Two weeks ago I was on a plane to the Seattle airport. My mother lives in that area, and I had planned a trip to help her with some tasks. At that time, the COVID-19 virus had had its biggest impact in that area. However, the California county where I live had not yet reported any cases, and the danger seemed minimal. We’d pass through the airport before traveling on to where my mom lives, which also had no cases then. I’d wipe down everything in my airplane seat area. I’d use hand sanitizer. I’d try not to touch my face.
I’d seen some social media posts depicting Seattle as a ghost town, so I was surprised my plane was nearly full. I was even more surprised that the bus I took from the airport was packed—standing room only. One or two people were wearing masks, including a woman across the bus aisle, who sported a cloth navy blue model (I wondered how she cared for it. Did she wash it every night?) The woman in the seat in front of me was eating a corn dog from a bag and occasionally coughing. With every cough, my neck stiffened.
I realized traveling in the time of coronavirus was a much worse idea than I’d though back in my unaffected home county. And I began to seriously worry that I might catch it and infect someone (especially my mother).
As my husband and stayed with my mom, the news got more and more alarming. Flights to Europe cancelled. No gatherings over 250, then 50, then 10. March Madness to be played before empty seats, then cancelled. I began to worry the airport might be closed or my return flight might be cancelled. I was in Washington under a week, but events unfolded so quickly it seemed like each day was five days.
Things that used to seem normal began to seem abnormal. People hugging friends. Standing in line near another person. A hotel serve-yourself breakfast buffet where people touched the same utensils to get food.
Things that used to seem weird began to seem normal. People wearing face masks. Waitresses sporting blue surgical gloves. Neighbors standing ten feet apart to talk.
The flight back had 27 people on it. Three people in first class, one in business. Here’s a look back down the plane before our takeoff.
I’ve never seen a flight so empty.
Because I’d been in Seattle, I stayed home when I returned, in case I’d caught the disease. Soon, however, the county, then the whole state was sheltering at home. So far, I feel fine (and so does my mother).
Sheltering at home means I can still go outside to walk or for necessary activities, such as getting food or medicine. What it doesn’t mean is going to places where wearing a black velvet pillbox is at all appropriate. So I’m not sure what I’ll do—whether The Hat Project will go on hiatus or if I’ll finish going through my hats, possibly more slowly. Like everyone else right now, I’m taking it day by day.
I hope you, my readers, are doing OK. Please take care of yourselves.
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Ann Hillesland writes fiction and nonfiction and collects hats. In this blog she vows to wear (not just model, but wear out of the house) every one of her hats, blogging about their histories and their meanings for her.