Leaving the United States Amid the COVID-19 Crisis

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It All Began Around Spring Break

My bliss lasted until Spring Break. By this time, we were all somewhat concerned about the coronavirus. There already had been one death in the United States, and cases began multiplying across the nation. Still, it wasn’t that big of a threat for now. Spring Break wasn’t canceled. Although I wanted to go somewhere for this well-deserved rest, I didn’t want to spend too much money. So, instead of going to California, I decided to visit a friend in Rhode Island. I thought about it twice before booking a bus ticket. I knew there was a case in Providence, and I knew I’d have to stop in New York City. In the end, however, I decided not to make too much of the virus. I wouldn’t stop living because of it.

When It All Went Down

The day I went to see Kunto at Harvard, the university had already gone online, and students were asked to leave their dorm. Although students around campus looked worried, you couldn’t have told the seriousness of the situation. The library was still busy, the coffee shops still full. It was business as usual, or so it seemed. I spent the afternoon in Cambridge, which didn’t seem disrupted at all. Perhaps what I saw had nothing to do with its normal, but I’d never been there before — so I couldn’t tell you. In retrospect, I’m grateful I got to visit Harvard at that moment because it wouldn’t take much time before everything went down. I returned to Newport on a quiet train, in the early evening, and the next few days were uneventful-though pleasant. I walked around Newport, checked out the old, luxurious castles, went to a luncheon in a small, cozy apartment.

The Drive Back to the Homeland

It took me almost all day to get through upstate New York. The drive to the Canadian border, which would be long and tedious, was seven hours or so. The signs on the side of highways all showed “stay home” messages. The roads, nonetheless, were probably as busy as usual. I would only remember the seriousness of the situation at small villages’ gas stations, where I’d exchange a few words with the staff. The gas stations in small towns, like any other local shops, always reminded me of the sharp contrast between two Americas. The run-down infrastructure, on the one hand, the glass skyscrapers of New York City on the other. “Crazy what’s going on, isn’t it,” either of us would say. “Yeah, I can’t believe it,” the other would respond. After the transaction-buying gas, some snacks, or a coffee refill-we’d tell each other to stay cautious.

Conclusion

It took me another day to get to my parents’ place in Saguenay. I’d lived in Montreal for the past several years, but I had no place to stay there — and it was simply a better option to go to the country, where the population is less dense. So I stopped at a motel on Montreal’s south shore, the kind of dingy, side-of-highway motel you see in the movies. A couple of my friends had offered to host me for the night, but it didn’t feel right to see anyone while I was supposed to isolate myself. I dropped my bags in the dark motel room, drove the car back to the rental car company-I couldn’t take a vehicle from Williamsport to Saguenay-and then took a Uber back to the motel. The next day, I rented yet another car-the last one, thankfully-and after packing everything, I hit the road in the direction of Saguenay, where my parents were waiting for me. I got a cup of coffee from Starbucks on my way back as I knew I’d be a while without walking into one of these stores.

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