Travel during a pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a major effect on many aspects of everyday life. One thing that has been particularly hard hit is travel. The virus moves wherever people are in large groups, and the more groups people move in or through, the more vectors the virus has. So, travel has been actively discouraged across the board. On many occasions the government, CDC, or both, have advised citizens to cancel or postpone whatever travel plans they may have. Some areas have actively prevented travel for all but emergency respondents, and even they have restrictions. Regions of the USA, especially California and New York City, are in full scale quarantine. Simply put, traveling is a pain these days.

Even so, on this holiday season, my family did elect to travel, specifically to Louisiana, where much of Lisa’s family lives. Still we had to ask ourselves, did we really need to travel? In this particular case, I think we did. We had just started to recover from the loss of Michael when this pandemic kicked in. We have been trapped in our house, which was full of memories and associations. We needed a change of venue, and needed to get away from home for a little while. Speaking only for myself, I needed to step out of my routine for a few days so as to finally put the past year into perspective, and try to decide what to do next. So, when the opportunity to travel presented itself, we elected to take it. Fortunately, when the time to travel arrived, we were not in a state of national lock down.

Even so, we had to take some precautions. Wearing a face mask at all times it just the beginning. We also had to maintain the recommended six foot distance, avoid large groups where possible, not make extended small talk, and so forth. All of those things can give the virus opportunities to spread. So, as we waited for our flight in the Charlottesville airport, we kept our masks on and stayed in one place, largely away from others. The airport was largely empty anyway, and our flight was one quarter capacity at best.

Then had a near four hour layover in Atlanta. Being stuck at Atlanta international airport for four hours is a trying situation under the best of circumstances, but with social distancing practices in place, it was worse. Again, we stayed away from other groups of people, kept our masks on, and didn’t interact with others unless we had to. The flight from Atlanta to New Orleans was about two thirds full, but was uneventful. Everyone kept their masks on and kept to themselves. I dozed the whole time.

When we finally arrived in New Orleans, we were quickly picked up by my father in law. Once we arrived at their house, we immediately changed clothes. In Louisiana at least, that is recommended of travelers. The assumption is that if the virus is hiding in your clothes, the sooner they get into the washing machine, the better. So throughout our trip to Louisiana, we continued to exercise caution and obeyed local recommendations.

Then I made the mistake of mentioning our trip on Facebook. A few people scolded me for traveling, and said that my selfish choices could result in people dying. Our emotional health wasn’t as important as the health risk we were creating, and we should have stayed right where we were.

Even as we visit with family, we still keep our masks on and maintain the six foot distance where possible. When we visited one of Lisa’s sisters, we had the gathering on the patio, picnic style. The six foot separation and face masks were an inconvenience, but nothing more. Following these guidelines isn’t difficult, and I can’t think of a good reason not to follow them.

To my surprise however, roughly half the population of New Orleans did find an excuse! We made a day trip to the
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas[1] in downtown New Orleans, and then to Cafe du Monde for their famous beignets. The visitors in the aquarium were OK about masks and distancing, but many of the people in and around Jackson Square were not wearing masks, were congregating in tight groups, and generally throwing all social distancing guidelines out the proverbial window. New Orleans is famous for its food and drink, and it’s one of those cities where “what happens here, stays here.” But that doesn’t really apply to a highly contagious virus!

I was not amused, and my daughter was noticeably upset.

Anyway, we played by the rules, and still enjoyed our trip. We we returned Virginia, we again wore masks all day, avoided crowds, maintained a six foot distance, and started doing laundry when we got home. We’re also looking into where we can be tested.

So I can safely say that it is possible to travel these days, and that the social distancing guidelines are not a serious buzzkill. But if you’re going to travel, you should be socially responsible and follow the pandemic related guidelines.

As a final note, regarding those people who get upset about having to wear a mask, and claiming it’s a violation of personal rights and liberties? (Like roughly half the people we saw in New Orleans?) These people really need to calm down, pull in a deep breath, and consider taking a break. Perhaps even a vacation.


  1. I strongly recommend visiting this place if you like sea creatures and other things oceanic. The Audubon Institute also operates a very good zoo in New Orleans, which I also recommend. We only had time to do one of them on this particular trip, but if your time and budget permits, try seeing both.

Image credit: Megson Fitzpatrick.

