From the Left



My dead French grandfather helped me with COVID-19

Ted Rall on

After my mother died on Feb. 7, I gathered her valuables and photo albums and drove home to New York. But there wasn't enough room in the car for everything I wanted to keep.

There were tchotchkes such as a silly white ceramic saltshaker and pepper shaker in the shape of Arab kings. They weren't my taste, but they had been there my entire life, so I wanted them. There was a box of birth certificates and other official documents from her parents and grandparents back in France. And her bike. She had bought a wooden chair for $5 at a garage sale, stripped off the hideous paint and discovered it was an early 19th-century Shaker; I didn't want to let that go.

One more trip to Dayton, Ohio, was all I needed.

Her house sold faster than I expected. Closing is in a month. The buyers want to move in then, so I have to get my stuff out before then. My Realtor was generous. She offered to pack everything up and store it for me until the end of the coronavirus crisis. But I prefer to do it myself. Things you care about get lost and screwed up when you leave them to others.

COVID-19 be damned, I packed up to drive from New York to Ohio.

It was going to be a cannonball run: 12 hours from New York to Dayton, one day to pack, 12 hours back. I'd only need to get gas once each way. If I needed to urinate, I'd do it on the side of the Pennsylvania Interstate 80. As Gary Numan noted, the automobile is the epitome of social distancing.


Aside from the possibility of contracting the coronavirus, my plan entailed the risk of being trapped at some checkpoint or forcibly quarantined as lockdowns continue to spread. Ohio has a shelter-in-place order. There are rumors that nonessential travel verifiable by documentation has been prohibited. The White House wants anyone who leaves New York to self-quarantine for 14 days. As of this writing, the highways are supposedly open. But will they be on Friday?

I couldn't sleep last night.

What if I were to get sick somewhere in western Pennsylvania or eastern Ohio? I wouldn't have any clue where to go. Would I be able to drive the remainder of the way to Dayton? Would I get stuck there? If I were on my way back, would I be in good-enough shape to make it back to New York? There are too many variables to feel good about it.

It's not like I am particularly risk-averse. I've filed conflict reports, including from Afghanistan. But something kept telling me I was being stupid.


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