KEY WEST AND KENDALLVILLE — My Key West Cab driver arrived 10 minutes early. I happened to glance out the window at 9:20 a.m. Monday and noticed the large Key West Cab van in front of Dad’s house and hurried to gather up my stuff.
“You’re early!” I said to the driver, a weathered, solid-looking man. In retrospect, he had a sea-faring look.
“There’s nothing better to do,” he replied, with an accent I later learned was from New Zealand.
I enjoy cab drivers’ stories. I think they are mostly true.
This cab driver lives on his boat. But unfortunately both his boat and his girlfriend are in Cuba. So he is staying with friends in Key West until he flies to Cuba — probably this week — to bring his boat home. His girlfriend will remain in Cuba. She is Cuban and recovering from a hysterectomy. She will have another mastectomy and then reconstructive surgery. He said Cuba has good health care and her hysterectomy scar is tiny.
Of course, the whole conversation kept circling back to coronavirus. He has a friend in Milan, Italy, originally from Malta, who has the virus and is deeply depressed, distraught, anguished. The woman is isolated in her home, very sick with the coronavirus but getting better, but her boyfriend who was much older, in his 80s, died of the coronavirus last week.
The cab driver then said he has a friend who works at a hospital in Philadelphia; his friend in Philadelphia said three to four elderly people die in the hospital of flu every day.
We talked about restaurants and schools and everything being closed. He said a lot of rent bills won’t be paid at the beginning of the month. Spring break season is a vital time in Key West. He said what I already knew: Many workers live paycheck to paycheck. In Key West, now is the time when workers and businesses are supposed to be generating the spring break dollars that help them survive during the lean months.
It is only a short ride from my dad’s house to the Key West airport. Just a few miles but several long stoplights and waits for left hand turns.
He told me he googled “safest places to be” and Key West is on the list. I wanted to take him at his word.
Later I tried, but I could not independently verify that.
Nonetheless, I felt better as I left the cab and headed for Indiana, leaving Dad, the publisher emeritus of this newspaper; our son Paul and other people I love in “one of the safest places to be.”
As expected, the Key West airport was quieter than usual. After checking in, I sat down, at an approximately adequate social distance, and got out my hand sanitizer. It was a new bottle of sanitizer, an off-brand that had been in the “goodie bag” I got for competing in an illuminated Key West walk/run 5K last December. (My first event of that type; it is supposed to be annual. I hope I can participate again next year.)
I couldn’t get the lid to flip up, so I unscrewed the cap and before I knew it, I had a handful of sanitizer. I put it all over my hands and part of my forearm; a generous amount remained so I spread it also on my phone before I began typing in my notes.
The sanitizer was quick drying. For the first time, ever, I believe my phone was germ free or, more realistically, potentially almost germ free.
My flight to Atlanta was not full. The flight attendants wore rubber gloves when they served the drinks and snacks. Many passengers refused them.
On the announcement system, a flight attendant (or maybe the captain) asked that people please not form a line for the lavatory.
Before I left Kendallville last week for my trip to check on Dad, I found a book that has been in our house for years: “In the Wake of the Plague” by Norman F. Cantor. That was my airport/airplane reading book. My other book, which I left with Dad, was short stories from The Moth Radio Hour. As I said in my column Saturday, Dad and I have grown to love The Moth stories so that’s why I left the book with him, with permission from my friend Julia Nixon, who loaned it to me three years ago and said “no hurry” about getting it back.
How the plague book came to our bookshelves I am not sure. I may have bought it at wonderful Summer’s Stories, formerly an important part of Kendallville’s Main Street, or maybe someone loaned it to me and we both forgot about it. Anyway, I put my name in it, in case I lost it during travel.
Cantor, a Canadian American, died in Miami in 2004. His online biography says his books were “among the most widely read treatments of medieval history in English.”
The chapters explore how the “Black Death” originated, spread, affected people — from richest to poorest — of the time (14th century Europe) and impacted the centuries that followed.
Estimates are that the Black Death, coupled with anthrax, took 20 million lives, about one third of Europe’s population.
I will share some of the interesting things from that book in Thursday’s column.
But, meanwhile, now and every day, let’s aim to focus on the beauty in life, sunrises and sunsets, smiles and the flowers that can be found on a walk.
GRACE HOUSHOLDER is a columnist and editorial writer for this newspaper. Contact her at email@example.com.