First transition

Operation Caracal, Part 7

Day 13, January 2, 2017

For the return trip we tried to schedule things better, and not try to go quite so far in one day. Our target for the day was at the theoretical half-way point. The last time we drove this route the weather was ugly. Sadly, that was the case again this time. There was heavy rain, high wind, and overcast skies almost the entire way. There was one stretch, from upper Alabama to roughly the Tennessee state line, where the sun was able to make a very welcome appearance. As before, the stretch through Mississippi and Alabama was mind numbing.

Our target was Athens, Tennessee. That town is, almost to the mile, half-way between Hammond and our home. If time permitted, this would have been a nice town to explore. It has some nice historical sites, and good examples of Americana architecture. We filed these as possible ideas for a future trip, because we are likely to travel this route again.

It took over nine hours to get from Hammond to Athens, which wasn’t bad, but still longer than we had hoped. I suspect the weather, heavy traffic around Birmingham, and a lot of construction near Chattanooga contributed to the delay.

We also discovered that when you rent a hotel room, you get what you pay for. We saved a little money and went with a less-expensive hotel chain. Our room was acceptable, with firm beds and a bath that did what they were supposed to do. But, the building wasn’t in the best of shape, and there were signs of water damage. Even so, after the long drive, we were too tired to care.

Well, most of us were. Michael refused to settle down to sleep, and kept turning on the lights. He also tried turning on the television and clock radio. Needless to say, this was not appreciated by the rest of us. But even after being scolded multiple times, Michael would not stop.

However, I had what might be called a revelation. After turning off the lights for the umpteenth time, I soon saw Michael’s silhouette rise from his bed and make a bee-line for the light switch. I watched in the dark, ready to scold him the instant he turned on the light. But I didn’t, and here’s why. For a split-second after hitting the switch, I caught a glimpse of his face. He looked upset, stressed and afraid. When the light came on, his face quickly returned to normal.

At this point I need to include some exposition. Michael has agenesis of the corpus callosum. This could explain his difficulty with language, and hyper-sensitivity to touch. We still aren’t sure of the severity of his case, but regardless, his mind doesn’t work exactly the same as ours.

Michael has never been a good hotel guest. Whenever we travel, and we know we’ll be staying at a hotel, we expect Michael to be difficult. People with ACC often have difficulty in strange places, some more so than others. Michael generally isn’t afraid of the dark, at least not at home. But we weren’t at home.

Consider that Michael was in a strange, new place that he had never seen before, with few or no familiar points of reference. He hadn’t had enough time to catalog his surroundings, which from his perspective, was unrecognizable. When the lights went out, those few things he had been able to process were no longer visible. I think that’s when his imagination starts running, and fills the dark space with all matter of new and confusing stuff. I later did some reading on this, and my guess has support. There have been cases of ACC patients needing constant audio, visual, and sometimes olfactory input. If their input streams are not being filled by external stimuli, their brain starts to create artificial input.

Anyway, back at the hotel, I explained my theory to Lisa and Caitlin. To restore order to his sensory input streams, Michael needs the lights on. And when I say that, I don’t mean he prefers the lights on, he needs the lights on.

We left one of the small lights running as a night light. Michael still kept turning on the other lights, after which one of us would turn them off. This game continued for a while until eventually, in the dim light, Michael succumbed to fatigue and fell asleep. We don’t know if the night light helped or not.

Day 14, January 3, 2017

We had hoped that the second half of the trip would be easier, given that it is collectively downhill. Actually it did go easier in most ways. Traffic was bad in certain areas, but that was the worst of it.

The real problem this day was, apparently, me. Lisa said that for the entire day I had a rather scary glaze over my face, and just didn’t look right. I also had to make several very sudden and urgent bathroom stops over the course of the day. We got home around 6:30pm.

I turns out that my blood sugar had been dangerously high that day, with numbers that are usually used to describe car payments. Stress from the driving could account for some of it, as could the starch-heavy food that travelers are often forced to live on. It’s even possible that my slow metabolism was still processing the red beans and rice from two days earlier. Whatever the case, those blood tests were shocking, and these are things that a type-2 diabetic can not ignore. I started planning some diet changes that very night.

This brought home the fact that 2017, and the drastic life changes it was going to bring, had begun.

The caracal had gone to sleep. We were home.

Stock image found on Pintertest

Caracal travelogue:

  1. Operation Caracal
  2. Louisiana down time
  3. Driveabout
  4. Michabelle Inn
  5. Arrival 2017AD
  6. Dems good eats
  7. First transition

Dems good eats

Operation Caracal, Part 6

Day 12, January 1, 2017

If this day would be summed up in one word, that word would be food. All regional members of the Vedeckis extended family gathered at Ms. Mary and Mr. Wayne’s home, and spent the afternoon mingling, burning sparklers, and eating.

