Whenever we look back on our 2020 vacation photos as we grow older, we will never, ever have to think long and hard to remember what year they were taken.
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. My son tagged along from 2003 until 2013 when he ventured off to college. We’ve taken two trips by airplane, but are much happier when we’re the ones behind the wheel — charting our own course, making unplanned stops anytime we want, availing ourselves of slightly better meal options, and keeping or ruining our own schedule as dictated by circumstances or whims. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.
Then came 2020 A.D. — a time of tumult, an era of erasure, a destroyer of dreams, an annihilator of innocents, a bringer of doom, a divider of castes, a breaker of traditions, and a canceler of calendars. It’s been a challenge to the physical and emotional well-being of billions.
Even in an ordinary average year, sometimes you really need to get away from it all. In a year like this, escape is more important than ever if you can find yourself one — no matter how short it lasts, no matter how limited your boundaries are.
For this year our Plan A involved other states, as was the norm for our annual road trips. Due to convoluted circumstances involving my current workplace setup and their adjusted guidelines for continuing operations under COVID-19, I am basically not allowed to leave the state of Indiana for the foreseeable future without undesirable consequences. Considering how poorly some neighboring states are underestimating and mishandling the situation, it’s hard to argue with my bosses’ logic. That said, this sucks.
Anne and I had two choices: either skip our tradition for 2020 and resign ourselves to a week-long staycation that looks and feels exactly like our typical weekend quarantines; or see how much we could accomplish within my prescribed limitations.
We settled on an idea borrowed from one of our other traditions. On our last several birthdays we’ve been taking one-day road trips to cities and towns for a variety of sightseeing excursions — what one local TV newscaster used to call “one-tank trips”. Most of our birthday trips have been to homegrown Hoosier locales, though a few have ventured beyond our borders. We decided to expand on that and check out points of interest in multiple Indiana towns in assorted directions. We’d visited many towns over the years, but not all of them yet.
In addition to our usual personal rules, we had two simple additions in light of All This: don’t get killed, and don’t get others killed.
We approached our planning with no small amount of trepidation. “PNEUMONIA AS A RESULT OF COVID-19 AS A RESULT OF LEISURE” would be a horrible cause to have listed on our death certificates. On the flip side, if we wound up as unwitting carriers, we’d rather not leave a trail of devastation in our wake, spurring headlines such as “OUTSIDERS BRING OUTBREAK”.
That meant being careful. That meant minding our calculated risks. Above all else, that meant masks.
We found little ways to minimize opportunities for exposure. The biggest change: no hotels. Each day’s journey would begin at home, take us away from home, but end with a return trip home. Getaways are a nice luxury, but it felt prudent to reduce costs, and we weren’t 100% ready to trust all kinds of industries yet. Sorry, hoteliers.
Some of our travel options were taken out of our hands in advance. As of this writing many attractions remain closed statewide, from the largest amusement parks to the smallest idiosyncratic roadside oddities. Several businesses are soldiering on, thankfully in compliance with mandatory state regulations and/or the current guidelines generally being recognized and implemented by the more selfless folks out there. By and large, the majority of people we’ve met indoors have won masks and steered clear of us as much as circumstances would allow. Many restaurateurs, waitstaff, curators, and docents want to stay open. They share our mutual preference for everyone to stay safe. They embraced the enhanced protocols — the masks, the social distancing, the extra cleaning. And in many cases, they did so not just because someone threatened them to do all that.
I’d love to say everyone did so. If I gave you a list of all the places we’ve been so far this week, chances are the cynical among you could guess precisely which one (1) business didn’t have a single masked employee in sight despite their own posted signs insisting masks were required. Given the “do as we say, not as we do” dichotomy before us, we sided with their signs and everyone’s safety, and kept our masks on every second we were indoors.
But most folks were happy to see us and okay with abiding by the playbook. You’ll see more than a few hints of the Coronavirus age pop up throughout our 2020 travelogue over the next few weeks. We enjoyed quite a few eateries. We toured some specialized museums. We got much-needed exercise at a number of parks. At one point we nearly got Anne killed, but it wasn’t virus-related. And we made a few discoveries that truly wowed us, such as the setting in our lead photo, where we found ourselves in a college town with a very special museum whose features included some of original theater seats used in the filming of The Muppet Movie.
We couldn’t escape the specter of The Virus, but we also couldn’t let go of our pursuit of intellectual curiosity or our need to get away from at least some of All This for a while. We pray we didn’t screw it up, and we pray this year’s scaled-back series of smaller road trips will be memorable for good reasons.