First Hand Look at Fly-Over Country

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Watching America get back on it’s feet is a bit like watching a baby take it’s first steps; there’s wobbly unsteadiness overcome by sheer determination. There are falls and missteps, moments you’re compelled to do what you can to help. But above all that, there’s a joyfulness that makes your heart welcome life in all it’s potential.

Most of us have been locked away so long we’re unsure how different the life we’ve been force to live varies from our fellow countrymen somewhere else. On top of that, we’re uncertain what constitutes getting back to normal. I’m on the road right now, having just traveled through four fly-over states in the heart of our nation and was fascinated by how each state approaches the simple but necessary task of shopping.

On Sunday I ventured out from my Northern New Mexico home, making my way through Colorado, over to Wyoming, and then into South Dakota. Any 900 mile trek like this requires stopping for food, gas, and even a little shopping just to break up the monotony. Shopping provides an opportunity to observe how folks in other states are living their post-COVID lives.

By far the most “back to normal” state is South Dakota, which might not be fair to say since they didn’t wig out as much as the other states during the crisis. Since arriving in South Dakota, I’ve gone shopping at several big box stores and multiple local stores. No one seems to be wearing face masks, there are no hall monitors at entrances metering people, and all aisle are bi-directional. Actually, the aisles have direction arrows but everyone ignores them. The only way to notice there is/was a pandemic is by the lack of tourist scurrying around the Black Hills like ants on a watermelon rind. Hotels are vacant, the price of gas is reasonable, and the road to Mount Rushmore is pleasantly not choked off by RVs driving twenty mph below the speed limit while refusing to pull over.

The most draconian state is New Mexico, where facemasks are still required to grocery shop or be out in public. Stores in NM have COVID police at both the entrance and exits, which have to be separate, to make sure you’re legally costumed to be in public. So much of New Mexico is closed that a collective depression has settled in the air draining the life from what’s always been a welcoming land of optimistic people.

Colorado was the tweener, in-between lockdown New Mexico and free range South Dakota. Nicholas and I stopped in Denver at the Ikea store to return cabinet components I didn’t use for my COVID kitchen project. We got there to discover a Disney-like line wrapping around the outside of the store and snaking all through the covered parking area. There were multiple security guards guiding vehicles to COVID safe parking spots.

The sight of this line caused me to quickly decide my desire to return merchandise was not worth the wait, but while turning my pickup around, a security officer informed me there was a separate line for returns that was much shorter. After a five minute wait, followed by the most bizarre merchandise return process known to man, we were inside the store shopping. When asked about facemask requirements, we were told that “while not required, they were appreciated.”

We were hoping to eat at the cafeteria but it was closed. Luckily we anticipated this and brought Platski (Polish pancakes) with us. Traffic in Denver was as pleasant as I have ever experienced, with no road rage or people in a hurry to get somewhere. I guess not having anywhere to be has it’s benefits.

In Cheyenne, the fast food places were only open to drive through but the convivence stores were business as usual. I noticed a lot of locals gassing up power boats and jets skis so unlike NM, Wyoming lakes must be open and outdoor recreation encouraged.

Traveling through the different states at times felt like traveling through different countries. I guess I should be happy nobody asked to see my passport. After 900 miles of tranquil countryside roaring to life with green pastures, rivers raging with run-off, and livestock lazily lounging away their spring, I welcomed the special power of the West and confirmed, like I always do, why I could never trade the open sense of freedom I feel in the West for anything they offer back East.