Why a gypsy in a pandemic should own a van
Even aging gypsies can’t sit still for long. As I near my 75th birthday, Go is still my favorite word, and the answer to all of life’s questions. A gypsy that is forced to hunker down in a pandemic looks something like a hawk entangled in a net or a mountain lion confused by the metal wall that now blocks her path through the desert. We pace, we ponder, we plan.
In December, 2019 – just before the first Covid outbreak — I bought a 2005 PleasureWay van (22 foot Sprinter chassis with a Mercedes diesel engine). It’s fully self-contained with a bed, full bath, two burner stove, microwave, kitchen sink, frig, heater, AC, generator, and solar panels.
Though talk of Covid had begun, I’m an expert at justifying my need to travel. And since with the van, I could travel without getting out except to buy fuel, Maya, my Border Collie, and I drove 1,600 miles to Florida to spend carefully monitored time with my son and two grandkids, with vague thoughts of staying until Spring. I enjoyed lots of good seafood and masked time with family and friends, until Covid began its scorched earth march across the country.
Maya and I headed back to Arizona where it would be less tempting to socialize and easier to quarantine. I enjoyed the freedom of traveling under the radar, being as safe in the van as I would be at home.
Back in Arizona, I did my best imitation of a responsible adult in the midst of a pandemic. I lived alone and had no “inner circle” of friends or family. By nature, I’m a loner but I also need to touch and be touched, so I quickly learned how deprived I felt when I did not receive so much as a pat on the shoulder, when hugs were not an option, and any smiles were covered by a mask. I ordered groceries online and then drove 30 miles to the nearest grocery that provided pickup. There my food was loaded into the van by a kind, masked stranger. I talked to friends on the phone, enjoyed sporadic FaceTime with my busy grand kids, and walked with Maya for miles in the beauty of the desert. I slowed down and numbed out – a bit like a frog in hibernation. I did not accomplish great feats, did not write the world’ greatest novel, or get my finances outlined and analyzed. I hung around and waited and waited. After several months, I was unsettled to realize I had grown accustomed to my new norm of not being touched, that feeling numb felt normal. Looking back, those months are a blur of misplaced days.
In the summer of 2020, I took my van and CanAm Spyder to Silver City, New Mexico (altitude 5,900 feet) for a respite from the brutal heat of the Arizona desert. I continued to quarantine and pick up groceries curbside, while the gypsy in me got a needed change of view and different paths to hike. I enjoyed a few meals with close friends, masked and outside; it was good space to share, even socially distanced. When the SE Arizona weather cooled down a bit, I drove the van back to my RV lot where I continued my best imitation of a rational grown-up.
As the 2020 holidays approached, I was crushed by loneliness. My special friend, Rev. Thomas Lane Butts, was dying, and I wanted to see him before he began his next journey. I needed to see my grand kids even though I couldn’t touch them. So I loaded the van with groceries and carefully headed back across the Mississippi River. Again I didn’t get out of the van except to pump gas with my mask on. I drove straight to Monroeville, AL where I stayed two nights in the church parking lot. Tom and I shared a Christmas Eve supper and memories. My time with Tom was poignant; it was clear his time was near. Christmas Day, I drove down to Florida to see the kids. After a couple of shared meals and walks on the beach, the mold and mildew stirred up by recent hurricanes triggered my upper respiratory problems. After a quick negative Covid test, Maya and I headed back to the desert where it’s too dry for mold and mildew. The time with family and close friends was worth every mile.
Tom died on February 15, 2021.
Late February, 2021, I was able to get my COVID vaccinations in AZ and felt like the world began again. I understand how that hawk felt when she kicked free of the net and the mountain lion who found a hole in the metal wall. I’ve delighted in hugs and touches from vaccinated friends; I continue to wear masks and social distance in public but relish the thought that even if I get Covid, now I won’t die from it. Maya is becoming accustomed to riding on the CanAm with me, though she’s not up to long distance rides – yet.