On the last day of November, I took a bus from Eureka, California to San Francisco, California and then boarded a jet to Guadalajara, Jalisco. I was in Jalisco for six weeks, and then returned to the United States. After a brief two week stay back here, I took an Amtrak train to Portland, Oregon, where I moved some of my belongings out of storage, and shipped them to Montana. I went to Montana to collect them and see my old home, and then returned on a three day journey from Whitefish, Montana back to Eureka, California. On leap day, I even took my train's layover in Portland as a chance to visit Powell's City of Books and pick up some interesting reading. That was a busy three months for me.
Looking at that now it seems both amazing and indecent. I read about those happening with the shock and amazement that a 19th century matron might look at Virtual Reality Pornography. It seems both technically impossible and morally wrong. On the last two days of my trip, Covid-19 was still a news story. On the long train ride from Portland to Martinez, California, I sat behind someone who had a persistent hacking cough. It seemed paranoid to worry about it at the time. At that time, there were literally only a few dozen known cases in the United States: the chances were literally much lower than one in a million that a normal cough could be caused by this new illness. Things have changed a lot since then.
To me, it seems impossible that I could have done those things, so casually. It is like finding a picture of myself flying a plane, or playing Olympic basketball. At one point, I was daring and venturous and the world made sense. That was a long six weeks ago.
Here is what I see now, though. Perhaps helplessly naive. We will be able to tell in the far distant future, weeks from now, if this makes any sense: we know how to deal with this thing. The social distancing measures, first put in place in the United States in California, have a clear and recognizable ability to curtail the spread of the disease. We can't exactly apply the middle school scientific method to how effective they are, but across entities of different sizes and types, the pattern is pretty clear: about two to three weeks after the quarantine, the growth stops being exponential.
This is a relief. A few weeks ago, it really seemed we might go into a full grinding halt of even basic economic activity. But at least where I am, basic services are still functioning and hospitals still have capacity.
But what comes next? We have curtailed the disease, and it is not spreading exponentially, but what comes next? Does anyone have any idea about that? Have any medical, social, psychological, economic and political leaders thought of how long we can remain in limbo? There is, in the United States, to say the least, a leadership vacuum, but around the world, while leaders and people have come, quickly or slowly, to understanding how to curtail the spread, there doesn't seem to be many ideas about what we do next.
Personally, I am "fine". I have a lot of rice in my house, I can still go shopping, and I can go outside to exercise. But my world and my future are now a funnel: the wild expansiveness and optimism that marked my three months of travel has been replaced by hazarding a trip outside every five days to get fresh food and keep my mental health. What I once was seems like a wild dream. What next? What next?