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2020, Chapter Two

The Quarantine

By Michael KinnalyPublished 3 years ago 13 min read
The church is empty; the doors are closed.

As I’m writing this now, it is early December. Almost Christmas. One of my favorite movies to watch at this time of year is “A Christmas Story.” I’ve watched it every year at Christmas since 1991. Those of you who have watched it; you know how the story goes, so I’m not going to write out a detailed review. But towards the end of the movie, after the gifts have all been unwrapped and Ralphie narrowly avoids shooting his eye out with his newly acquired BB gun… they’re all getting ready to eat a home-cooked Christmas dinner when the narrator who tells Ralphie’s story delivers this line.

“Yeah, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.”

It was the morning of Sunday April 5th 2020. A million thoughts raced through my mind as I exited the Carlisle yard in the 70-foot long tractor trailer and got on the westbound Pennsylvania Turnpike. It felt so unreal, to be working on Sunday. It was Sunday; and I was all alone. All alone in the cab of the truck. My only company… was Frankie Valli, as he belted out the decades-old tune, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” on the local oldies station. It wasn’t too long after getting on the turnpike before I began to leave the frequency range of Carlisle’s greatest hits channel. As I approached the Blue Mountain tunnel, the radio began to crackle, with the crackling picking up in intensity almost in perfect harmony with the ending fade-away of Frankie’s old 60s classic.

Finally, I turned the radio off. How did it ever get to be like this? I was working on Sunday! This was not the deal I signed up for; when I came back to this job in January. I was supposed to be off every weekend, and in church every Sunday.

Unfortunately, just three weeks prior, the most unthinkable disaster had struck. On Friday March 13th, after getting parked under the big red sign and settling in for the weekend, I checked my email to find this announcement from my church. “Stay home”, was the message… we are closed this Sunday due to coronavirus. “Stay home.” But I had no home, I thought to myself. “Stay home anyway!” was the response I imagined I would hear. In my mind, I continued to hear the church leaders talk to me as I stared at that message in my inbox. “Stay at home, we don’t care about you… you’re just a truck driver!” “Stay home, we know you’re alone and live in a motel… but we don’t care!” “Why don’t you get a real job?” “We never wanted you here anyway, with your broken teeth and your scraggly beard!” “If you really loved God, you wouldn’t have depression!” “You’re 42 and still single! Get a wife and family, and buy a house like a normal Christian! What is wrong with you?!?”

Okay, so… none of them actually really said those things to me, and I doubt (mostly) that they felt that way either. But those were the things I heard, as I digested the contents of the email. You see, at the time, the coronavirus was not real to me. There was no pandemic, as far as I was concerned. This wasn’t 1918! I wasn’t sick, I didn’t know anyone else who was sick, and I wasn’t exactly seeing multitudes of people falling down dead in the street!

The government, on the other hand, said otherwise… and in the blink of an eye, the entire world had been turned upside down. And unlike previous battles I’ve been through, it wasn’t just me this time… everyone was feeling the effects of this unprecedented time. Schools and restaurants were ordered to close. Shelter at home mandates were put in place. Large gatherings were outlawed. Terms we were not familiar with, and likely had never used in our lives, suddenly wove their way into our everyday conversations.


“Social distancing”

“Flatten the curve”

“Essential worker”

The essential worker, evidently, was the category I fell into. I had to work, while everyone else got to stay at home. Truck driving was brutal before; the pandemic just made the lifestyle more unbearable than I could ever imagine. People say that they appreciate truck drivers and the sacrifices they make, and “thank a trucker” was even trending on social media for a couple days, but the reality is that… during these unprecedented times, truckers were treated even worse than they’d been before. Shippers and receivers denied us access to restrooms, as we sat on docks for hours on end being loaded or unloaded. A growing number of them required us to wear face coverings in order to gain access to the property. Some even went as far as to mandate that the masks be worn at all times when in the yard, even in our trucks with the windows rolled up. We weren’t allowed to remove them even to smoke a cigarette. And as someone who needs to wear glasses (as I can’t see to drive without them), these face coverings presented an even bigger problem when it came time to move the 40-ton vehicle from the dock to the exit… as they’d fog up my glasses, blinding me either way.

