Writing a blog about theater during a pandemic is proving to be, shall we say, a bit limiting. So allow me a little break to talk about my vacation. Hardly worthy of the name, it was just a three-day driving trip through rural Virginia and West Virginia — to visit a few Civil War historical sites, see some parts of the country I’ve never seen before, and just decompress.
Being a tourist during a pandemic, of course, is also challenging. The Robert E. Lee Chapel and Museum, in Lexington, Va., where the Confederate general’s crypt resides, is closed to the public, thanks to Covid 19. Several buildings on the grounds of the Appomattox courthouse were also off limits — though enough were still open to make the visit worthwhile. After a night in Morgantown, West Virginia (where there are no statues of Confederate generals, but one of favorite son Don Knotts), I wound up in Gettysburg, Pa. The visitor center, once again, was closed (not Covid; just its usual day off), but all I needed was a map for an inspiring self-guided tour of the battlefield where Lincoln delivered his famous address.
The main thing I took away from the trip, however, had less to do with American history than with the current state of the nation. I was frankly a little nervous about taking the trip — about safety, of course, but also about how this blue-state New Yorker, toting an arsenal of face masks, hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes, might be viewed in Trump country.
The surprise was how comfortable I felt. Everywhere I went, people were just as cautious and respectful of the virus as I was. Masks were ubiquitous; I can honestly say I did not see a single person in any building I entered (motel, convenience store, fast-food joint) who wasn’t wearing one. Signs everywhere admonishing “No mask, no entry.” Motel clerks cheerfully complying with my sheepish request for a room that had not been occupied the night before. For all the Trumpian disinformation, resistance marches, and biker rallies, what I found were people who were taking the virus seriously, on board with the precautions, doing what needs to be done. It was reassuring, and heartening.
So where’s the anger? When I travel by car, I always listen to AM radio. It’s the quickest way to get a sense of the local vibe: the country music, the religious stations, the community news and farm reports. But of course, what you mostly get these days is right-wing talk radio. Not just Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, but a host of lesser loudmouths whose names I don’t even remember, all of them spouting the same angry party line: Beware the radical socialist Democrats, who hate this country, want to take away your freedoms, will destroy the economy, and are bent on turning this country into a communist dictatorship.
This line of attack — so clearly devised by the Trump/Fox News politburo — has struck me from the get-go as oddly dated and desperate. In the McCarthy 1950s, the anti-Communist fear mongering at least had more relevance and plausibility. Today it seems entirely manufactured, even nonsensical. (Remind me: just which President is cozying up to the former KGB agent trying to resuscitate the former Soviet Union?) But it seemed even more disconnected when set against the benign heartland reality that I was experiencing. Mine was only a brief, three-day excursion through a small slice of red-state America. But what I encountered was a “silent majority” quietly toughing it out, pulling together, seeing the reality of our current health crisis and dealing with it.
Which makes me wonder exactly who is out of touch here.