancy and I have our closest relatives living in Washington. By mutual agreement, we decided to visit them on the way home. We saw my cousin and Nancy’s 92-year-old father and their wives, separately, but all who have been sheltering-in-place for months. There was both relief and concern during the visits, and also no hugs or handshakes. Seeing the people we love lessened the painful isolation from being cut off from an aging relative during the pandemic.

Finally, arriving home Saturday night, we got out of the car with a sense of relief that reminded me of a Lunar mission splashdown. Home never looked or felt so good, and I don’t think we will take any more trips soon.

I am not a big Grateful Dead fan, but do finally appreciate just what a long, strange trip it’s been.

Stay safe all and keep on Truckin!

Contact Joey at [email protected]