The moment I knew Covid-19 was real: In Idaho, we had no potatoes
A friend from Italy pleaded with God into Instagram, but that was somewhere else.
It was March, and there were still zero reported cases in Idaho. We’d been planning this trip for months: my wife and in-laws and I would meet my parents in McCall, population around 3,000, where I spent summers at my grandparents’ house. A ski trip seemed so innocent, so secluded, the perfect antidote to the outset of a pandemic. We wanted to maintain normalcy and the trip had occupied our minds for weeks. A friend from Italy pleaded with God into Instagram, but that was somewhere else.
At the ski hill, blizzard conditions sent us in for an early lunch. There wasn’t an empty seat in the lodge. A folk band played in the corner. We finally grabbed some seats near the wall. We ordered sandwiches, and could see into the kitchen from our table. The line cook grabbed fistfuls of homemade potato chips with his bare hand from a stainless steel hotel pan and plated them. I laughed, because the cook is a friend.
“Exponential” means little on paper. Driving back to my grandparent’s house that afternoon, suddenly a dozen sickos dotted the cable news map of Idaho, like pock marks. Panic settled into the valley like a fog. About 27 percent of the state practices Mormonism, and a doomsday mentality pervades even the youth—larders full of canned goods and dried beans, enough for a month, are not only commonplace, but required. The pagans now followed suit, making runs on the two grocery stores in town.
A foolish thing, to assume your subsistence will continue—never considering the hundreds or thousands of other people moving those spuds around.
Empty produce bins confronted us at the market. The potatoes were gone. There were no potatoes. In Idaho, we had no potatoes. I always joked, “We actually grow more turnips. The potatoes are renowned for their quality.” But it never crossed my mind we’d not have potatoes. My Grandpa, at one point, was quite literally a potato inspector. A foolish thing, to assume your subsistence will continue—never considering the hundreds or thousands of other people moving those spuds around.
The next day, my friend from the lodge reached out. The resort had closed, the entire staff axed from their jobs, including Peruvian exchange workers now trapped in Idaho with no work. More panic. We needed to get back to our dog, our garden, what little of our lives remained operating in New York City. The roads deserted, the planes empty.
We landed at JFK, after eight hours at SeaTac—deserted, emptied, closed down. As we left the discomfort of hermetic security, smelling of bleach cleaner and ethyl alcohol, the reality again confronted us: massive ads for teleconference app Zoom appliquéd the walls. Social life moved online, fully, and the marketeers didn’t miss a beat.