Moorestown- Finally venturing outside New York since the crisis began in earnest (which I’m dating as 16 March when at 20h (8pm) when non-essential businesses were forced to shutter) my friend and I stopped for fuel in southern New Jersey just outside my hometown of Philadelphia. At first foregtting or not realising there was mandatory full service at the station, I was greeted by a gruff, turbaned, masked gentleman who barked “no mask, no gas!” upon my approach. I promptly put on my N95 mask and barehanded his gloved hand my credit card to fill up the tank. My apologies assuaged him nil. I stood back 6 feet as he filled the van with enough fuel to get to Virginia.
Seeing as New Jersey has, or had, the 2nd highest recorded fatalities after New York, I wasn’t all that surprised by such a greeting despite my relief at having escaped the immediate hot zone. But just to be beyond the urban density was immensely calming. Although Philadelphia was just a stone’s throw away and under its own serious lockdown, nothing could compare to the epicentre that NY, and Queens in particular, had become.
As we jettisoned though Delaware and into Maryland, highway signage made it very clear that NY, NJ, and Connecticut residents would not be all that welcome. No matter as we were driving on toward central Virginia for the night. Entering northern Virginia’s “Dulles Tech Corridor” where we would whiz past the National Rifle Association’s glassy HQ and the global HQ of Capital One whose credit cards I’m in constant fiduciary battle with, the notoriously clogged road were devoid of both authority figures and civilians alike. We could see where America’s finance giants, intelligence contractors, and filthy lobbyists all neatly converged into a web of fraternal corruption judging by the physical proximity of their glowing yet empty ‘campuses’ in today’s corporate semantic appropriation of once benign educational speak.
Upon arriving in the seemingly abandoned college town of Harrisonburg, home of James Madison University, we were welcomed at a Days Inn by the night receptionist who was armed by a social distancing, pistol-like thermometer to make sure we weren’t sick. I supposed if our temperatures didn’t meet the national motel chain’s standards we would’ve had to sleep in the van for the night. Thankfully we passed with flying colours. We then occupied two of the eighty-three rooms. There were only four other guests in that now devoid university town.
The next day we embarked on our journey toward Chattanooga, Tennessee where my co-pilot had once lived and I had a distant uncle who was a Union Civil War martyr from Ireland who had perished in the battle of Missionary Ridge in late 1863.