Food options were limited while out on the road. We were no longer able to sit and relax with a freshly cooked meal in the truck stop diners; instead, for those of us who didn’t cook in the truck (like me), our meals came from fast food joints… where we’d order and pay, then promptly return to our trucks to eat. That’s if we could find one of these so-called “fast food joints” that was still open if it was very late by the time we got parked for the night. There were a few times where all I had to eat all day was a bag of chips; along with peanut butter and jelly on a hamburger bun.

Out on the road, traffic was still an issue… it never really lightened up, despite what some truckers would have had everyone to believe. The only difference I noticed was the rush hours around the big cities were much lighter than normal. Traffic between the cities was just as plentiful as before, and the behavior of the motorists just as offensive too. Cars (and trucks) still travelled in packs, driving side by side, which has always irritated the hell out of me. I still got cut off; still got the finger. “Thank a trucker” was a nice sentiment to pass around social media, but I never saw any kind of decrease in the deplorable behavior of road users I got used to seeing on a daily basis.

Still, I made the best of the situation when I could. I captured the occasional picture…

Pond behind the Carlisle yard.

And even made up a game to play for quarantine on weekends…

Through the remainder of March, I continued to take my weekends off at the motel. But slowly, one by one, more things I’d taken for granted were taken away from me. The continental breakfast service was suspended. Then, on the last weekend of March, they took away the coffee.

At this point, I was beginning to think it was no use to come home each weekend. The decision was made a lot easier when I became ill myself late in the week. I was in eastern Ohio when it hit me Thursday night, the 2nd of April. Headache and sinus pain, the heaviest fatigue I’ve ever experienced, and a complete loss of appetite. I called my dispatcher and informed him I may have to take a day or two to shut down right where I was. I managed to drag myself through the day on Friday, making it to the Carlisle yard before climbing into the sleeper. Those final 200 miles of the turnpike were brutal; I felt like I was just in a daze, struggling to hold my head up. I was in no condition to drive back home, so I stayed put all day Saturday, the 4th of April.

All of this brought me to this point. It was Sunday and I was bound for Chicago with another truckload of freight. I don’t know what it was that ailed me, but thankfully the worst of it didn’t last long at all; I was well enough this morning to start rolling again. The thought that I might have had a mild case of coronavirus crossed my mind… but it seemed way too short-lived compared to cases I’d heard of. Still, it was unlike anything I’d experienced before. It felt downright awful while it lasted; about ten times worse than the worst flu I’d ever had… but the symptoms eased up and then went away almost as quickly as they came.

Whether I had it or not, it dawned on me for the first time… that this thing called “coronavirus” was indeed real, and very serious too. Reports of mounting cases and fatalities across the country confirmed this to be so. Still, I thought, it didn’t have to be this way. Surely, it could have been prevented or stopped before it got this far.

I made it to Chicago the next day, dropped the load then picked up another one heading back east. I was going to be home again this weekend. Even though I couldn’t go anywhere while at home, I was going to be off anyway because it was Easter! On the way back east, I managed to capture a couple more images.

Sunrise, Joliet Illinois

Sunset, over the Indiana Toll Road

As expected, Easter was relatively quiet. Church was still closed, so I hung out in my room at the Econo Lodge watching worship videos on my laptop. I was off work the day after Easter as well, with that Monday providing a bit of excitement… a tornado warning! I went outside shortly after noon when the weather alert was issued and promptly moved my truck away from the big red sign… lest the seemingly unstable structure should become uprooted and fall on the cab. I then grabbed my camera and stood out by the highway to record the event. Yes, I had just become a tornado chaser! I was close enough to the building, I thought, that I could easily get back to shelter if worse turned to worst… so why not?

