It’s not often you get to introduce someone to America for the very first time, and in the beginning I thought it all went rather well. Our teenaged goddaughter Ana arrived from Europe after an East Coast stopover, and she seemed gobsmacked to discover the West Coast is so . . . Western.
We took her to Nicasio, an old rancher’s roadhouse among the dairy farms and cattle pastures, where a live band belted out rhythm & blues. We had to explain everything from the jackalope head above the bar to what Billie Joe MacAllister threw off the Tallahatchie Bridge. Her eyes were like saucers.
Doubling down on the Western theme, we went to Rich’s sister’s ranch, where Ana saw longhorn cattle, met the family horses, and rode the ranch cart around wide open spaces. There was even a brief encounter with a cowboy — Stetson, spurs, silver belt buckle, the whole megillah. You’d have thought we’d introduced her to a Martian. “A real cowboy,” she said in awe. “I didn’t think they existed.”
It was about this time that I began to get just a teeny bit concerned about my tickly throat. I always assume it’s just allergies, and it usually is, but just to be on the safe side, I’d taken a Covid home test before heading to Rich’s sister’s ranch. Negative. Whew! And yet after we got home, I started to feel kind of funky. Next morning I tested again. I think you can all guess where this is heading.
After two years and two months of keeping this particular wolf at bay, it finally bit me. Damn. Of course, testing positive now, after double vaxxing and double boosting, doesn’t hold the same terrors it would have two years ago, or even last summer. I counted myself lucky. Yes, I was sick, but it was no worse than many a respiratory infection from my past, with the addition of the muzzy-headedness known as Covid fog.
I decided to reconfirm with an official test, available at the pop-up hut around the corner. All I had to do was make an appointment online. Easier said than done! The form took forever: symptoms, insurance, credit card, photos of Medicare card, how many of my library books were currently overdue … OK, maybe not that last one, but just about everything else they could imagine. I filled it out five times, and it kept kicking back, insisting I couldn’t pay for the rapid test I wanted because I had Medicare.
“This makes no sense. Must be my Covid fog,” I told Rich.
“Let me try.” Two minutes later he was back. “You have an appointment in two hours.”
“How did you do it?”
“I lied. I told them you didn’t have Medicare.” The man’s a genius.
I masked up, shuffled around the corner, and presented myself at the hut. I was coughing and sneezing so badly I could tell the medical technician was thinking, “Why bother, honey? I can tell from here how this is going to come out.” But we went through the ritual and reconfirmed my positive status.
My husband and house guest sensibly decided it was time for a road trip. In an excess of caution they wore masks and kept the car windows open as they rolled across the Golden Gate Bridge and meandered around San Francisco, giving Ana her first glimpse of the city. Rich navigated Lombard Street, “the crookedest street in the world,” and showed off such famous landmarks as Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, and Alcatraz before stopping at a taco truck for lunch.
“What did Ana think of San Francisco?” I asked him later.
“She was excited and enthusiastic about everything. Kept shouting ‘Wahoo!’”
Ana may have loved her San Francisco tour, but she wasn’t keen to spend more time at our place — or as we were beginning to refer to it, the Plague House. By a stroke of enormous good fortune, she had friends in the area who, learning of her plight, offered her safe haven. She took off, and who could blame her?
Meanwhile, I began taking the antiviral Paxlovid, said to reduce Covid’s severity and duration. Did it help? Who can really tell? All I know is I’m getting better. The main side effect is a strange, persistent, metallic taste in my mouth. After rigorous yet totally unscientific testing, I’ve determined that that the best way to offset the yucky taste, if only briefly, is by eating graham crackers. I pass it along for what it’s worth.
And then Rich tested positive.
As deeply sorry as I was to hear it, my life perked up considerably. Rich and I no longer had to mask up around each other or sleep in separate rooms, and instead of being banished to the bedroom, I now had free run of the house and garden. My germs could do no further harm to him or anyone else. As we’d notified everyone in our orbit of my illness, nobody was coming within a mile of us.
After a few miserable days, Rich felt somewhat better. His biggest complaints? A sore throat, for which he is taking copious amounts of lemon sorbet, and the metallic taste caused by the Paxlovid, for which he takes yet more lemon sorbet. It’s a tough regimen, but he’s bearing up manfully.
Rich also had some Covid fog, which is why I was a bit worried when he decided we ought to use this time productively and fill out our absentee ballots for the upcoming election. They’d just arrived by email, and we opened them up and did our best to make sense of them.
It took us hours to study the list of candidates, find the candidate statements online, read them, read them again because we’d already lost the thread, and then go over them once more. We studied the photos, made snarky remarks, read the candidate statements a final time, and picked someone. Then we’d move on to the candidates for the next public office. At the end I said, “So, we’ve voted for Obama for president and Nixon for dog catcher. I think that went rather well.”
Two days ago we started feeling strong enough to go for short, slow walks around the neighborhood, heavily masked and taking good care not to get within thirty feet of anyone.
“Shouldn’t we be ringing a bell and shouting, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ — you know, like medieval lepers?” I asked.
“Not with my sore throat.”
Rich and I are slowly getting better, but this morning’s home tests confirmed that neither of us is out of the woods yet. Ana is off on her next adventure — an internship on an organic farm. It’s not far away, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing her or anyone else any time soon. For now, we’re puttering around the house and garden, reading, trying to find something on Netflix we haven’t seen three times, and waiting it out.
So that’s the story of my week. How was yours?
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I'm an American travel writer living in Seville, Spain and my home state of California. I travel the world seeking eccentric people, quirky places, and wacky food so I can have the fun of writing about them here.
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Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
#1 Amazon Bestseller in Tourist Destinations, Travel Tips, Gastronomy Essays, and Senior Travel