Unlike the structured Christmas dinner of the previous week, this was a free-form, buffet-style affair. I found Mr. Wayne’s red beans and rice to be one of the best versions of that dish I had ever had, so I asked him if there was secret ingredient involved. There was no secret ingredient, but there was a hard to find one. He used a rue mix as the base for the sauce, and this mix is made by the Blue Runner Foods company. Near as I can tell, this brand isn’t available in upper Virginia, though I’m keeping my eyes open. If I can’t find it, then I may have to have some shipped in, or, the next time we visit Louisiana I’ll have to stock up on it!

This recipe, from the Blue Runner Foods web site, is very close to the one Mr. Wayne used.

Red Beans and Rice

  • 2 tablespoons mild olive oil
  • 2 cups ham or pickled pork, diced into1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups Andouille smoked sausage, sliced into half-rounds, 1/4″ thick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup finely diced green bell pepper
  • 2 cups finely diced celery
  • 3 cups finely diced yellow onion
  • 4 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried whole-leaf thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried whole-leaf oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup finely diced canned tomato
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 lb. red kidney beans, washed
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the ham or pickled pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat begins to brown, 5-6 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage begins to brown, 5-6 minutes.
  2. Add the bay leaves, bell pepper, celery, and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to brown, 8-10 minutes.
  3. Reduce heat to low. Add the garlic, salt, black pepper, cayenne, thyme, oregano, and cumin. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the tomato and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add the water and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the beans. Cook, covered, for 1 hour.
  7. Remove the lid and stir in the parsley. Raise heat to medium-low. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the broth has a gravy-like consistency, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove bay leaves and serve with cooked rice.

This recipe can easily be customized. For example, to make this more diabetic-friendly, serve over brown rice instead white rice. Brown rice has fewer of the “bad carbs” that cause diabetics so much angst.

The gathering had broken up by late afternoon. That was when the Culpeper clan reluctantly started packing their bags for the return trip to Virginia.

To be concluded.


Caracal travelogue:

  1. Operation Caracal
  2. Louisiana down time
  3. Driveabout
  4. Michabelle Inn
  5. Arrival 2017AD
  6. Dems good eats
  7. First transition

Michabelle Inn

Operation Caracal, Part 4

Days 9-10, December 29-30

I’ve been saying that this trip was largely free form, and with no advance planning. That isn’t entirely true. Lisa and I have been wanting to have a weekend away, as a belated anniversary celebration. The opportunity to set up such a trip didn’t present itself until now. After discussing it with Lisa’s parents, we arranged to leave Caitlin and Michael with them, so Lisa and I could spend an overnight at a regional hotel, inn, or bed & breakfast.

After doing some research, we settled on the Michabelle Inn, a historic house within Hammond. This was perfect, because we didn’t want a long drive. We already had another one of those approaching, and didn’t need another.

Our little getaway started on the afternoon of December 29, when we went to lunch at a local restaurant, Café Nola. We were advised to not let the appearance of the place fool us. We had passed this place earlier in the week, and from the outside it doesn’t look like much. On the inside it looks like a sports bar. But the smell of food was enticing, so we ordered. Lisa had the grilled shrimp Alfredo, and I had the pasta fazula. The food was great, and even the lunch sized portions were generous. If you’re ever in this area, check this place out. Trust me.

After lunch, we did some sight seeing around Ponchatoula. It was a cloudy day, but the temperature was pleasant, and we took some photos of the historic buildings.

We were surprised to see a statue of G. K. Chesterton, because as far as we know the man had no connection to this area. This little mystery warrants further investigation.

Ponchatoula was an important railroad town in the past. If you look at a map of the area, you’ll see that many of the major streets run parallel to the railroad tracks. Today, the railroad is still an important freight handler. But for passenger and other commercial traffic, it is now second fiddle to the regional Interstate highways (I-12 and I-55). Even so, the earlier importance of the railroad is evident.

In the photo below is Old Hardhide, an alligator that lives in an enclosure near the Ponchatoula country market building. He is sort of the town mascot. Apparently he “writes” a column for one of the local newspapers. I would hate to be his stenographer.

After this, we ran a few short errands, then headed back to Hammond to check into Michabelle.

Statue, front fountain

 

This place was built in 1907 as a private home, and was converted into an inn in 1998. It was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1982, and is often referred to as “McGehee House” after the original residents. The current owners include a descendant of this family.

 

 

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