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Thursday, October 21, 2021
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BlogOur summer road trip through mask-free red states

Our summer road trip through mask-free red states

My family decided to hit the open road the second that school let out. After having spent the majority of the year on Zoom, it was time to say, “Goodbye forever,” (I hope) to distance learning, and, “Hello,” to a more normal life, which we decided would begin with the most abnormal thing my husband and I have ever done…living in hotels and driving around the southwestern USA for a month with our three small kids.

Coming from California, one of the strictest states for COVID restrictions, moving through Nevada and Utah has been a culture shock in a way I never dreamed I could experience in the same country. There’s an air of “Screw you” to people who are still wearing masks. I should have expected as much. My relatives in Arizona (the next state we’ll be visiting) have felt this way from the beginning. My aunt has scoffed at the fact that I am required to wear a mask everywhere and that our church was closed for the majority of the pandemic, proudly boasting that her church of thousands has been open almost the entire time and they go there mask-free.

I have felt myriad emotions when it comes to how California has dealt with the pandemic — the isolation being the primary thing that has affected my mental health, as well as the decision to keep schools closed for oh-so-long. But, the masks, the social distancing, these always made good sense to me and I was happy to comply…Well, if I’m being honest I was happy to comply when I was indoors. After I got my second vaccine and waited the obligatory two weeks, you can bet I wore that pin outside every chance I got, mask-free even though the mask requirement hadn’t yet been lifted. But, that was my most rebellious act in terms of not complying with regulations, and even then I felt exposed and judged out in the elements with my bare naked face. 

That a rain of judgment would fall on me just for wearing my mask never occurred to me before we came to Utah. In Nevada, it seemed like a 60/40 split at stores — some people wearing masks, some not, and everyone seeming respectful. My kids were unbelievably confused. Why wasn’t everyone in a mask? Why weren’t we all social distancing?


My husband and I did our best to explain that the pandemic is (hopefully…) ending and that life is slowly changing and going back to normal. My second and third born, I imagine, have no idea what “normal” means, as they are 5 and 4 and probably have little to no memories of life before the pandemic. This is all they’ve known to be normal. But we’ve talked endlessly over the past few months about the utopian world of “When coronavirus ends”:

“When coronavirus ends, we’re going to go to the movie theater!” “When coronavirus ends, you can have a birthday party!” And of course, “When coronavirus ends, we’ll stay in a hotel.” Well, now we’re staying in a hotel. Does that mean “coronavirus is ending”? Has it ended? 

The only sign that we are still living in a COVID-era world here in Utah was that masks were mandatory on the shuttle bus through Zion National Park. Even there, some people on the bus were visibly angry, wearing their masks below their noses or only on one ear to prove that they’re not happy with being forced to comply. Hey! They’re ‘Murican, and ain’t nobody gonna tell them how to live their lives! 

I have seen no one at all in Milpitas (that I know) who has been openly defiant of the mask requirement. Republicans and Democrats alike have been following the mandates placed upon us. Granted, many of the Milpitas Republicans I know are from India, without the stubborn “every man for himself” attitude that many Americans seem to have. 

When the news shows people conflicting information and makes mask-wearing a politically charged topic, in Republican states it seems that to wear a mask is to call yourself a Democrat. “News” from Fox’s Tucker Carlson back in October 2020 said “The Cult of Mask Wearing Grows with No Evidence They Actually Work.” The cult?! Geez. If I watched and believed Fox News headlines, I know I wouldn’t wear a mask. After all, I sure don’t want to be part of a cult…

Maybe, I mean probably, we’re all just a product of our environment. People over here just can’t understand people over there, and people over there just can’t understand people over here. It’s a tale as old as time. Should we hate each other over it? Nah. I mean, I don’t think so. But maybe that’s because it’s the end of the pandemic and it looks like everything is going to be OK. 

Meanwhile, I thought the reopening of California was going to be hard to wrap my head around, but now that I seem to be fully acclimated to life in Utah, I am more than ready to come home to it.

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Vanessa Dueck
Vanessa Dueck is a Milpitas resident training for the USA 2024 Olympic Marathon trials.

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