At Christmas, in a desire to escape the cold and gray of Kentucky, my husband and I packed the car and drove our family to Florida. Typically we would make such a lengthy trip by flight. Airfare being outrageous for our family of four and weather being mild, we decided the promise of sun and sand was worth the 15-hour drive. We booked a hotel off I-95 outside of Savannah, planning to arrive just before dark to enjoy dinner and a good night's rest.
As anyone who has made the drive to Florida in the last few years can tell you, traffic is incredibly heavy. The six-lane highways do little to improve traffic flow as motorists and truckers clog the middle lane. Chaos ensues as speedy motorists weave to the right and left lanes to pass. To call it stressful is almost an understatement.
As we merged onto I-95, we were hungry and delighted to be about an hour from ending our day on the road. Five minutes later, we were sitting in traffic that vacillated between dead stops and creeping along at 15 miles per hour. My older daughter got on her phone to investigate and quickly reported that I-95 southbound was red for miles and miles ahead. She learned that a motorist was killed while stopped in the emergency lane earlier that day, shutting down the interstate for several hours.
Luckily, my younger daughter was also busy on her phone, finding us an alternate route. As we left the interstate to take US-15, our twelve-years-old daughter navigated from the back seat. US-15 is east of the interstate, traveling through small towns that offered various fast food options. We ignored our hunger, wanting to go as far as possible before nightfall. As US-15 ended and we merged with US-17, we could see I-95 traffic was still barely moving. It was now dark, we were past the time that we thought we'd be at our hotel and eating at a nearby restaurant, and we were on a two-lane road that we didn't know. And yet, we felt triumphant moving along at 55 mph and glimpsing through the trees to see I-95 lit up with the red brake lights of the bumper-to-bumper cars.
I pulled out my phone and put the hotel's address in the GPS. We abandoned all plans to return to I-95 and committed ourselves to secondary roads. Two-hours beyond our ETA, we stumbled upon a commerce center near the Savannah airport with a lovely seated restaurant where we finally sated our hunger. The hotel was just a short drive away, and as we crossed I-95 and saw the vehicles moving along at about 35 mph, we were glad to have pre-purchased our room for the night.
It was almost 10:00 p.m. when we checked into the hotel. Many travelers had fled the freeway traffic, and the front desk, unprepared for the sudden deluge, had a staff of one. Traveling with our daughters, we'd reserved a suite with two queen beds. My eldest went straight to the shower and then pulled back the covers to discover bedbugs along the corner of the mattress near the headboard. Frankly, I was too exhausted to be freaked out. My husband headed to the front desk to request a new room, and I sat down at the little table with my head in my arms, wishing for sleep.
An hour later, after a long wait to speak with the front desk employee and insistence by my husband that two beds were required, he returned with keys for two suites scheduled for refurbishment, and thus not officially listed for occupancy (everything else was sold out). Both contained king beds, which we thoroughly checked for bugs before saying goodnight to the girls. It was almost midnight, and we wanted to be back on the road by 7 a.m. We still had a seven-hour drive ahead of us.
Today, that event is a memorable story. In the telling, our ability to work together and ingenuity in the face of traffic delays are points of pride. Our shared exhaustion and chagrin as the second shoe fell at the hotel evokes camaraderie. The feelings of frustration, anxiety, and anger are faint memories by comparison.
COVID-19 is an enormous detour that impacts everyone. We do not know how long it will last. We do not know if we will eventually merge back onto the path of our life before this event, or if moving forward will require us to chart a different course. It is inconvenient, uncomfortable, unknown, confusing, frustrating, exhausting, and stressful. And yet, unless you are one of the unfortunate people to die from this virus, this is only a detour.
Like me, I bet you've successfully navigated many detours before this one. Reflecting on my family's trip reminds me of these tips for negotiating this crazy moment.