The last trip Martha and I took before COVID-19 shut down the world was to South Florida. That was in March, 2020, when we flew to Ft. Lauderdale, rented a car, and stayed in a hotel near the water in Pompano Beach. Little did we know then how dark the rest of that year would be, with hundreds of thousands of death, tens of millions of cases, and a life dependent on masks, social distancing, and sheltering at home.
Over the next eleven months, we didn’t go anywhere, except for walks in our neighborhood or local parks. The only time we even crossed a state line was to drive over to Illinois — not for any specific destinations, but to just get out of the house and go somewhere. As people who love to travel, being so restricted drove us a little crazy.
Finally, we decided that if we could find a house to rent in a warmer climate, even if we were mostly homebound there and didn’t do much more than we do here, we could at least get away from winter weather and spend more time outside. Since we couldn’t go to any other countries, we decided to return to South Florida, and found a place on VRBO a few miles from the beach that was available for the month of February.
Wow, did that turn out to be good timing! We managed to completely avoid the polar vortex that froze so much of America. At one point, it was eighty degrees warmer where we were than at home. I wore shorts for 28 straight days. We ate our meals on the patio surrounded by palm trees. The house even had a pool which, though unheated and not nearly long enough to do laps, provided even more un-Missouri-like comfort.
To get there and back, we opted to drive rather than fly. For one, since we probably won’t be vaccinated until springtime, our doctor recommended not getting on planes, even with their improved air filters and mask regulations. For another, if we flew, we’d need a car at the other end, and it was much cheaper to pay for roundtrip gas than to rent a vehicle for a month.
So we piled our luggage into the car and hit the road, but not in any rush. We drove for as many hours as we could, then used our iPhones to find a hotel at an upcoming exit. We called ahead to make sure they had a room on the first floor (we’re staying out of elevators, too) that cost under $100. If they did, we booked it, gave them our credit card info, then showed up ten minutes later at the front desk to pick up the keys.
That was the entirety of our interaction with other humans, other than at fast-food places where we stopped to get lunch and use the bathrooms. Despite the pandemic, at no time in any of those establishments did we feel in danger, with almost everyone wearing masks (although more than a few of them didn’t understand that the nose is part of the respiratory system and thus needs to be covered along with the mouth).
However, with Florida’s reputation as a state where logic and good decisions aren’t a priority, Martha was a bit leery of either of us going to local supermarkets. Doing some research ahead of time, she discovered that there was a Publix not far from our rental house which would deliver groceries to us via Instacart. But then we read about Instacart engaging in union-busting activity, so that was out. As an alternative, I found an app called Dumpling, which assigns private shoppers to go get stuff from any store and bring it to you. So, we figured we’d use that for our Publix deliveries — until we read another article saying that the heir to the Publix fortune was a woman who had funded much of the January 6th Trump rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol by right-wing extremists. So, Publix was out entirely.
Martha did some more research and found both a Winn-Dixie and a Target not too far away, and both of them would deliver via Shipt. Even better, she signed up for a four-week free trial of Shipt — just enough to last through our stay. Not finding any reason to avoid any of those businesses, we availed ourselves of their services on a few occasions. I also made a couple of runs to Winn-Dixie, where the atmosphere was no different than visiting Dierbergs or Schnucks at home. And we used curbside pickup to get meals from several local restaurants.
I’ll have more stories from our Florida adventure tomorrow, including our visits to some nature preserves, my return to the Atlantic Ocean, and Marc Maron’s lizard prophecy coming true.