This week the Independent welcomes five young journalists from across the country to its first summer fellowship program, made possible by donations and grants to its nonprofit Local Journalism Project. We asked them to introduce themselves by writing something about their journeys here from New York, Virginia, Illinois, California, and Hawaii. —Edward Miller
Tufts University, Class of 2022, studying sociology with a concentration in data analysis and interpretation. Here with thanks to the school’s Tisch Summer Fellows program.
“Final call for New York J.F.K. at Gate D9, final boarding call” echoes through San Francisco International Airport on the morning I depart for Boston after three months at home. Going to the airport felt almost normal, and at moments I was able to forget that there was a global pandemic. But the few people in the terminal speak in hushed voices and I am reminded.
I’m from the Bay Area and my home county was among the first six in the nation to implement a shelter-in-place order. Few cases followed. People around me during my layover in Seattle, however, do not seem to have gotten the memo that everyone at home had. Finding a personal space bubble in an airport is difficult enough, but even more so when you’re trying to avoid hordes of maskless individuals. That’s when I begin to wonder about the distinct narratives that different groups of people are receiving about Covid-19 around the U.S. Are certain people perpetuating the problem? Are some complying with government demands without recognizing quite why they do so?
Boarding the plane to Boston, I cross my fingers in hopes of feeling a semblance of normality in heading to the last place I had been before the pandemic, hoping the sacrifices that we have all made will be worth it. Then I remember the mask covering my face.
Josephine de La Bruyère
New York, New York
Princeton University, Class of 2022, studying history, with minors in journalism and Italian. Here with thanks to Princeton’s Ferris Grant for Student Internships in Journalism.
My father took issue with the outfit: green felt slippers, a grease-blotched sweatshirt, checked men’s boxers, size XL.
The ensemble was nothing new, a weekend variation on my quarantine theme. But to my Frenchman of a father — staunch defender of collared shirts at mealtimes — it was unacceptable.
His line: What if something goes wrong, and you’re stuck on the side of the road somewhere, waiting for car help, wearing that?
Mine, served with a side of eyeroll: Get over yourself — nothing will go wrong.
Here are some things I can do flawlessly: juggle, unicycle, juggle on a unicycle. Put on a New York accent. Make quiche. Glare. Three months scooping ice cream off the coast of France taught me to make a perfect whipped-cream swirl. From three months of overpriced driver’s ed? I learned to trash-talk Tom Brady. So, some things I do poorly: shift, merge, exit roundabouts. Drive, generally.
When an icon, orange and ominous, lit up with a ping on my dashboard, self-sufficiency flew out the window. I pulled over and dialed my parents. “The tires,” my father said.
The mechanic was busy. “And besides,” he said, “coronavirus.”
Then, in my rear-view mirror appeared eight masked middle-aged men, beards and paunches formidable, on motorcycles.
Did I need help? I did. Well, if I’d back up six feet they’d have me on my way in no time. Which they did. I thanked them, and, liberally Purelled, entered Massachusetts.
Here I had a close encounter with a compost bin, stalled twice in Boston, and almost caused a ruckus at the Orleans rotary before arriving in Provincetown, where, to the ire of my neighbors, I parked the wrong way in our lot.
But here I am, parked correctly, suitcases unpacked, my excitement to be writing for the Independent unparalleled. I’m better on two wheels than I am on four; anyone care to lend me a bike?
George C. Marshall High School, Class of 2021. Video news production, speech and debate, volleyball.
A bumpy ride to Truro is something of a tradition for my family. When we came from the Czech Republic or Vietnam or Hawaii, there were 3 a.m. cab rides and airport sprints on tight layovers. When my dad was a kid, the trip meant being stuffed into the back of a Chevy Suburban for 10 hours with four younger siblings and a few cats. Going back even further, my ancestor John Howland spent 66 miserable days aboard the Mayflower. He was thrown overboard during a gale and managed to survive by grabbing a trailing rope.
It seems as though a pattern of disruption and incommodiousness can be found in my genetics. Finally old enough to make the drive myself, I wondered what my own contributions to that legacy would be.
But the strangest thing about the journey was how very normal everything looked. Children fought over toys in back seats, and every roadside Starbucks had a drive-through line wrapped around the building. It isn’t until you notice that, in the car next to you, a kitschy dashboard ornament has been replaced by a mask, dangling by its strap from the rearview mirror, that you’re reminded everything is different.
I drove past the 24-hour diner in Connecticut that my dad has stopped at on every road trip since he was a kid. I couldn’t afford to have any wacky adventures. Those are for the times when the world isn’t abnormal enough on its own.
Tufts University, Class of 2022, studying political science, English, civic studies. Here with thanks to the school’s Tisch Summer Fellows program.
It took me weeks to come to the conclusion that my internship with the Provincetown Independent should start with a nonstop flight from Honolulu. If we were going to be working mostly remotely, maybe I could log onto Zoom meetings at 4 a.m. for the summer.
At my hometown airport, the demeanor of the TSA agents is not differentiated from the laid-back culture of the islands. Nothing about them seemed to be overly worried, although outgoing travelers had an air of timidity, seeming apologetic and even guilty for taking a trip.
The gate was teeming with people. As I tried to plan how I would stand at the right distance from others, a stream of people exited the aircraft I was about to board, directed by police officers to queue up. The line extended the length of the terminal, with no social distancing taking place. These people were waiting to fill out paperwork agreeing to the terms of their mandatory two-week self-quarantine, punishable by state law if not observed.
The Boeing 737, with 33 rows of three seats on each side, had all middle seats unoccupied. But the boarding process was still an awkward morphing of bodies in too-small spaces, making all efforts to socially distance seem futile.
In Seattle, where I was for a four-hour layover, one group of young women stood out — was it really a bachelorette party?
The contradictions along the way left me befuddled and aware in a way that perhaps we all are: what exactly is necessary for us to carry on our lives in a safe manner?
West Frankfort, Illinois
Harvard University, Class of 2022, studying social studies and Russian. Here with thanks to the Harvard Club of Cape Cod.
My journey to the Outer Cape began in the parking lot of a rural health clinic in the village of Goreville, Ill., where a nurse gave me a painless finger prick and, 10 minutes later, some peace of mind. There have been only 19 confirmed Covid-19 cases and no deaths in Johnson County (population 12,000), near where I’m from.
As we awaited our results, the nurse informed us that she was “anxious to see a positive test,” and that contact tracing is a ploy by big government to get its hands on our bank statements. Maybe to her dismay, neither of us tested positive for a past or present case.
I would next drive 14 hours to New York to stay with a friend and her family for a few days before making my way to the Cape. They had been strictly quarantined since mid-March. I would be the first nonrelative in their apartment since the crisis began, and I took that responsibility seriously. We decided that throughout my all-day journey I would not enter any indoor public spaces, which left me repurposing my McDonald’s cups and looking for shady parking lot corners.
In some ways it was another unspectacular day in quarantine: I chatted with my friends from school on the phone, listened to several hours of podcasts. My back ached.
Somewhere around New Haven I realized that Provincetown probably wouldn’t resemble my pre-corona daydreams. But on a journey from one quarantine site to another, I found myself newly thrilled by the once commonplace feeling of going somewhere.