My travel etiquette during the coronavirus pandemic has been unadmirable. Since March, I have been to 17 states without taking a single COVID test. I sneezed on airplanes. I shared cigarettes with strangers. I snoozed, maskless, on an eight-hour bus ride through Wisconsin.
So of course I’m visiting my in-laws for Thanksgiving. It would be hypocritical not to, after all those other trips. Besides, we’re all healthy people. My wife’s sister is immune. So is her cat, incidentally. Her parents are Gen X, which, I am told, makes them the most likely of us to survive disaster.
And if tragedy strikes, there’s really no better place for it to hit than where we’re gathering for our meal: Fort Wayne, Indiana. The city is ripe for a downer, and, indeed, it has endured one ever since Johnny Appleseed’s demise. Anyway, for Hoosiers, tragedy is a way of life. Just look at Michael Jackson. Or Mike Pence. Poor guys. They gladly would have exchanged their troubles for a bout of COVID.
On the way out here, I wondered if I should have cooked up some reason to stay home. Many of my friends did. Governor’s orders, grandma’s health, the sniffles — all were valid excuses to move the party over to Zoom. None work for me, I’m afraid. My doctor tells me not to look at screens so often. And my priest preaches against self-imposed physical isolation. Both faith and reason conspired against my best intent.
And yet, the longer I thought about why my wife and I made this trip, the more I worried that we made a selfish decision. I’m sure many other people like us also grappled with this fear. The suggestion that we are monsters, after all, has been foisted on us for the past week by every COVID-conscious person in the country. Is a plate of turkey and canned cranberry sauce worth the risk to our loved ones?
For me, the answer is an emphatic yes. And if we’re speaking in a long-term sense, my decision is far safer for anyone who gets within six feet of my person.
You see, my car’s registration, a holdover from when I lived in Michigan, has been expired for more than a year. I can’t renew it except through an in-person interaction. The situation is a terror to me, my wife, and anyone else who experiences my driving. If we get pulled over with an expired registration, it’s all over: I have negative points on my license. State police have already revoked it twice.
But fortunately for me, Fort Wayne is a little more than an hour from the state line and the nearest Michigan Secretary of State office. While I’m in Indiana, I can just zip on up to the Great Lake State, and get my affairs in order. Thanksgiving itself may not be safe, but the trip back to D.C. and every day afterward will be.
I imagine many other people gathering for Thanksgiving this year are thinking the same thing. My dad, I know, needs help from his father-in-law to winterize his powerboat’s engine. They do it every year around Thanksgiving. And coronavirus or no, it wouldn’t be wise to leave that task unattended. I’ve heard similar stories from other families who use the holiday to square away practical matters.
Stuff like that, I think, is the only reason to keep celebrating Thanksgiving anyway. Otherwise, the holiday has long outlived its original purpose — to crush Southern claims to the American founding — becoming instead a dull parade of food and football. If the coronavirus pandemic kills those things, so be it. But without a gathering, there’s no Thanksgiving at all.