I decided to leave California.
If you’ve been following the news, you know the wildfires are very intense there, and the air quality is terrible. The one closest to me–the Bobcat Fire–caused smoke bad enough that several friends of mine in a neighboring city were put under an evacuation warning last Wednesday night, and my job closed the campus last Thursday. Because I am an idiot (no, really this time), even after getting the alert that my job (which is down the street from my house) was closed because of extremely poor air quality, I still attempted to go to the pool. I wound up lasting all of ten minutes before I started coughing because, you know, the smoke was so bad. Oh, and Thursday night, my city was also put under an evacuation warning, though it was for the northern part of the city closer to the mountains.
On Thursday night, I finally packed my evacuation bag.
On Friday morning, I could smell the smoke in my apartment, so immediately ordered an air purifier on Amazon to be delivered the next day (they were sold out locally).
By Friday afternoon, I had booked a plane ticket for Sunday to Tennessee with plans to stay there for two weeks and then to drive to Florida and stay for two to three more weeks. My return flight is currently booked for five weeks from now.
Here’s what got me to decide to leave:
- When my daughter asked me where would we go if we had to evacuate, I told her that we would just get in the car and start driving east–east to either my best friend’s house or east to my parents’ house. At either place, I knew we could (can) stay as long as necessary.
- My daughter kept asking me if we could move to Vermont. Does she really want to go to Vermont? I mean, probably. But I know that’s mostly because it’s the farthest point she could think of from the fires and, apparently, they really really want people to move there. (Do I want to move to Vermont? Absolutely not. My daughter frequently underestimates how much she hates the cold, but I know how much I hate the cold. However, it did make me think even more about where we could and would go that I could actually afford. So, see first bullet point.)
- I was texting my best friend, and she told me she was having trouble sleeping because she kept checking on the fires and the AQI (air quality index) where I lived, and it was freaking her out. (In hindsight, she may have been having trouble sleeping for another reason, but she told me about the freak out in the same exchange, so I may have conflated the two. The point is that her concern concerned me.) I was going to send her a map showing her how far the fires were from me, and that I wasn’t really in danger but then the evacuation warning came and then the smoke smell got all up in my house.
- I asked her if we could go to her house if we had to leave, and she said yes.
- I asked my mom if we could go home if we had to leave, and she said yes.
- As I was packing my evacuation bag, I was thinking how stupid it was to pack it to go somewhere that was not a trip to somewhere. After packing her bag, my daughter asked if she should pack her small suitcase instead of a backpack, and I said that the backpack would be easier to carry because I was thinking of all the post-apocalyptic books/dystopian novels I had read.
- I kept telling people my daughter was stressing me out (which was true), but I also knew that it was just that I was really stressed by the whole situation.
- I had an IBS flare-up.
So the last thing was really the thing that pushed me over the edge because I have not had a flare up in over a year.
Over. A. Year.
And, listen, I know that stress is the biggest factor in my IBS (after diet), and since my diet has been pretty good and consistent lately, I knew that I was stressed out. In a very, very unsustainable way.
So, yeah, I booked a ticket.
Thankfully, I had the money because in the Before (in January, so the Right Before), one of my longest running friends had said she wanted to take a trip to Italy for her 40th birthday, so I had socked some money away for that trip and was holding on to it for the After when we’re able to travel again. I didn’t think I’d be using it for domestic travel to my best friend’s house or my parents’ house, but, well, these are the times we’re living in right now, so.
But, yes. This is the moment this becomes a pandemic alphabet entry. Because I had to take a flight across the country DURING COVID. To stay with my immunocompromised friend and her elderly mother and then to move on to stay with my immunocompromised mother.
And, reader, let me tell you that it sucked.
It was so stressful and so scary, and these airlines really do not care at all about keeping us safe, no matter what their website says about traveling with peace of mind. First of all, the airport itself was horrible because the TSA line did nothing (nothing!) to promote social distancing so people just fell into their old airport habits of crowding around the conveyor belt trying to put their stuff up there and take their stuff down. However, that wasn’t so bad because it was still pretty easy to maintain distance.
The gate was awful because, of course, they still had flights scheduled in the gates right next to each other at the same time, so finding a seat where we could be socially distanced from people was a challenge–if we could manage to maintain our distance while trying to find a seat (which we did, barely).
Not that it mattered anyway because OUR PLANE WAS BOOKED TO CAPACITY. Every seat was taken, so that meant we were all squished into the plane next to strangers with NO distance between us. Masks were required of all passengers, yes, but that still didn’t mean people weren’t doing the mask under nose thing. Plus, of course, you had to take your mask off to eat and/or drink, and, sure, try to keep that to a minimum, but also the flight was four and a half hours after having to arrive at the airport two hours early and also hahaha I have to eat about every three to four hours because of my stomach issues, so, you know, either way it was lose-lose.
It was awful.
I did pray the whole time and request prayers from everybody I was in touch with, and, of course, we both tried to be as safe as we could.
But when we got on the plane, my daughter just said, “This country is the worst.”
AND IT IS SO BAD. Profit > people every single time.
I still cannot believe it. Except I can.
So, anyway, we flew across the country because staying put was also not an option. And, again, I’m grateful because we could have been evacuating to a shelter or to another part of the city where the smoke was still bad but not as bad (which some of my friends had to do) because it’s just the circumstances of my life that I have family and friends on the other side of the country and that I can do my work from anywhere and my daughter can do her schoolwork from anywhere. I just happened to commit to saving money for a trip so I just happened to have the money to go. Many people I care about are still in California because they don’t have the options I do, so I don’t take it for granted that I got to leave, and I see that for exactly what it is.
As I mentioned, both my friend and my mom are high risk, and they were willing to take us in even knowing that we would be increasing our exposure risk (and therefore theirs) by taking the flight.
My daughter and I are currently quarantined in my friend’s basement until we can get tested for COVID-19 on Friday (current research says the optimal time to get tested is five to seven days after possible exposure). Her house is big enough that we can use the kitchen safely when no one is in there, and she has set aside an office space for me. We are also masks on around the family at all times.
That said, I am really bummed that when I filled out my UCLA survey this week, I had to say that I have not been practicing physical or social distancing for the first time since they sent it to me, all because the dumb flight was full. But I am very grateful to be safe.