Corona- This escape from the the most dense, dithering, and deadly area hit by the pandemic came about as I pieced together imaginative fragments of mind and memory. For years I’d kept New Mexico in my back pocket as not just a place to explore, but a place to escape some sort of disaster on the coasts I call home. It is cheap and the sun shines seemingly everyday. Not to mention New Mexicans are an extraordinarily friendly save for the hordes of methamphetamine addicts (and now even some of them are wearing masks mandated by the state) and the attendant criminal element (who are not by and large).
When I was first planning to leave New York, NM was the obvious choice. Most of the state is sparsely populated which bodes well for social distancing purposes. The death toll was barely a few dozen when I arrived (now at 320 at the time of this writing) compared to hundreds a day in NY. I was thinking of small desert towns I had stayed in during previous travels. On such town that came to mind was Carrizozo, a modest crossroads near one of my favourite place names in the continental United States, Valley of Fires, an ancient lava flow coursing through the Tularosa Basin in the Chihuahuan Desert. A place frozen in time in the most literal sense of the phrase.
I found an Airbnb dwelling on the far outskirts of Carrizozo and when I zoomed out on the map I happened upon a much smaller town called none other than Corona. An idea gelled together in an instant: what if I drove from Corona, Queens the worst affected area in the entire western hemisphere (at least in that moment) to Corona, NM where at the time there was not one positive known case in the entirety of Lincoln County in which it sits? The idea quickly grew when I discovered there were Coronas in Tennessee and Missouri in between. Thus Travels on the Corona Highway was born.
Corona should be far more notable than it because the ‘Roswell Incident‘ that occurred in July 1947 actually happened on ranch land approximately 30 miles southwest of Corona. The supposed UFO crash was reported to authorities in far away Roswell and that’s the place name that stuck with history. For those really in the know, it is or should be labeled the Corona crash. Any source who thinks or writes this happened near Roswell clearly has not been on the ground to explore the local geography.
Regarding my Corona Highway idea, I can’t articulate it all that much beyond being curious what if anything this now cursed place name would mean in the age of coronavirus. And going from a place with the highest concentration of fatalities to one with none that both happened to have the same name.
I needed to leave where I was living to a place where I could feel secure and once again create. This route also provided me with a vast cross section of my country during this discordant lockdown period. As there was no viable leadership at the federal level, state governors were left to their own devices to create restrictions within their relevant constituents. As I drove from one Corona to another, each state had enacted totally different (hopefully) temporarily regulations in a bid to contain the spread of the virus. This was made clear by going to the same ‘fast casual’ restaurant chain across state lines. In one state it would be either forbidden or taboo to use the toilet while in the next state it was totally fine. This is within the same coast-to-coast chain so this clearly wasn’t based on a corporate diktat. In other words, the lockdown measures were rather chaotic. There seemed to be no consistency with regard to masks and latex gloves either. In some places essential workers wore gloves but not masks, and it others vice versa. This is the result of highly inadequate federal leadership or lack thereof. A lethal virus doesn’t respect state boundaries created within the past few hundred years.
After the two-thousand odd mile journey to this bite size village, I temporarily set up camp in Albuquerque, the state’s sprawling, hot commercial capital. The streets there were mostly empty save for the drugged up deadbeats posted up on the median of nearly every intersection with a cardboard sign playing on one Protestant sympathy or another. The widespread use of methamphetamines and various opiates seems to pose a far greater threat on the health spectrum to this state than the coronavirus. Whatever the appeal of these drugs are, something I cannot personally fathom, the end result seems to walking around aimlessly all day, sun punished skin that looks like desiccated brown leather luggage, and to don shoes that are split open at the toes. As years of drug addiction have warped the city’s old core, tract home communities are being built further out and with higher walls surrounding them. This seems to be built on a premise that geographic distance combined with relative wealth and high sanitation standards will inhibit the encroachment of drugs-related criminal activity. This seems to be a sales tactic by developers preying upon naive unempirical thinking. Drugs, like the novel coronavirus, don’t respect man-made boundaries. Both seep. Creep. Corrupt. And kill.