Hey! Anyone up for travel and communicable disease! Amber and I took our first mini-vacation since the Covid-19 pandemic began, a road trip to Pittsburgh in celebration of her 40th birthday. And while we had fun, the “new normal” is telling me to keep my ass at home until there’s a vaccine.
Halfway through the three-hour drive from Central Ohio, we stopped at Wendy’s in Wheeling, West Virginia. The drive-thru was wrapped around the parking lot, so I placed an in-store pickup order via Wendy’s app. I have it on my phone because their spicy chicken sandwich with heavy pickles and onions is the tastiest way to progress towards heart disease. I walked in wearing a mask, and the staff, who were not covered, looked at me like I was crazy, as did the other two customers.
Here’s the thing: People who choose not to wear masks during a pandemic also don’t return shopping carts to the bay. Selfish, terrible humans. I wouldn’t be surprised if they eat children. But they’ll come around. Anecdotally, there’s been an increase in face covering since we surpassed 100,000 Americans dead. Maybe they’ll wake up and slightly inconvenience themselves when that figure doubles by December?
After fighting off ‘rona in Wendy’s, we went to Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, not to be confused with the larger Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. It’s outdoors and naturally promotes social distancing because it’d be odd to breathe on the back of someone’s neck in such an open space. Amber loved it. She’s really into plants and trees and running up the water bill to take care of ’em. I found the gardens…relaxing.
From the gardens, we went to downtown Pittsburgh. It was bustling and buckwild during our previous visit in 2017, but now it was deserted. The people who were there appeared to those who had no choice but to be outside.
We checked into the Embassy Suites. The clerk (who may have been the only person working that Sunday afternoon) provided a set of instructions: masks are required in all public hotel areas, do not touch the elevator walls, free breakfast will be served in a to-go box, there is a seal on your door indicating that the room has been sanitized, please cover your finger with a tissue when calling the elevator…and no, we’re no longer hosting a free happy hour, or any happy hour for that matter.
And after all that, our room was still a lil’ dusty. But the view was nice.
After check-in, we biked through the Strip District. It’s a dense area of warehouses that have been converted into restaurants and bars. Most were closed, whether temporarily and permanently. But the street art remained. Only two restaurants had patios. We settled on a Caribbean joint called Kaya, where we ate tuna ceviche and tropical seafood paella. Sharing an entree is so financially romantic.
We spent the rest of the evening wandering through Pittsburgh’s hippest neighborhoods, at least according to what Instagram and Google told me. Lawrenceville, Bloomfield, and Carson. We hoped to find a bar that met our pandemic requirements: large patio, not too crowded, and tables properly spaced. There wasn’t a good fit, so we walked and talked. As far as outdoor drinking, Pittsburgh ain’t San Diego.
The most memorable part of the evening was Amber getting catcalled by a guy whom TLC would refer to as a “scrub.” I was walking on the gentleman side of her when he yelled from an SUV at a red light. “Damn, you’re beautiful.” As far as catcalls go, that was admittedly pretty nice. Amber didn’t reply, so shit, I said, “Thank you!” He twisted his face and yelled, “I wasn’t talking to you.” True words, of course. But the tone…such disrespect.
The smart option would have been to walk away. I didn’t know who or how many people were in the SUV. But my ego-driven conscience said, “Nah, f**k that, homie!” (My internal voice speaks Blood.) So I said, “Well, the way you’re looking, I’ll just assume you were talking to me.” Not my best comeback, but a biting shot at his hyper-masculinity. He cursed “from the passenger side of his best friend’s ride” and drove off.
A bottle of wine in our hotel room, and some other activities, soon put us to sleep. You’d think it would have been good sleep, considering we were without intruding kids, and it was for Amber, but I kept going in and out of dreams about recycled air. What if the housekeeper had Covid-19 and sneezed in the dusty room? The droplets could have remained live for hours, the virus just waiting to find a home in my vast African nostrils. Highly unlikely? Yes. But I felt trapped on the 23rd floor of a hotel with no open windows.
I thought of the 20 percent of people who test positive for Covid-19 and end up hospitalized. Many are maimed for life–scarred lungs, blood clots, a permanent mental fog, limbs amputated, kidney failure–by a virus we don’t fully understand, and may not for quite some time. I tossed and turned for a couple more hours before giving in and leaving the room for an early morning run. Gotta keep the lungs strong.
Amber woke up a couple of hours before checkout. We drove to Just Good Donuts in the South Side Flats neighborhood to satisfy a craving. Only one person was allowed in the shop at a time and donuts were not on display. You had to pick from four types and get out. Understandable. Luckily, Primanti Bros was around the corner. A corned beef and fries sandwich made the trip whole.
After lunch, we were ready to get home. A home we have set up as a sort of pandemic paradise. I’m a travel fiend, and never thought I’d say this, but right now there’s little appeal in traveling. Think about it this way: We’re in a public health crisis that science can solve, yet we’re being led by individuals who don’t believe in science if it conflicts with their economic goals.
I don’t know…Puck, Nene Leakers, Flavor Flav…I just feel like we’d be in a better position with this pandemic had we picked a more accomplished reality star for president.
Stay masked, y’all.