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Opinion: Our mask-wearing road trip across a battered America

February 20, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 20.1%. 2 min read.

Sandy Tolan writes about his family road trip -- what they noticed and reflected on during this time of political division and Covid-19 -- from California to Florida with his wife to pick up their 11-year-old son.

(CNN)In January, as Covid cases spiked in California, refrigerated morgue trucks rolled into Los Angeles, ICUs overflowed, oxygen supplies depleted and full ambulances waited in lines for hours, my wife, Andrea, and I faced a dilemma.

The two of us had spent Christmas in Tucson, and planned to drive home to Los Angeles, but our 11-year-old son was in Florida with his biological dad.

Andrea had a plane ticket to bring Wyatt back.

And so on January 18 we embarked on the strangest of American road trips, crossing eight states and back, 6,000 miles in 18 days: a surreal and spectacular journey, sure to reveal truths about our battered nation, our resilient people, and ourselves.

A cloudless day, soon to warm; a good day for traveling east into Texas.

Andrea began to record a video for Wyatt.

We came upon a pickup truck hauling a horse trailer: "WYATT," read the sign on the trailer, reminding us of our son, the reason for our drive.

Quietly, Rascal climbed onto Andrea's lap, then slunk down to the floor at her feet, staring up at me with worried black eyes as I squinted through the thick mist.

Tense, exhausting days like this are unavoidable in a quick trip cross country.

"There seemed to be a mutual desire to keep things gentle," Andrea observed — a modestly encouraging sign.

We sped down a two-lane blacktop into East Texas on day nine.

We passed miles of Christmas tree plantations, a topsoil farm, logging trucks, American flags, Trump signs and Confederate flags.

We reached the old town square, built in 1573 — nearly 450 years ago, and fully two centuries before the American revolution.

"Why did we only learn about the pilgrims?" Andrea asked.

Tonight, a socially distanced dinner with Andrea's family, in town by chance.

On the morning of day 12, we stopped at a Cuban breakfast counter by the sea, getting takeout empanadas and croquetas, listening to the easy banter of old men.

Wyatt and Andrea got stuck and returned to shore.

Five more days.

We crossed the Mississippi in a hard rain, spanned bridges over vast estuaries, passing New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and through the bowels of a fossil fuel economy: gas flares, petroleum tank farms, tankers loading oil for China and the Far East.

On day 14, we were driving through pale green hills spotted with mesquite and cherry laurel into cutesy, charming Fredericksburg, Texas: lined with coffee shops, candy sellers, Hill Country wineries, barbecue joints, and plenty of places to get schnitzel.

I went online to teach my USC class while Andrea went out with Wyatt, who was in the white Stetson Andrea had found him in Tombstone, for their adventures with the ranch puppies, goats and donkeys.

"Where y'all from?" the Trump-hat rancher asked Andrea.

"California, but don't hold it against us," Andrea half-joked.

Down an arrow-straight road, we passed the derricks, pumping jacks and man camps of the West Texas oil patch, then crossed into New Mexico.

"I swear I'm never going to have another Red Bull as long as I live," Andrea said.

"We're home, Rascal," Andrea said.

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