I have lived in the Roaring Fork valley of western Colorado for 42 years. I got my start as a coal miner at Snowmass Coal on Thompson Creek outside of Carbondale. In the mines you dealt with potential death every day. With the COVID-19 threat it is about the health and lives of loved ones — not just family but neighbors, community and those exposed on the front line.
When this invisible threat first came about, I was living in a motorhome with my black lab, Tucker, in Los Angeles going to UCLA for screenwriting. Tucker and I arrived on Jan. 13, 2020 and started classes the same night.
When I arrived at UCLA that first night, I frantically searched for my building, not wanting to be late for my first class. Numerous giant historic buildings, on 400 acres, lighted the night sky.
I was overwhelmed by thousands of students coming and going. I asked for directions but everyone seemed as lost as I was. I remember listening to the radio on the trip out about a virus in China, but that had nothing to do with me, I thought.
I found my building with the help of a kind security guard who saw the desperation in an older man’s eyes. I was excited to be back in school and that I had been accepted into an advanced screen-writing class at such a renowned school.
As I made my daily commute I would tune in to NPR for updates on the virus. The following week all you heard on every station was the virus.
We had a case in Santa Clarita, which was close to where I was living, but life continued on as normal. I got a gym membership, joined some Meet Up writers’ groups and visited old friends. Many of my fellow students were from abroad and they shared news of the spread of the virus into their countries.
I noticed there were fewer people going to the gym. The owner recommended I use sanitizer before and after each workout because of the virus threat.
Unexpectedly, on March 10, we were informed that the entire UCLA campus was shutting down immediately and our class would be one of the last ones that night. I left class at 10 p.m. and wandered through a dark, empty, eerie campus feeling this COVID-19 thing was bigger that I had imagined.
I talked with my neighbors at the RV park who were considering escaping California before a rumored “stay in place” order happened. I started seeing grocery store shelves emptied overnight.
I wasn’t so concerned about the virus, at that point, but I was very concerned about 10 million hungry people. Stories spread of fist fights breaking out at Costco and Sam’s Club as people started hoarding. Gas stations had long lines. I felt it was time to head home to the safety of the mountains.
I packed up the RV and loaded my car onto my trailer. A big storm had just passed to the east so I knew I’d have to battle snow. My last task to finish before I escaped was to go back into the city to get my cougar tattoo finished by a well-known tattoo artist. I had waited 6 weeks to get an appointment with him.
In retrospect it probably wasn’t one of my smarter decisions. Nobody knew just how big this event would become as rumors ran from “this will be over in a week” to “doomsday.”
I was somewhere in the middle.
I hit the road the next day and the radio reported a “stay in place” order had just gone into effect in California. I was relieved that I was on the road and close to the Nevada line.
I hit heavy rains in Vegas and decided to spend the night. Every hotel, casino and most restaurants were closed. I parked and listened to police sirens scream throughout the night. The bad guys were busy. I didn’t get much sleep.
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I hit the road early the next morning and made it to Mesquite. I stopped to fuel up and get propane in case I got stuck in the storm. Numerous travelers were at the truck stop and panic buying was in full swing.
The severity of the situation finally struck me; everyone was scared. I loaded up with extra dog food and water.
It was slow going but I finally made it to Beaver, Utah. I stopped for the night because of heavy snow. The RV office was closed but a little 80-year-old woman was taking money from a small camper at the park.
I did my first Zoom event with friends that night. It was comforting to see and hear them. The next day I battled the storm and made it to Grand Junction. My adult children were happy to hear I was close to home.
I knew it would be best not to see them until I had at least two weeks of quarantine. I desperately wanted to go visit, get a hug and see that they and my grandchildren were OK. Instead I stayed at a local RV park in Glenwood.
After two weeks I got to see my son’s family and watch my grandson take his first step! Moving to Colorado, at the age of 19, was the best decision I ever made in my life.
I hope this event will change the world for the better so my grandchildren and yours have a future not filled with fear of what’s next. Even from a distance somehow, the virus is bringing us closer together.
Zoom has become the new normal. I hope life doesn’t return to the “old normal” once this is over but instead that we might create a better, new way of life. Localized economies, less international travel, more small business (especially farms), less air travel — and maybe we even bring back the faithful, slower train. Let our new superstars be ordinary people who do extraordinary things.
If not now, when?
Robert Cordova lives in Carbondale.
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