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Article Published June 11, 2020

Riding Route 1

By Juliana Gribbins/

What a long, strange trip to nowhere this has been. Like most of us on the shoreline, I’ve been staying put. My car voyages have been short and local. I’ve hardly even had to stop for gas. As I’m driving, I realize that the story of COVID-19 in our area can be told in trips down the strip of blue highway known as Route 1.

The story of the virus starts as the story of cars. Before lockdown, before a lot of us realize that COVID-19 is probably already in our neck of the woods, there is a mass migration to the supermarket. It’s like the day before a blizzard for about two weeks of days. People stock up on paper goods like there won’t be any left for months.

Well, they’re right. Because people stock up so furiously, stores run out of all kinds of things for a very long time. Parking lots and cars are full and so shelves end up empty. You can feel the stock-up frenzy in the air as people cut you off to get to Big Y.

Then come the signs. Signs, signs, everywhere signs. Shops closed, restaurants doing take-out only, libraries closed, business offices closed. As I drive down Route 1 on my way to work, I see them. White signs on dark doors.

In the beginning, the trees lining Route 1 are bare. It’s the tail end of a mild winter, but spring has yet to arrive. The trees still look skeletal and sad.

When the virus reaches its peak weeks later we are all ordered to hunker down. I do just that, only taking brief-as-possible trips to get necessities. There are almost no cars on the road with me. I like the idea of not being cut off or beeped at, but at the same time it feels terrible and eerie. No Branford Backup. No Guilford Gridlock. No Clinton Crawl. Parking lots lay flat and empty. White lines on dark pavement.

New signs emerge. On business fronts, lawns, and doors there are hearts. Hearts for the heroes who are working in essential professions who don’t get to hunker down and wait it out. There are signs saying “THANK YOU” and “We’re all in this together.” These signs are pinpricks of light during very dark days.

Small leaves start poking out of tree buds. Grasshopper green and fragile, they emerge as the virus fans out and spreads.

Then the state enters Phase 1 of reopening and traffic resumes quickly. While many are still sticking close to home, there are more cars on the road. Parking lots look more normally full and less from a scene in I Am Legend.

Signs announcing re-openings emerge alongside the hearts and the thank-you signs. Rules for shopping and dining are posted. “We’ve missed you!” signs are on business doors, encouraging people to come in. I’ve missed everyone and everything, too.

The trees that line Route 1 are now lush and full. Leaves seem to have exploded overnight. There’s shade on the sides of the road now, a canopy overhead.

We’re a long way from normal and this nasty disease is not done with us yet. But cars are back on the blacktop and businesses are slowly starting to gear up. Signs tell us that with care and caution we can browse again at our favorite gift shop, dine outside at our favorite restaurant. None of it feels like it did before the virus took hold. Not even close.

I’m still hunkering down and I will for a while, at least. But I do feel slightly better as I drive down Route 1 and take in the scenery. I love the cars. I love the hearts and the “We’re baaaaaack!” signs.

I love the blooming trees that drive the hope home.

Juliana Gribbins is a writer who believes that absurdity is the spice of life. Her book Date Expectations is winner of the 2017 Independent Press Awards, Humor Category and winner of the 2016 IPPY silver medal for humor. Write to her at Read more of her columns at