Journal logo

2020, Chapter One

How it all began.

By Michael KinnalyPublished 3 years ago 12 min read

We all have certain truths we take for granted. Truths we hold dear to, ironclad truths backed by sound logic and prior experiences. Truths we know we can always count on. If we’re honest with ourselves anyway, we all have these truths we cling to. These truths will never, and could not ever, fail us.

“I can always get what I need at the store.”

“I can always go to church on Sunday.”

“I can always do it tomorrow.”

But what if these truths we hold on to; were not always true?

The picture above; was the first picture I took in 2020. It was January 7th. The snow had just started falling on the cold and gray Monday afternoon, and it was coming down hard and fast. I was safely sheltered in place in my motel room; in the Northern Virginia town of Dumfries, a crowded and busy suburb on the outskirts of the nation’s capital. The street was empty. The motel across the street looked like it had been deserted.

I grew up in this area, in the neighboring town of Dale City. Though I no longer had a fixed address here, I still called this place home. I’d been in and out of this region numerous times since my family sold their house and moved to the northeast in 2014. When I came back here a little over a year prior to this snow day, it was intended to be a permanent relocation this time. Unfortunately, the time and mental energy I was forced to invest in my job (as a long distance truck driver), consumed me. Logistically; it was difficult, if not impossible, to make long term plans for the future… as long as I was tied down to this particular career. A career which routinely kept me on the road for two or three weeks at a time… sometimes more. A career that, in all actuality, I had burned out upon a long time ago.

You see… as easy as it was to get into trucking; it was just as difficult to get out. It’s a different world out there… on the road. It’s a lifestyle, not a normal job. It consumes your every hour, awake or asleep. You live full time at your job; it becomes a part of you whether you want it to or not. It takes quite an adjustment, when you finally come off the road for a few days off… to get used to the real world again. But you’re too tired and too worn out to even try to re-assimilate. Then you head off to work again.

Now truthfully, I had been off duty for several weeks at this point. Simply burnt out yet again, I began a leave of absence just before Thanksgiving. After a visit with family in Maine, I came back here, to this motel, early in December. I always stayed here whenever I came on home time. Usually, I’d drive my own car down here from my employer’s nearest facility in Pennsylvania. Not a terribly bad commute, as long as I only had to do it every two to three weeks or so.

I took advantage of the time off to think things through. To think about the long term plan. Unfortunately, trucking doesn’t pay well enough to build up a lot of savings. And “If the wheels ain’t turning, you ain’t earning!” So naturally, savings were running out. I needed to come up with a short term plan as well… and quick! A couple days earlier, I’d taken a little walk around the building. Something occurred to me that I hadn’t thought of before… as I recalled the extra wide back entrance into the parking lot, and the far corner of the lot (underneath the giant red Econo Lodge sign) that nobody ever seems to park their car in.

I had an idea!

So, I remembered seeing “truck parking” listed as one of the amenities at this particular motel. I went down to the office and inquired about it. Management confirmed it was true, they allow trucks to park underneath the sign in the far corner of the lot. Limited space (really only room for one) but it was the answer I’d been looking for. Having that option meant I could be “home” every weekend, taking the truck with me. No commuting back and forth from Pennsylvania, and I’d get to be in church every Sunday.

As I headed back to my room, I took another walk through the parking lot. It was still snowing but I didn’t really care. While doing so, I took another look back at the motel across the street. The Days Inn. I’d actually stayed there a couple times before, but it had been a couple years. Their parking lot is not set up or designed for trucks with trailers to park, so it was a good thing I’d gotten accustomed to the Econo Lodge being my home base. As I glanced back and forth again, I still couldn’t help but notice just how empty their lot was compared to ours. I stopped and stood still, after turning my eyes across the street one last time. Out of the blue, a funny feeling came over me; and a random thought popped into my head. What if the scenario was reversed? What if it was the motel across the street that was bustling, while the motel I was standing in front of looked to be the deserted one?

I shrugged it off, even as a chill went through me… and went back inside. My imagination can be unusually wild at times, so I didn’t really give it any thought after that. I called my employer and let them know I was ready to return. They were happy to hear it, and welcomed me right back. The only stipulation was that, due to being off for more than 30 days, I’d have to pass a pre-employment drug screen consisting of both a urinalysis as well as a hair follicle test before being eligible to drive again.

Of course, that was no issue. I’ve taken, and passed, many such screenings (both pre-employment and random) throughout my 16-year career. Since I don’t and never have used drugs, it was pretty much a guarantee I’d be on the road to earning again. Or so I thought.

Turns out I was right. Test results came back clean, and I was good to go!

Over the course of the next two months, I drove my truck during the week and parked it at my “home” motel on the weekends. It wasn’t a perfect scenario, but it suited me well at the time. It was much better than before, anyway. It was more of a regular job now, rather than an all-consuming lifestyle. One of the very few things I’ve actually enjoyed about the job over the years is all the different sights I see on a daily basis. So many neat photo opportunities as well! (while parked, of course!)

Sunset in western Maryland.

The snow-covered ground on a foggy night in Iowa.

Rainbow just north of Richmond VA.

Bright blue skies in Emporia (near the VA/NC border).

And perhaps my favorite...

Parked for home time on a Friday evening at sunset.

The best part of this new arrangement though… I got to see my church family every weekend. Now I wasn’t allowed to take the big truck with me to church (though I would have loved to have an incredibly cool “show and tell”)… so I would either walk or catch a ride. Walking was my favorite and preferred method, so long as it was dry and not unreasonably cold. It was a long hike; anywhere from three and a half to five miles depending on which way I went. But the exercise did wonders for my mood, which was especially important considering I’m prone to bouts of depression. It also gave me another chance to capture some nice pictures, like this one crossing the bridge over Powell’s Creek on U.S. Highway 1...

