As this month comes to its close, I’m sharing some highlights from my 27-day road trip to the Midwest and back during the pandemic. What I saw, what I ate (or didn’t), what I smelled (good and bad) and what I did to stay safe. This blog will be in 3 parts:
People have told me that we always end up where we started. I was raised on a farm in Northwest Arkansas—a diversely populated historic artsy tourist town called Eureka Springs —full of gingerbread houses, limestone buildings that were once bathhouses and spas that have long been called grand hotels. The town is also known for its statue of Jesus Christ on a mountaintop you may have seen in the opening of series 3 of HBO’s “True Detective”. Both my girls decided to move to Northwest Arkansas after burning out on Connecticut several years ago, and I’ve always found an opportunity and excuse to go there several times a year to visit them and my 3 siblings who are all now “back home.” Until the pandemic struck.
COVID-19 made things impossible to fly anywhere for months and when the Northeast was red hot with the virus, other states would not let us go there without quarantine. Then that flipped to where we could not go to the "red" states without having to quarantine coming back. So for months, I watched Governors Lamont, Cuomo and Hutchinson's COVID-19 updates and statistics for the perfect window of time to make a road trip, and when that moment seemed to have arrived, I had had plenty of time to know what I needed to pack to get on the road. My packing list included Essential Awakenings® and MindScent® stock to fulfill orders while away, multiple containers of hand sanitizers, single-use alcohol wipes, aerosolized hydrogen peroxide for mask sanitization, disposable plastic gloves for refueling, a Yeti, Shaklee energy bars, a case of water, my favorite package of mixed nuts, apples and a weekender full of comfy clothes as well as my personal pillows and a pair of bedroom slippers set aside for hotel rooms.
My itinerary was specifically mapped out with a mission to reach Cleveland, Ohio in one day followed by a business meeting the following day with a company that manufactures diffusers and aromatherapy gels for focus, calming and anti-anxiety. I can almost guarantee that most people around the world are living in a time of anxiety and the US is double that with the upcoming election. I decided that since I had many hours of driving, I’d open the canister of “Focus” and experience its scent to see if it would have any effect on me while I sped from my home in Connecticut through NY, NJ, the entire state of Pennsylvania and into Ohio. I believe "Focus" did what it was supposed to have done, as I did not feel any anxiety or distraction from the trek that first day.
I discovered Pennsylvania a different way this time through: Then fall foliage was already starting to turn various yellows, oranges, and reds as I drove the 350 plus miles across the state. I marveled at the picturesque landscape like I had just gotten out of hibernation—with its vast amounts of farmlands and the largest silos and barns I’ve ever seen. The rolling hills looked like they were manicured —blanketed with green grass that went on for what seemed like miles, and even the cattle, horses and sheep that roamed the fields looked like they were right out of a Frederic Edwin Church painting. I rolled down my windows to catch the smell of freshly mown hay—taking me back to my own parents' little farm in the midwest—and then ohhh!...the smell of manure hit me —like the the smell of dirty socks (that trigeminal effect when something hits you like a shockwave)! When you grow up on a farm, you get to know the differences between animal off-odors, and what I smelled then and there, was definitely from chicken coops! Flashback to home as a child: My siblings and me had to collect eggs from the chicken coup every morning before school and throughout the summer. We shoveled the manure in the heat of the summer, and the odor is nothing that you will ever forget!
That day, I made good time to Cleveland. Because I like history, I stayed at a newly refurbished hotel in the middle of downtown to enjoy its grand architecture and be able to walk the city. Like New York and other highly densely populated areas, Cleveland got hit hard by the pandemic in the Spring and so, with the guidance from the CDC, all areas were set up for protection of employees and guests: The reception desk was now behind plexiglass and all restrictions we have become accustomed to here in CT and NY were in place there: Hand sanitizer stations were everywhere and masks were required in the public areas. Surprisingly, they offered a small buffet (with servers behind plexiglas) and I hesitated to get anything until I saw that they offered homemade chicken soup. It’s hard for me to turn down the aroma or flavor of chicken soup anytime or anywhere, so I asked for a cup “to go”, took it to my room and savored it to its last little plastic spoonful.
