The year 2020 is a truly historic moment in time. In the blink of an eye the entire world was transformed. Travel, education, politics, shopping, employment, none of these will be the same as they were before March 15. It is is a time of tremendous worry and anxiety, of opportunity and of loss. How unnerving. How exciting. Still, there are those instances when I give thought that it would be best to read about all of this in a history book than live through it.
Personally the year dawned with great promise. I had a recently published book to promote, Murder and Mayhem on the Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66. In the midst of the pandemic I would learn that it had been awarded the Independent Publishers silver medal award. Linked with this was a growing calendar of speaking engagements; the El Garces in Needles, California, a northwestern tour with five engagements, the International Route 66 Festival in Zlin, Czechia and Miles of Possibility Conference to name but a few. As an added bonus I had finalized arrangements with another tour company, number 32, that would utilize my services. I had every reason to be happier than fleas on a puppy.
The clouds on the horizon gave little indication of the magnitude of the storm that was fast approaching. There were growing hints of a troublesome virus brewing in China. Whether it would develop as a new strain of influenza, something a little more serious like SARS or a pandemic such as that which swept the globe in 1918 was still a matter of conjecture. The swirling conspiracy theories on social media muddied the water and made it difficult to garner an accurate picture of the situation. And as with every crisis or potential crisis of the past few years, the virus and any potential threat was manipulated for political gain and to foster carefully crafted divisions.
In February my pa passed away. It wasn’t unexpected as he was 92 years of age and quite ill. Still, that left a bit of a hole, and I was in a fog most of the month. And I had become adept at ignoring the drum beat of incendiary political rhetoric and the cacophony of conflicting news. This meant that I missed storm warnings, not that I could have done a great deal to prepare for what was coming. With the luxury of hindsight this might have been a blessing. If I had been paying more attention, and had been more aware of how many countries were preparing for a serious crisis while here in the good old USA we were whistling past the graveyard, I would have been as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
March is when the proverbial dog doo hit the fan. My dearest friend and I celebrated her birthday with a quiet dinner and talk about our friends that would we would be visiting with soon as well as the adventures awaiting us. Within days it all unwound. Tour companies began canceling for all of 2020. The college canceled the community education programs on tourism that I had developed. Like dominoes speaking engagements were canceled one after the other. I have never really learned to swim. Still I have long believed there is no better incentive to learn than when the ship is going down and the ice water is swirling around your testicles.
In April it felt like I was having a root canal during a tax audit and a prostate examination. The cascade of cancellations escalated. Then I got sick; fever hitting 103.9 degrees, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue. After several days without improvement I trudged to the COVID-19 evaluation tent at the hospital. It was there that I first learned that the entire country, not just me was in severe trouble. That was when I realized the national response to a potential disaster of epic proportions was akin to a one legged blind man playing darts. After a cursory examination I was give a simple single sheet that explained my condition. “You do not currently meet testing criteria for COVID-19. However, your symptoms are highly suggestive of infection of COVID-19 or a closely related viral illness. If your shortness of breath continues, worsens or is accompanied by a new symptom please return for further evaluation. It is imperative that you self quarantine immediately.”
It has been a long and interesting road to recovery. I picked up the morning walkabout, an ideal time to make a valiant attempt to see through the fog to get a hint of what the future of tourism might looked like and meditate on what I need to do to keep Jim Hinckley’s America afloat, to provide support for the Route 66 community during this time of crisis, and to ensure that my dearest friend and I continue eating on a regular basis, a habit I picked up many years ago.
Thanks to a friend in New Zealand, I began writing a weekly feature column on automotive history for MotoringNZ. Next I began writing blog posts for various companies. And I made a valiant attempt to figure out the labyrinth that was the Pandemic Unemployment Insurance program as income had plummeted by something like 95%. And then there was the ongoing attempt to teach the old dog new tricks; paid presentations on Zoom (a work in progress), creation of new programs such as On The Road With Jim and Coffee With Jim, a complete revamp of packages for advertising sponsors, solicitation of consultation work all launched with a large modicum of hope.
Now,, if could just figure out if this the beginning of the end or a new beginning.