Road Trip

Some of you may know the novel called ''Love in the Time of Cholera'' by the Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Márquez. Our recent adventure travelling from Boston to Denver and back, from late May to mid-June, could be appropriately titled ''Road Trip in the Time of Coronavirus''.

Our daughter, who just moved to Denver after graduating from school in California, precipitated the adventure, as she sought to furnish her new apartment. My wife and I, suffering from cabin fever in our Boston apartment, and driven both by the desire to see our daughter and to clean out our mini-storage, were willingly complicit. We soon set off in our Stelvio, stuffed to the brim with a coffee table, hifi speakers, kitchen utensils, and miscellaneous possessions, which could have easily been cast in an episode of ''Hoarders''.

Our strategy was to take the most direct route possible to Denver, drop off our load, and return to Boston along a more scenic northerly route. As we are both in our 60s, we are no longer up for 14-hour driving days, so we calculated that an average of about 400 miles/day was the limit for our aching limbs, or 5 days of driving for the 2000-mile outward trip.

Overnight stays in hotels was one of our biggest concerns, which we sought to minimize by staying in national chains (Residence Inns mostly) that had kitchen facilities, booked in advance. This allowed us to prepare our own breakfast and dinners, while taking lunches at picnic tables in rest areas. There were, in fact, considerable differences between hotels in the same group in terms of use of masks, availability of breakfast, etc. Standards are clearly in the process of evolving.

This soon turned into a routine. Each evening as we pulled into our hotel, we would gingerly extract what we needed for the night from the overstuffed car, like a game of Jenja, trying to avoid toppling the whole contents into the parking lot. Next, we would put on our masks and gloves, entering our hotel room like a decontamination crew, bottle of Lysol and Clorox wipes in hand, scrubbing down every possible surface that we might touch. Then we would prepare our dinner or devour the take-out meal that we had picked up, accompanied by a glass of wine and a movie on Netflix, while preparing for the next day's adventure.

Our stops on the way out were Altoona, PA; Lexington, KY; St. Louis, MO; and Hays, KS. As we moved west, it was noticeable that concerns about Covid lessened somewhat: fewer masks, more restaurants open, and in one hotel even the gym and pool were available, a temptation that we resisted.

Denver, which was hit a little earlier and harder by the virus, was noticeably more stringent in terms of precautions, but still felt more relaxed than back East. As our daughter only has a studio apartment, we stayed in a nearby downtown hotel, where we were told we were one of 5 guests in a 12-story building.  Reflecting the new reality, there was no maid service, no room service, no help with luggage. The staff was very helpful, though. Rooms were kept empty for 72 hours between guests, and we switched rooms once during our 9-day stay in order to have fresh sheets.

Colorado was wonderful — beautiful weather, and plenty of opportunity to do socially-distanced hikes in the nearby mountains. The city has become a magnet for young professionals, juxtaposed (sometimes uncomfortably) with the traditional mining and cowboy culture.

Despite some misgivings about the Stelvio, given that we had early teething problems in the form of electrical issues, up to this point the car drove like a dream. That is, until just as we were about to start our return trip, when a warning light came on indicating that the ''stop/start'' feature was no longer available. This immediately brought back unpleasant memories, as our previous problems started with miscellaneous warning light malfunctions followed by a complete collapse and replacement of the electronic control module. The day before our planned departure, I called Mike Ward Alfa Romeo in Denver, explaining the problem, and asking if they could take a quick look. I noted the urgency of the matter, emphasizing that we were about to enter an Alfa desert, e.g. Wyoming and South Dakota, where there are no dealers. The helpful tech, Noah, listened to my explanation, and suggested that, while there might be a number of reasons for this malfunction, before coming in I should try closing the hood firmly, pressing down with one hand on each side. That immediately rang a bell, as earlier in the day I had opened the hood to refill the windshield washer fluid. I followed his instructions, and problem solved! I called Noah to thank him for his willingness to talk through a problem on the phone — all too rare at car dealerships.

The trip back was magnificent, via the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and the Badlands. The Alfa drove beautifully, light on its feet, and we flirted with 100 mph and more on the empty Wyoming two-lane highways. With the exception of Yellowstone, which had just reopened, attracting a sudden influx of visitors, the return trip was like a throwback to the 1950s, with relatively light traffic and thin crowds. We leavened our diet of Residence Inns with stays in cabins in and around Yellowstone and in Wyoming. The crisis was, however, brought home to us in an unexpected way in South Dakota, at a small grocery store on the edge of the Badlands. Spotting our Massachusetts plates, the greeter at the entrance told us that only one out-of-state person, suitably masked, could enter at a time.

We are now back almost two weeks since our adventure, refreshed, and with no ill-effects so far. Given the pervasive fear of flying, I suspect that this may be the summer of the Great American Road Trip, and while we had a great time, I hope that everyone will take the necessary precautions, so that they can enjoy the experience safely.Tiny Quadrifoglio

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Road Trip