Cleveland has a very rich history like so many others, but if you are traveling with a limited timeline and love culture, you find your way to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame just blocks from the Lake Eerie waterfront. It was a quick walk from my hotel, and I pre-ordered a morning time-slot so I could avoid any human congestion. NOT. Even though I was thrilled to be there, I felt viewers were crammed in and lined up for certain exhibits within elbow lengths of each other and it all felt too close for my own comfort—so I breezed through and took photos of some of the wild costumes worn by the greatest musicians of the rock era. The best part? Elvis Presley. It teared me up watching his energy and showmanship. Elvis is definitely still THE king. Before leaving the museum, I made a mandatory bathroom stop and was pleased that it was very immaculately clean, but I never take chances and used a disinfectant wipe to open and close all doors, then tossed them after leaving. My next stop was a quick drive over to the Cleveland Museum of Art through in the Wade Park District where I noticed numerous garden plots dedicated to countries around the world: Israel, Germany, Armenia, and so on. I had never been through a park that dedicated areas to countries around the globe, and know one day I’ll go back and visit every single one. Arriving at the museum, I felt immediately more at ease than at the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: The general layout and space was perfect for good social distancing, and the air quality was fresh and cool, so I never felt claustrophobic wearing my mask for the 2 plus hours I was there. This gem of a museum is like a "Mini-Met" with art for everyone, but I always gravitate to the Impressionist movement and discovered a Van Gogh and Monet I never knew existed. I also lucked out on a special exhibit called “Proof: Photography in the Era of the Contact Sheet” that any professional or novice photographer like me would find mesmerizing. Oh....and the meeting I had with the scenting company helped me move forward in a collaboration, so I feel the trip to Cleveland was more than a business success, but a great discovery!
The next day I checked out of the hotel early after having had almost no sleep due to a party happening above and on my floor the night before. People were singing "happy birthday" at 10:30PM - a half an hour after "quiet hour" and then running down the hallways up until 2AM in the morning. I left a complaint with the manager for which they comped me the night (thank you). They asked me why I did not complain. 'Why would I?' I asked. We are in the midst of a pandemic with people over reacting to all kinds of situations, why would I stick my neck out? I preferred to stay silent and just leave as soon as possible! With that, I started out for Kentucky, by-passing Louisville because of the unrest there due to the Breonna Taylor killing and protests of the acquittals of policemen involved. The acquittals were followed by more protests and by the white supremacists "boogaloo boys" who I saw on Twitter marching around in their camouflage bearing submachine guns. We are living in scary times, and I had no urge to play tourist anywhere there might be potential danger or harassment from white supremacists. (This comes from someone who has been discriminated against before). Going into Kentucky, I decided to stop in the small town of Hodgenville, KY to visit Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace and see the historical First Lincoln Memorial built in 1909 that houses the symbolic birth log cabin of this great president. I read the Gettysburg Address prominently placed at the memorial and then got back into the car to go to Knob Creek Farm where Lincoln grew up, only to find that it was closed and under renovation. I know I’ll be back through Kentucky again the next time I decide the need to take a road trip.
My final stop in Kentucky would be to spend the night in Bowling Green. When I arrived, I just wanted to settle in, and find a place where I could get a big crunchy salad or anything green, so while checking in with the man behind the plexiglass, I asked about nearby restaurants that served salads, and he recommended the Olive Garden. I had never eaten at an Olive Garden so I thought I’d try my luck and got back into my car and ordered the salad at the door for a curbside pickup. As I stood there waiting for my salad, I was surprised to see so many people coming and going for indoor dining (masks on of course). I thought to myself that I wish I were that brave. My iceberg lettuce salad with a tomato and some red onions arrived within minutes, went back to my room, opened the styrofoam container, drizzled the mass manufactured Italian dressing onto the salad, and dug into it with glee with my plastic fork. It was the first time I truly enjoyed the flavor of red onions. That simple salad was so refreshing after eating rubber eggs for breakfast and a burger from whatever fast food restaurant or truck stop I stopped at along the way. After dinner, I had to go back to my car to dig into my weekender to get clothes for my long drive the next day and noticed that I had parked right next to a gigantic white SUV with fake pearls hanging from the mirror accompanied by a red MAGA hat. There was a police car on the premises and two officers were talking to a woman I had seen earlier while leaving for my salad. She had tears in her eyes, and her two teen daughters were looking on visibly distressed. I wondered: What traumatic experience happened to them today? I went back to my room and watched some local television only to be horrified by the attack ads directed at Amy McGrath who is opposing Mitch McConnell in the upcoming state Senate election. Some of the accusations against here were so preposterous I turned the channel to a non-ad station but almost immediately just turned it off due to too much violence, so I cuddled up to my pillow with the scent of apple-scented detergent from home and went to sleep looking forward to an early departure for Arkansas.