Emergency brake on

  • The beach at La Manzanilla.

Like everyone across the world, our plans have been disrupted by coronavirus.

We’re grounded, grateful for a place to shelter, dreaming of the day we’ll be back on the road, and reviewing the fabulous times we’ve had in five-plus years of nomadic living.

Our annual holiday layover in Scottsdale already had been extended this year because we were planning a BIG party for my mother’s 90th birthday in March.

We went to Mexico just after Christmas, rolled down to Organ Pipe National Monument in January, and in early February, got to see Idaho friends in Yuma, where we howled at the moon.

But mostly we were at the homestead, party planning.

When we sent out the invitations, things looked OK. We painted backdrops for the “This is your life” comedy sketch. We heard a little more about this weird outbreak. My friend, Jackie, helped mom and me cook and freeze taco fixings for 200. The news got weirder. I baked about 300 cookies. More weird news. We ordered the tables, chairs and tablecloths. I found a Shirley Temple doll online, a gift to replace the doll my mother won, then lost, in a raffle in Kansas more than 80 years ago. Even weirder news. We decided to cancel.

It was the first week of March, still early in the knowledge curve, and some people thought we were too cautious. But nearly everyone invited was in the high-risk category. So we unwound everything.

Mom’s birthday ended up with the four of us around the dining room table with Tom’s stuffed peppers, a bottle of bubbly from our neighbors and lots of cookies. And Shirley, of course.

Mom got cards, flowers, Facebook shout-outs, and even a video from our friend Brad, who designed a tequila cocktail in her honor.

I thought about giving the party food to neighbors and friends, then decided it wasn’t the right time to share home-cooked food. So, I’m thawing another portion of the Tacos de Bistec fixings for dinner tonight. And, let me tell you, it’s delicious.

The week after Mom’s canceled party, my friend, Tami, and I were scheduled to be at the Tempe Festival of the Arts, where we sell upcycled kids’ clothes for our little business, Periwinkle Polka Dot. In between baking cookies and painting backdrops, I had been madly sewing aprons out of old jeans and jackets out of 50s tablecloths and little dresses out of men’s Hawaiian shirts.

It was canceled.

Tom and I toyed with the idea of heading out on the road, thinking our rolling domicile was a good isolation device. Our original plan had been to roll across the south to see Tom’s sister and family in South Carolina, friends in Florida and Texas, and float on the Buffalo River in Arkansas on the way back. One by one, we peeled back a layer. We didn’t want to bring any virus to Tom’s sister. Scratch South Carolina. The Florida friends live in The Villages, a fishbowl of over-60s. Didn’t want to take anything in, or bring anything out. Scratch that.

I read about campgrounds and state parks closing, about hard-hit communities resenting visitors using scant resources and shopping in depleted grocery stores. And I began to really worry about Mom.

We decided to stay put with Mom and my sister.

So here we are, emergency brake on.

Normally, while in Scottsdale, I would be hanging out with our son Nate, having drinks with friends, hitting the movie theaters multiple times a week, sewing with Tami in our workroom at her house, going to Barflies storytelling events at the Valley Bar, stopping at the stich-in at Changing Hands, our favorite indie bookstore, going to yoga at the Village gym, getting gluten-free pancakes at Snooze, or gluten-free pizza at La Grande Orange, or gluten-free cupcakes at Jewel’s Bakery and Cafe, or tacos at La Santisima. In general, binging on all the things I miss while rolling in The Epic Van.

But things are not normal. For us, or you, or anyone else.

We’re staying in, having groceries delivered, and staying in touch digitally, rather than physically. I’m sewing in my makeshift workroom here, digging through my knitting stash and wrapping up some of those half-finished projects, binge watching The Crown, Ozarks and Unbelievable, and re-watching West Wing, The Office and Harry Potter.

I worry. About my mother. About Nate. About myself, and my husband, and my sister, and my friends. About family members in Washington, the first canary in the mine, where we saw the horror of our future. About people I know working on the front lines. About Nate’s college roommate, Evan, who has been graduated early from medical school at New York University so he can face this tsunami, treating patients in emergency rooms at Bellevue in Manhattan. About our niece, Kristin, in New York, also, continues to commute to Sloan Kettering to deliver physical therapy, kissing her two babies goodbye each time. And our cousin, Jeanne, who continues to see hospice patients in Illinois. And our Idaho camping friends helping their daughters cope, one of whom is working in the ICU at Denver Health, which will be inundated with virus cases. About Jackie’s daughter, Carson, whose law school graduation from the University of Southern California was canceled, and her son, Campbell, also working from home in LA, one of the hotspots. And my friend, Meredith’s, daughter, Madeline, working in D.C., another hot zone. About Tami’s mother in the assisted living facility just down the street. About friends who have been laid off, had wages cut, and those who are still working journalists out there risking infection to tell people what’s really going on.

It’s a long litany of worry.

To quiet my mind, I listen to music, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s kitchen concerts, John Prine videos, Andra Day’s Rise Up. I keep my hands busy, sewing, knitting, cleaning out cluttered corners of my mother’s kitchen. I take walks and wave at the neighbor’s dogs. We do yoga in the living room. And Nate and I binge watch Netflix series until late in the evening. I’m exploring the free courses offered online by universities and corporations. It’s an embarrassment of riches to keep me occupied.

I am grateful to the first responders still working, the people moving groceries and supplies across the country, the people still filling prescriptions, the politicians making hard decisions. And all the funny, creative, joyful people posting quirky videos online to make me laugh, even when my heart is tight.

I rewind the memory reel in my head and review the fabulous travels we’ve had in The Epic Van and daydream about once again parking on the Pacific Coast and listening to the ocean waves.

I was amazed when I read Tom’s report card on last year’s long drive from the West Coast to the East Coast, his daily missives from the road. It lifts my spirits to see the amazing places, people and roadside attractions sprinkled across our beautiful country. Take a look here.

We’ll take this sheltering time to catch up on some of the posts that never were, and toast to the time we’re back on the road. And we’ll be thinking of all of you, and hoping you’re safe and sound.


  1. Reply
    Meredith April 3, 2020

    Oh Judy! You said it all! So hard. So many sacrifices for so many. Especially those first responders and YOUR MOM missing her big bday bash. So many things to worry about these days. Glad you are my friend. Together we all will make it through.

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols April 4, 2020

      Yes. We can do hard things. And still find joy!

  2. Reply
    Peter Corbett April 4, 2020

    Thanks for the detailed update. I miss vicariously traveling with you and hearing about your epic trips in the Epic Van. I hope– sooner than later — you can have that 90th birthday party for your mom and get back out on the road. I don’t know about you but I’ve got white line fever and it’s really only been about three weeks. Plus, I figure we have at least another 8 weeks to shut it down. Stay safe.

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols April 4, 2020

      Thanks, Peter, fellow adventurer. We love following your travels, too. Yes, I fear we’re talking months, rather than weeks. Here’s to sheltering with grace and being healthy when we can roll again.

  3. Reply
    Mary Clark April 7, 2020

    It’s good to have the time to rewind the memory wheel. To reflect and rest in spirit and body. We can take what we learn from this as we go forward again.

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols April 21, 2020

      Very well said, Mary!

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