Tuesday of last week, I sat in a nearly empty Sacramento International Airport for hours on a delayed flight.
I had hand sanitizer in two different places in my luggage but TSA was good with it.
I had misgivings about flying but my husband—a data analyst by trade — ran the numbers and said what I — more of a poet by trade — had been feeling: The risk is everywhere. So off we went to San Antonio, Texas, where the Associated Writers and Writing Programs conference I’d planned to attend for months wasn’t being called off — though the panels, readings, and book fair seemed to be down by two-thirds.
The day before, a mall north of the city was shut down for deep cleaning as was the Holiday Inn because someone in quarantine was released too soon. I make a mental note to not go to either place.
Right before we boarded at Los Angeles International I saw a fellow writer with hand sanitizer strapped to her belt. Every 20th passenger had a face mask that they fiddled with constantly rendering it useless.
Not unlike my working in prison, I am pretty good at not touching my face or grabbing doors with my naked hands. I press buttons, open doors, pull levers with either my elbows or feet or a sweater covered hand.
The AWP board of directors issued a statement that the conference would go on but there were signs everywhere about “no handshakes” and keeping everything “hug free.” And lots of hand sanitizer.
I touched nothing at The Alamo.
Every time I use my ATM card I look at it like a disease vector when I go to put it back in my purse. It too now smells like rubbing alcohol and synthetic florals — as does my purse.
Two friends of mine at two separate booths and I rush to hug each other. We stop short and eye each other up and down for consent and then hug anyhow.
After six hours of conference I get back to the Hotel Contessa where the husband has been working remotely all day. His work has offices in Seattle. Everyone’s working from home there, he says. On the news, they say Seattle is a ghost town.
A writer friend of mine and her kid are in a Seattle suburb stuck quarantined in their apartment. Her kid had played with another kid. Well, all the kids in the apartment building had played with a kid with COVID19 and now she’s feeling apocalyptic. Waiting for signs.
Mercury is still in retrograde.
I tell my son his graduation trip might have to be somewhere else if this thing doesn’t get under control — we were planning on Seattle and then going to Victoria Island.
My husband goes to kiss me and take my hand, but first I go wash off the conference and the counter of the café where I bought our lunch. We go to eat it smelling freshly of sanitizer — at the same time recognizing that food service is probably going to be a major vector.
Must Texans cover everything in sugary BBQ sauce? My stomach feels weird. I go to vomit. Nothing comes. I realize that I’ve been reading up on COVID 19 for so long today and looked at so many empty booths at the book fair that I am psycho-somaticking myself out. It’s really just that Texas food is too heavy and I’m quasi vegetarian and that brisket was a bad idea.
I get dressed and ready to do my reading with fellow writers. I’ll chase the queasy stomach with something with ginger ale and whiskey.
I left the sanitizer back in the hotel room, but the Top Shelf Lounge where the reading was being held, was at the top of a building. It was an old building and in the back of my mind throughout the three hours we were there was that I couldn’t really wash my hands. The eight of us performing that night knew each other tangentially. The organizer grabbed my hand and shook it — violating the “do not touch” code of the conference accidentally and we all stared at her hand.
I wonder as my husband and I head back to the hotel, choosing to eat a bite there rather than venture into the unknown, how long this will last. Is this the last giant congregation I’ll let myself be around for awhile? The conference itself was teetering on the verge of cancel the week before — and many thought they should have.
The analyst husband says it doesn’t matter now because the point of containment was gone the moment those cruise ship passengers against the warning of the CDC were let back into the general population. Clearly the incubation period is longer than the 14-day waiting period given to those isolated on Air Force bases in California, Texas and other states.
We don’t live in a country where people listen to scientists or authority figures. Like Crockett and company at the Alamo, we are usurpers and insurrectionists by our very American nature (self-included). We are not fighting some glorious righteous battle — we are Americans — and it’s in our very DNA not to like to be told what to do. We rather die — last man standing.
Texas seems the appropriate place to be right now.
COVID19 might beat me back to Plumas County. It might turn out that Texas was the safest place to be.
I look down at my hands and the dirt under my nails. Uh-oh. Did I just unconsciously put my fingers to my face?
It’s Friday morning. I’m writing from a pristine comfy hotel bed and the husband is already at work in the living room area of the suite. I’ll be leaving for the conference Day 2 in less than an hour. He’ll be monitoring the virus for his company and making recommendations. I put the sanitizer back in my purse.
We will share an uncontaminated hug and kiss before I leave the rooms and go back out into the world of the unknown.