Kevin Wilson has gotten used to the nursery rhymes blasting through his car stereo. It’s a small price to pay for his sanity.
Since Maryland implemented a stay-at-home order last month in an attempt to slow the outbreak of the coronavirus, the Laurel resident has established a new pastime: He and his wife pack their 17-month-old son and their dog into their Toyota Rav4 and just drive. The family, with tunes to soothe their child in the back seat, cruise around until they find an empty park to stretch their legs.
The drives, which started as a way to escape the house, now have turned into a near-daily routine.
“He was running in circles,” Mr. Wilson said of his son’s behavior at home. “It was like, ‘OK, we’ve got to get out of here. The walls are closing in. It’s time to go.’”
The Wilsons’ activity isn’t uncommon. Around the country, people have resorted to using their cars in unconventional ways, including taking rides to kill time and experiencing church in a whole new light. It’s just one of the ways people are fighting the feeling of being trapped inside while trying their best to abide by social distancing guidelines.
Needing to get out
Lou Venturi has lost track of what day it is. The elementary school teacher in Nashville, Tennessee, has been stuck at home for more than a month. When he is not prepping virtual lessons for his students, he is taking care of his three children, ages 6, 4 and 1.
Now he has found a consistent way to relax. Mr. Venturi cherishes the family moments inside his three-row Volkswagen SUV, with his children separated far apart, as they go through country roads or even around the block, Either way, the 37-year-old can just focus on the road ahead of him.
“As far as my wife and I go,” Mr. Venturi said, “it’s kind of therapeutic for us.”
Even short rides can be comforting. Mr. Venturi said he and his family recently took a 15-minute drive to visit his mother-in-law. They spent the entire visit inside the car and talked to her from a distance.
Other people go solo. Ivey West, a 40-year-old project manager for a health insurance company, lives alone in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and has started to hop onto the highway to drive “with no destination in sight.”
He uses that time to catch up on his podcasts.
“I need that distraction,” Mr. West said.
Breaking the rules?
Driving just to drive isn’t recommended everywhere. In Pennsylvania this month, a 19-year-old woman was given a $200 ticket for failing to abide by the state’s stay-at-home order.
Antia Shaffer told Penn Live that she had gone for a ride to just get out of her house when two state troopers stopped her.
“Troopers maintain discretion to warn or issue citations, and the decision is specific to the facts and circumstances of a particular encounter,” a Pennsylvania State Police spokesman told Penn Live.
Still, that seems to be an exception. In Virginia, state police have said they are neither making “random traffic stops on vehicles nor conducting checkpoints to determine if a driver is traveling for a permissible reason.” Maryland issued a similar statement.
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Although fewer cars are on the road, the Governors Highway Safety Association said in a release that state highway safety officials are “seeing a severe spike in speeding” across the country. On March 27, New York City’s automated traffic cameras issued 24,765 speeding tickets — nearly double the number from a month earlier, according to the association.
Some can’t help but get out.
Pete D’Abrosca, 27, said he has cruised around his North Carolina suburb partly out of curiosity. He said he wanted to see how empty the town really was and whether people were taking social distancing seriously. It was a nice change of pace from “watching another episode of God knows what on Netflix,” he said.
“It was relaxing, but at the same time, it was strange,” Mr. D’Abrosca said. “It was pretty quiet. … The volume of traffic is probably a quarter of what it is normally.”
For Easter, Ashley Greer took her 6-year-old daughter to church. Instead of going inside South Main Baptist Church in Pasadena, Texas, the two stayed in their car in the parking lot and listened to the sermon broadcast over a local radio station.
From a distance, Ms. Greer could see the pastor and the church’s musical director on a stage.
“It still brings that feeling of community, of still being connected with other believers,” she said.
Going to a drive-in church can provide the same level of comfort for some as driving aimlessly does for others. Both are ways to avoid feeling trapped.
Churches around the nation have adapted to hosting sermons in parking lots. In Ms. Greer’s case, the session was interactive. Cars honked in unison for “Amen” after their pastor said something wise. Ms. Greer and her daughter have even brought their own juice and bread to take Holy Communion together.
“When you’re sitting at home and you’re watching it via livestream, I mean it’s neat to still have that, but you’re sitting usually at home by yourself or your family,” she said. “If you’re sitting in a parking lot, you can see the people next to you or behind you and in front of you.
“You know that you’re all worshipping God together.”