Alas, no funnel ever touched down… but the wind was quite wild as the storm front swiftly moved through. It was gone within a few minutes, and the sun was shining quite bright again almost as soon as the threat had passed.

I checked out of the Econo Lodge on Tuesday morning, the 14th of April. Packed up the truck, and took off for my next tour of duty. The plan was to stay out on the road for three weeks this time, not to come home again until the calendar turned to May.

Just before I departed, I went in to return the key. I thanked the manager, saying (somewhat half-heartedly), “See you next time.” I was less than enthusiastic about coming back though. They’d already taken away breakfast; then they took away the coffee too. Who knows which of their amenities they’d take from me next time?

Later that week, I picked up a load down near Williamsburg for a delivery in Cleveland Ohio. I was loaded to near the maximum legal weight, and slightly over on one of my tandems. Didn’t matter how many times I tried to shift the weight; I was not going to get the axle weights legal without having to get the shipper to re-work the load. I didn’t have a lot of time to spare, so I took it as it was… planning to alter my route to avoid the scales along the way. The following morning, I exited the highway in Northern Virginia just before the weigh station… the same exit I always took to get home, but I was not going home this time. It was the shortcut to get to I-66, which would lead me out west. As I passed my motel, I glanced over when I saw a most unusual sight. The parking lot was empty! Granted, I could only see a portion of the lot from my vantage point… really only the sides and the back, but there was not a single car parked where normally it’s at least half full. Another chill ran through me, similar to the one I experienced on that snowy day in January; but I quickly put it out of my mind and pressed on.

The next two and a half weeks dragged on, seemingly without an end, as I wandered further and further from home. The physical symptoms I had experienced during my brief illness earlier in the month; were well in the rear-view mirror. But the loneliness and depression began to take root again. I missed my church. I missed my people. Facebook and live zoom meetings were okay; but they were no substitute for the real thing. I just wanted my old life back. Still, I continued to try and make the best of the times. I mailed a few postcards back home. I continued to add to my collection of photographs too, as I journeyed all the way out to Forth Worth Texas (the farthest west I’d been in 2020) before beginning the trip back east.

Knoxville Tennessee

New Paris Ohio (right on the OH/IN state line)

Oak Grove, Missouri

Big Cabin, Oklahoma

And... Hutchins, Texas (just southeast of Dallas)

The first of May arrived on a Friday. I parked for the night at a truck stop near Greensboro NC, excited to know I’d be going home again in the morning. I went online to book my stay at the Econo Lodge for the weekend. I guess I should not have been surprised by the message that popped up when I tried to make my reservation. “Change your reservation”, it read, “motel is sold out for those days.” I called the motel, wondering what the deal was. They never sell out the day before! “Sir, this hotel is closed”, said the clerk who picked up the phone, “go to the Days Inn.”

So, I booked my weekend stay for the Days Inn… the motel across the street. I’d come to find out later that my Econo Lodge was temporarily closed to the public; being rented by the county to shelter the homeless residents who were at high risk for severe coronavirus complications. I called my dispatcher, and notified him I’d no longer be able to take the trailer with me when I go home.

The next morning, I began the last leg of this long and exhausting tour of duty. I stopped in a town right outside Raleigh to pick up a loaded trailer to take with me, dropping it off in a yard outside Richmond for another driver to haul it to its final destination. Then I went home… no trailer behind me; it was just the bobtail. Upon arriving at my new “home”, I checked in, unpacked, then spent a long time gazing out the window. It was Saturday, the 2nd of May. The bobtail was parked right below my window. My old home motel had only a couple cars parked by the front door, but otherwise the lot was bare. The world as I knew it had been completely turned around. I was alone; I was sad. Outside, it was a sunny day. No rain or snow, but still I remained sheltered in place… in a motel in the Northern Virginia town of Dumfries, a busy suburb on the outskirts of the nation’s capital. Or, at least, it used to be busy! The spot beneath the big red sign was empty, and the motel across the street looked like it had been deserted.

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.

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