Powell's Creek, Woodbridge VA.

Another part of the job I’ve always enjoyed, is listening to the various radio stations as I go from one area to the other. Music has always lifted my spirits, and makes the driving more tolerable. Since I didn’t have XM radio, I was limited to the local am/fm stations. Of course, that meant having to change stations every so often as I went in and out of range. It also meant occasionally having to put up with a couple minutes of news updates as well.

I’m not quite sure I remember exactly when, but I’m guessing it was sometime between middle and late February… more and more news reports began chattering about something called “coronavirus.” Co-ro-na-vi-rus? A viral infection named after an alcoholic beverage? Weird.

By Jake Bradley on Unsplash

Catchy name though. Co-ro-na-vi-rus. Kind of rolls right off the tongue. I looked into it briefly. Apparently, it was a new strain of virus responsible for causing symptoms similar to influenza and there were outbreaks in China and Australia. All the way on the other side of the world, so no cause for concern. That didn’t stop the news stations though from continuing to ramble on about it, and so I ended up spending less and less time listening to the radio over the course of the next couple weeks. I had more important things than this “beer bug” to focus on. An upcoming anniversary, for instance.

Sunday March 1st was a momentous occasion. It’s not every year that March 1st falls on a Sunday, but it did so in 1998 and that was the date of my very first attendance at the church I call my home. This year, in 2020, I was getting the rare privilege of attending church on the 22 year anniversary of my first time there. It would not have been possible if not for the revelation I had back in January.

It was easily one of the best days I’ve had in the past 5, or maybe even 10, years.

Upon arriving to church that morning, I was greeted with quite a few “happy anniversary” wishes as I’d already shared the news on social media the day before. Worship was powerful and uplifting; I sang along and clapped jubilantly, more so than I had done in many months. After service, when the chairs were removed and the sanctuary was transformed into a gymnasium (as is customary every week), I found myself a soccer ball and sat down in a chair… balancing the ball perfectly on my right shoe. For several seconds! Consecutively! Got someone to take a picture of it too, as proof of my amazing skill and coordination.

I would end up using it as my profile picture for many months afterward. I happened to show the picture to a couple of the kids later on, after participating in a competitive basketball competition known as “Horse”; and wondered out loud if maybe I should consider trying out for soccer. One of them, an avid soccer player herself, said “Yeah, you should.” It's always nice to get a vote of confidence.

I concluded my day at church, on the 22 year anniversary of my first attendance, by grabbing a basketball and standing in the middle of the sanctuary-turned-gymnasium. Gathering up all the strength I could; I held the ball in my right hand and brought my arm back before hurling it towards the hoop from half court. The ball narrowly missed going in, bouncing off the rim and then the backboard before hitting the floor just below and to the right of the net. Feeling determined, I went to retrieve the ball and try again. About a dozen more times. A couple more shots almost went in! My arm getting very sore at this point, I decided to give up and try again next week. I just knew eventually I’d get one of the shots to fall in, but it wasn’t going to happen on that day. So I headed back to the hotel. I was incredibly worn out, but it was worth it. Such a great day!

The following Sunday, March 8th, was just about as equally magnificent; albeit without nearly the same level of physical exertion as the week before. I opted out of playing basketball again after the service ended; instead I went and sat down at the piano in the fellowship hall. I started playing some tunes. Now granted, I’m not really a piano player and I’ve never taken any lessons or practiced with any regularity. I just sit down and make up tunes as I go, and hope it sounds good. A small audience gathered (well, kind of) as I put a unique spin on “Three Blind Mice” and followed up by “performing” one of my own originals.

Life was great. God is so good. Nothing in life is ever perfect, but the start of 2020 was quite possibly as close to perfect as it could get. The following week at work was a little rougher than normal. I encountered some wintry weather early in the week, for seemingly the millionth time in just the handful of weeks I’d been back in the truck, and was delayed getting out of Ohio. I finally got going on the morning of Thursday March 12th, making my way back east for another weekend at home, when I blew a tire out on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

This was about 20 miles west of the Allegheny Tunnel, way out in the middle of nowhere. I sat for two hours waiting, before someone came out for repairs. It was very late at night before I got back to the Carlisle yard, but at least I was able to get an early start on my trip home the next morning. Meanwhile throughout the week, news reports were continuing to ramp up coverage of this new thing called “coronavirus” and the World Health Organization even went so far as to declare a global pandemic. Evidently, it was here in the states. But I didn’t care. I just wanted to get back home.

On the morning of Friday March 13th, I began my trip home as soon as my hours of service would allow me. Yes, this was once again Friday the 13th. Our third one in just the last six months. It was one of two we would have this year of 2020; the other one would come up in November. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go directly home; I first had to stop and pick up a load heading south. More specifically, I had to stop and wait while my trailer was being loaded. By the time they were done, it was already afternoon and the timing was such that I would be getting to the DC area at the height of the evening rush hour. But I didn’t care. I just wanted to get back home.

As it turns out, traffic was unusually light on the final leg of the trip. Eerily, I-95 south of the DC Beltway actually resembled somewhat of a ghost town at 4:30 on a Friday evening. I made it to my parking spot at the motel in record time, the only thing that slowed me down was having to cross the truck scales just a half mile before my exit. I unloaded what I needed from the cab of my truck and proceeded to check in, ready to begin another excellent weekend; which was sorely needed after the week I’d just had.

Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the shocking news I was about to get. Nothing could ever have prepared me for what this particular Friday the 13th was about to unleash.

To Be Continued…


About the Creator

Michael Kinnaly

Welcome to my world.

I write stories and tell jokes.

I'll make you laugh, but also make you think.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.