Ralph Jimenez: A reunion in my backyard bubble

Monitor columnist
Published: 10/17/2020 1:02:00 PM


As seniors statistically at high risk, we have been prisoners of the pandemic, paroled out into the world for as long as we dare if masked and careful. I view the unmasked the way society once viewed lepers and retreat or change course if one comes near. An excess of caution? Perhaps. But the world is beautiful and I’m in no hurry to leave it.

As it has for many people in these fraught times, the virus came between my wife and I and our only child, an adult now living in a far-off state. We last saw him at Christmas, before COVID-19 altered life. We have been together now for a long visit, part of the same bubble, the space age term for those who share the same microbial environment. Here is how we did it. It won’t work for everyone. It’s expensive, though less costly than air travel and a modest vacation. Since recreational vehicles cannot be parked on Concord streets without police permission, it also requires a yard.

Our son is among the fortunate people who can work remotely. That meant that with preparations on our end he could stay long enough to make a two-day drive each way worth it. He packed a tent and camped along the way.

To prepare, we reserved an 18-foot RV. We went with a local business rather than using an Airbnb-type service that allows camper owners to rent their vehicles to minimize the potential for surprises. Rather than deal with insurance considerations with towing, we paid $100 each way to have the RV delivered, set up and picked up when no longer needed, which turned out to be sooner than we thought.

We ran an extension cord and garden hose from the house to the camper, which had a propane heater and stove. We ran the gray water from showering to a flower bed that sorely needed it. The cost came to about $150 per day for the camper but it allowed us to safely gather together outdoors for meals and socializing.

Our son arrived on a Sunday night. On Monday afternoon we went in separate cars to the state COVID testing site on Stickney Avenue. It’s on the left just before Concord’s bus station. We had no appointment but the line late in the afternoon, we were told, is short. The site is open from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. There were just three cars ahead of us. An extremely polite and friendly National Guardsman in mask and gloves instructed us to drop our drivers licenses in a plastic container. He logged the information and returned quickly. We were never asked for payment or insurance information. Testing was free.

We pulled forward and moments later a health worker approached, explained what he was about to do, asked that we tilt our heads back, and inserted a long swab far up into each nostril. It was tingly but not painful and took just seconds. We would get a text message from the diagnostic lab within three days with instructions on how to register online to get results, he said.

Meanwhile, our son worked from his office on the lawn, a screen house equipped with a chair, card table, lamp, unused kerosene heater and a 100-foot ethernet cable that snaked from the tent through the mail slot to the router.

No message arrived so on day four I called the state COVID-19 clearinghouse at 271-5980. “Don’t worry, I can give you your results. Just tell me your birthday,” a friendly voice said. I was negative. So, we soon found, were my wife and son. He moved back into the house and his old room that night. We got to hug.

Winter could make the strategy we used to get together difficult or even impossible but with luck, rapid, accurate testing will soon permit friends and family to gather safely again without making elaborate preparations that were unimaginable last year.

(Ralph Jimenez of Concord is a member of the Monitor’s editorial board.)

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