AUGUSTA, GEORGIA (WPRI) ─ An escape to warmer weather to watch tennis in the California desert ended abruptly, sending a New England couple on an unexpected journey through the COVID-19 crisis.
Bob Sherman, an East Providence native who went to the University of Rhode Island, and his wife Kate are retired journalists who thought they’d seen everything.
“I was thinking about this earlier,” Sherman said during a pit-stop about two hours west of Atlanta. “I’ve lived through the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, all kinds of different crises. The civil rights movement. This is not like anything I’ve ever seen.”
The Indian Wells Masters tennis tournament in California’s Coachella Valley is an event the Shermans attend every year.
“We’re big tennis players,” Sherman said. “If you recall, that was the first major sporting event cancelled.”
Then the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced seniors shouldn’t fly — forcing a decision.
“So we looked for a way to get home after that,” Sherman said. “We rented a car and decided to make it an adventure.”
The Shermans also kept a journal of their adventure with pictures and a blog titled Too Old To Fly. The entries start with renting their car at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
“The airport was pretty empty,” Sherman wrote. “The smiling Hertz agent was unoccupied and happy to help. Everyone is leaving Palm Springs, she said. No one is flying in.”
As they drove toward their Vermont farm, their four sons watched with anxiety.
Target 12 investigative reporter Eli Sherman is their youngest.
“I guess it’s a bit of a mixed emotion,” he said. “On the one hand he’s trying to keep it light. But each day, the news changes. Rules become a bit more strict.”
With more miles on Interstate 20 behind them, the Shermans’ concerns grew as the virus spread.
“By the time we got to Texas,” Bob Sherman said. “There were signs all over the highway about washing your hands and social distancing.”
When the crisis intensified, they decided against going to roadside restaurants, instead sheltering in place — in the car.
“It’s very easy to quarantine in the front seat of a Nissan,” Bob Sherman said. “So that’s what we did.”
He kept driving and writing about the ordeal with troubling questions about what a national lockdown would do to the roads they needed to get home.
“I’m watching them cross the country when each day there’s news coming out that makes it a little scarier,” Eli said. “But interesting to see this through the eyes of him and my mother.”
As the pandemic morphed and orders to self-quarantine increased, the desire to get to New England intensified.
“We’re worried about the roads being blocked if there’s a nationwide lockdown like there is in Northern California,” Sherman said. “What if we have to shelter in place in Georgia?”
By Thursday, they were in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where Sherman wrote up a possible conversation involving some “street toughs” debating whose gloved hand should open the door to a convenience store.
“This is life on the road in an age defined by a terrifying bug,” Sherman wrote about day six on the road. “Jack Kerouac must be turning in his grave.”
The two retired, veteran journos made it safely to their Vermont farm on Thursday, with a great story to recall while they hunkered down for as long as necessary.
“We have food there for a year, maybe more,” Sherman said. “It’s been a great trip on one level. We’ve seen a really good response in some states and met great people who we’ve talked to — from a socially responsible distance.”