What did you do during the lockdown?
Sophie drives. Almost daily she heads out onto the country roads that surround Gettysburg. She has no destination, no one to see, she just likes motoring down the roads. When I start the car the next morning, the radio blares. On a lucky day, it’s music, but usually a D.J. yammering, or more likely a commercial. In my generation, we called blasting the music turning it up to eleven, but really, I think she has it turned up to, like, thirty.
My father asked how my kids are coping. We talk daily on the phone, my dad and me. This is new, since the virus. We used to talk once a week. Yesterday his wife Diane listened in on the speaker phone, Mothers’ Day and all. “Well, Eli games with his friends, Sophie goes for drives.”
“I used to do that.” This was Diane. “It was wonderful to get away from my family, drive through the country and listen to the radio.” Sophie’s coping method is sixty years old. It never occurred to me that she wants to get away from us. She’s out driving (avoiding us) right now. Thankfully, she’s an excellent driver.
Eli’s driving too, on Grand Theft Auto. He’s either a great driver or a terrible one, I can’t really tell. When his gaming buddies take the wheel, they’re far more cautious. Eli boldly floors it in every situation. He mostly avoids the other cars but often by jumping the curb and hurdling down the sidewalk, pedestrians flying this way and that. It’s hard to believe he’ll get his license in less than two years.
Other than Sophie’s aimless drives, our cars barely go anywhere. I drive a mile into town every day to get to work. And we run necessary errands—grocery store, UPS, Walmart—all the best places to show off our new cloth masks. But mostly our cars sit idle in the driveway. We’re squandering our chance to burn two-dollar gas.
The new thing is car parades. It’s your birthday? Your family and friends will drive by your home, horns blaring. I got an email today from Sophie’s band teacher. On Friday at 12:15, a bunch of cars will stream past our house paying senior-honors to Sophie. In prior years, at the final spring concert, the seniors walked to the front of the stage while the music teachers highlighted their high school achievements. Last spring I remember thinking “Huh, that will be Sophie next year.” Guess I was wrong.
We heard the plan for graduation today. More cars. We drive to the high school and drop Sophie off. Family can’t leave the car. Sophie walks onto a stage, mask in place, and the principal presents her diploma. No cap and gown. No after-party. A prerecorded ceremony starts at seven.
A few months ago, Sophie pointed out that for school assignments, she can use any data as research data providing it’s a ‘primary source’ (a first person) account. Sophie said it was funny to think that all the ridiculous TikTok videos she and her friends share to crack each other up will one day serve as primary source research data for students of the future.
So here it is. This essay is primary source data about the role of cars during covid-19. It’s my small offering to the people of tomorrow.