The Other Columbus: Pandemic wanderlust is your friend

Get vaccinated and escape to where there are fewer people, even if only for a day

Scott Woods
A smiling couple driving their car down an open highway in the desert at dusk.

I took to the open road in search of places where change did not mean ruin and where time and men and deeds connected. -William Least Heat-Moon

Making an early Sunday morning Waffle House run, I stepped into a day hazy but not yet hot. Everything but the road was still covered in dew. It was a summer camp morning, when everything is lush and smells like a fresh swimming hole and you want to climb into all of it for a season. 

Mornings like that often compel me to jump into a car and go, well, anywhere. It is early enough that I can be halfway across the country in any direction by dinner if I start right then. Forget the burger and chili and just go. It is a truck driver's freedom, or at least the hermit crab existence we project onto truck driving. And I almost pull the trigger every time. Enough gas in the car, enough money in my pocket to make things interesting, and boom: ghost. 

You could stop anywhere along the way, buy almost anything. You are the king of every inch of road you consume, a pharaoh uniting Upper and Lower America with your windblown curiosity and wanderlust. You traverse a kingdom supposedly split by a Nile of differences, though being Black I know they’re just degrees and angles of values that glint different depending on how the light hits them. Drive 45 minutes east of Columbus and you’ll find yourself in an alternate reality where Trump won the election and every house let’s you know it. Twilight Zone rabbit holes aside, you almost don't want to play music during that initial rush of freedom, the slapping hum of asphalt under your tires soundtrack enough. 

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Of course, this is the kind of wanderlust we have all been warned will kill us for the past year and a half, which at this point makes such impromptu adventures even more tempting. You don’t need to vaccinate road air, and you only need to mask up where you stop. If you don’t stop, you can almost forget a pandemic is happening. And we are all so clearly tired of not doing things.

Part of the reason people are out kicking it as if we’ve all won tickets to Gattaca is because we were told by the CDC and the many smiling mannequins of the media that we were practically invincible with the vaccine. This was an almost acceptable message when people assumed that the overwhelming majority of Americans would sign up for vaccines. 

Eight months into the campaign to Make America Not Die Daily Again, the reality is vastly different. After 18 months of social and economic purgatory, with less than half of the country vaccinated and the rest of the country largely acting as if herd immunity were written in the Constitution, we’ve graduated to a diseased limbo. 

On Aug. 1 in Franklin County, the seven-day average of new cases was 117; roughly the same as it was on June 25, 2020. A little more than a week later, and we’re at 195, which is practically where we were twice last year. Once on July 4 (before it spiked) and again Sept. 5 (before it spiked again). Depending on where you want to step into the timeline, we have either lapped ourselves, or worse, leapfrogged several months in a week. The Delta variant is spreading as fast as the original virus did when we didn’t have a vaccine. The vaccine should have allowed us to exercise less caution, if not total freedom. But that isn't how America rolls. If you give us an inch, we're going to take a liberty.

These are the kinds of things that getting in a car and driving away for several hours — and it must be hours — can clear your head of. I suppose I am dangerously close to making a case for pandemic escapism, but for God’s sake, why not? I’m not making a case for vacationing. I’m making a case for running away, to go where there are fewer people, not more. I want to see pics of people rediscovering where they live with no people around, and the open road is the quickest, cheapest, and most efficient way of doing so. I say get vaccinated, fill up your tank, and get out of your bubble and into an even smaller one for a day.