This is the 10th installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.
Let’s get granular here: My first memory of all this, the moment when the coronavirus got real before the world became unrecognizable, was the day Eric and I booked two tickets to Mexico.
We had been reading about the outbreak in China. Week after week, more and more people were on a mandated lockdown and of course that seemed crazy. We saw the videos of quarantined people in Wuhan waving and singing to each other from their balconies, and though these types of videos have since been faked, those first videos were real. The videos, images, the trickle of news stories, and the firsthand reports were all evidence that yeah, it was crazy: There was a disease on the other side of the world that was so contagious and threatening to the way of life in China, the government wouldn’t let people go outside.
But that was still the beginning of it all, and it did seem far away. (And we figured the Chinese government was probably seizing the opportunity to surveil its citizens for other reasons, right?) Besides, our lives hadn’t been particularly affected by the H1N1, SARS, or Mad Cow outbreaks, so there was no need to get too worked up. Our ambivalence was a luxury; a lot of people died in those outbreaks. But who could blame us for more or less shrugging off the occasional, ultimately contained outbreak? There’s a baseline belief that America will always shield us from widespread contagion so we can go about our lives. Everyone has real worry — the mortgage is late, the kid is sick, the job is lost — but contracting deathly diseases from birds or pigs or rats or bats? Not here, and thank God.
The virus kept spreading, though, and quickly. A writer we like a lot who posts well-researched, thoughtful longreads on timely topics posted a piece about an encroaching problem due to the scale of this new virus. He was concerned about a disruption in the supply chain; specifically, the pharmaceutical one. As many of you have read (or knew already), much of the medicine we have in the U.S. is manufactured in China. Eric has chronic asthma and uses an inhaler regularly; I take several medications every morning to help out my guts and my brain. Everyone needs antibiotics at some point, and though its impossible to say the word “painkiller” without immediately being pegged as an opioid abuser, it is incontrovertibly true that there are times in our lives — hopefully very few — when we have blinding pain that Tylenol can’t touch. In other words, if these and other medicines we don’t (yet) need were not available, it would be bad.
Jokingly, Eric said, “Maybe we should go to Mexico and stock up on some of this stuff.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, right.”
But he brought it up again the next day and this time he seemed serious.
I looked at him like he had come into the room dressed as a flamingo. To begin with, it sounded just slightly illegal. It was surprising to me that Eric would suggest breaking the law; the only crime my husband has ever committed was stealing my heart — hey-o! I told him I did not particularly to go to federal prison for international drug trafficking, dear, and furthermore, taking medicine sourced from who-knows-where seemed unwise at best. Yes, if the article we read was right and the coronavirus would soon take down the manufacture and importation of critical pharmaceuticals from China, it would be wise to have a well-stocked medicine cabinet, and if it were legal and safe to go to Mexico and load up on reinforcements for ourselves and others who might need medicine in an emergency, I’d buy the tickets myself.
Several days later, we had Southwest confirmation numbers. In about two weeks, we would be on a flight from Las Vegas* to San Jose del Cabo.
What Eric already knew I learned through hours of research online. It is in fact legal for a person to purchase a three months’ supply of most (not all) prescription medications in Mexico. As long as it’s for “personal use” as legally defined, you are allowed to buy medicine and bring it home. Apparently, a whole lot of non-shady people do this on a regular basis. Certain drugs in the States that are astonishingly expensive can be purchased in other countries at a fraction of the cost and many of them are easier to get, anyway. Well, okay, I thought, but it still sounded like something out of Breaking Bad. How could a person be sure the medicine was safe?
On this topic, there were several things to consider. For one thing, my assumption that prescription drugs in Mexico weren’t safe was full-on prejudiced. Yeah, there are places in Mexico that are essentially lawless and should be avoided at all costs: Juarez, with its murderous gangs and pitch black market, is considered one of the most dangerous places in the entire world and a good deal of other border towns aren’t much nicer. But Mexico just happens to have other things going on, Mary Fons, as the good people of Oaxaca, Mexico City, and Cartagena, for example, will (icily) inform you. There are grocery stores, schools, theaters — and pharmacies — in Mexico, just there are here in good ol’ ‘Merica. Any boob that crosses into Tijuana at the end of a long night of partying and hits up the first farmacia they find to score Xanax (or whatever) is absolutely at risk of being fleeced for meds that are probably nothing more than sugar pills. But the vast majority of Mexicans are like the vast majority of Americans: People who need medicine when they’re sick. Frankly, I was ashamed that I had painted an entire country with such a broad brush; if nothing else came of all this, uncovering that gross bias was important.
So tickets were purchased. We’d be staying in San Jose del Cabo, a mid-sized city where people live and work. We wouldn’t be stepping a toe in Cabo San Lucas, aka Spring Break Cabo, where college kids guzzle buckets of rum from plastic cups and swim in STIs when they’re not swimming in the ocean. We’d be in the city three days and three nights, and I set about looking for a hotel. As I clicked through our options, my anxiety began to give way to excitement. There were really pretty hotels down there and it suddenly dwned on me that for the first time in my entire life, I had the opportunity to get acquainted with wildly exotic words like “lounge” and “poolside” and “deck chair” — in the middle of a Chicago winter. Beyond that, by the time the trip rolled around, I would be done with a three-month work marathon that included writing, editing, and going to press for Quiltfolk’s South Carolina issue (which ships to subscribers this week and is freakin’ gorgeous); debuting two new lectures at QuiltCon; planning Quiltfolk Nevada (!) and traveling for 11 days straight to get the content. No one is entitled to a vacation but … okay, I felt entitled to a damn vacation, even if it involved a mission that still made me feel like I might be called to the principal’s office.
But Eric and I never got to Cabo. A matter of hours before we were to leave, we aborted the trip. In the next installment, I’ll share the rather dramatic story of how that went down; we are all painfully aware of the reasons why it did.
*We’ll get to the Vegas part.