Corona- As the Coronavirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19) seemingly surged into New York City in early 2020, I began plotting an escape route knowing that my densely populated, under educated neighbourhood would be among the most vulnerable in the city, if not the entire Western hemisphere. I don’t live in Corona which at the time I departed had the highest concentration of fatal cases in NYC but two neighbourhoods away (where the third highest fatality rate in the city was recorded).
I couldn’t simply abandon NYC from one day to the next as many of the city’s wealthiest residents were able to relocate to 2nd homes when it got too hot in the proverbial kitchen. It took me weeks of living in an extraordinarily high risk area to sort my affairs out and prepare to vaguely head southwest by road to the desert. I recalled previous trips to New Mexico with its arid expanses of sand and scrub where the environment would act as a natural barrier to the spread of infection.
I thought of small Route 66 towns I’d stayed in when driving from between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts some years ago and what an ideal environment they would be to isolate one’s self. One such town called Carrizozo came to mind with a nice motel and old fashioned diner near the Valley of Fire. When I was zooming out on it on Google maps, I noticed there was an even smaller settlement called Corona not far to the east in the high desert. I came up with an idea: why not string together a road trip from Corona, New York to Corona, New Mexico? And why not stop at other Coronas in between to get a window into America during pandemic panic. I was curious to see how other states and political demographies were handling the crisis. I wanted to explore the political dimensions of this hyper partisan time where seemingly any and all issues are pushed through a red or blue prism.
After my van was packed and filled with petrol, I drove a short distance to the disastrously affected Corona which I’d been avoiding…like the plague as they used to say. The streets felt desolate. The shops were almost universally shuttered. Hundreds, if not thousands, had perished. It was blighted by the invisible. This section of Queens is known for teeming with life. A busy Latino immigrant area cluttered with corner stores and children running up and down its gum-strewn sidewalks. It was now a benighted urban wilderness in the most lovely afternoon light. Death had arrived from afar. Life stood still and waited for it to pass.
Ordinarily my passing through Corona is for pleasure on the way to the baseball stadium or the park at summer’s apex. On this occasion I was filled with dread trying not to inhale as I shot fleeting images out of my van despite wearing a coveted N95 respirator mask. A vigorous spring shower had given Queens a dewy sheen that would have brought people out bask in the change in seasons. Fear pervaded. Quiet permeated, pierced by red, roaring sirens.
After almost two decades trailing the terror wars, my home felt like it had been transformed into a silent war zone with the quiet only broken each evening at 19h (7pm) by the joyous clatter of people banging pots and pans in celebration of the valour of our healthcare workers, some of whom were themselves succumbing to a virus from which no human was yet immune. There was no safe place. But there was a safer place.
I began my journey from Corona to Corona with stops at a couple of other places with that same name midway between New York and New Mexico. My thinking was the moment I broke out of the northeast corridor my mind would ease up. My own fears would gradually subside with geographic distance. This would turn out to be correct. The road, fraught with unknown, has healing properties.