Travels on the Corona Highway

I drove out to Corona, New York to begin my journey. Parking in front the Unisphere from the 1964 World’s Fair is not something I could have or would have done in ordinary circumstances. But these are not such circumstances.
©2020 Derek Henry Flood

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.

An ambulance hurtles down Roosevelt Avenue in the virus-besieged Corona section of Queens. These blaring metal chariots were ferrying victims to Elmhurst Hospital, the ground zero of the pandemic in NYC.
©2020 Derek Henry Flood

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.

Pedestrians were scant as I drive through Corona before getting on the road to New Mexico. The area is, or was, the epicentre of New York’s hot zone.
©2020 Derek Henry Flood

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.

Driving to Corona it seemed as if there was at least on ambulance per city block attending to the affected.
©2020 Derek Henry Flood

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.

The alleyways and avenues of Corona were mostly deserted. People were dying in their homes before even reaching hospitalisation.
©2020 Derek Henry Flood

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.

Crossing the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge from Brooklyn to Staten Island and to relative safety. After weeks in the hot zone’s deadly core, it was time to depart.
©2020 Derek Henry Flood

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.