The Perfect Ending to Our Pandemic Honeymoon Road Trip

We called it the Rust Belt Honeymoon Road Trip. The hope was that the humor of the name would blunt the incomprehension of our plans. That never worked. People didn’t even pretend to understand what we were talking about.

Who would spend their honeymoon in Pittsburgh? Or Cleveland or Detroit? Who would use their honeymoon to visit all of them in succession? The only one who got it was the grown son of my new wife, Mary Kate. He worked as a mover and had visited some of the cities. “I like that,” he said. “That’s cool.”

Those places do possess character and cool, but it’s a stealth cool, hidden under decades of use. My wife and I like old things — old buildings, hotels, restaurants, bars. All of these can be found in Rust Belt cities, the kind that have been knocked about by fate and fickle commerce enough that they’ve hung on to their traditions by default. (We’ve had ample time to develop these preferences; we didn’t marry until our mid-50s.)

We had been impressed with brief stays in Rochester and Buffalo, two one-time commercial colossuses. Both had handsome architecture and grand avenues. We felt certain that Toledo and Cincinnati and Indianapolis would hold similar charm. The idea of sun-kissed beaches of dazzling beauty and monotonous uniformity left us limp with ennui. A rust belt honeymoon was the ticket.

We began in Binghamton, home of IBM and Rod Serling, near the border of Pennsylvania. We stopped mainly because my almost-grown son attends SUNY Binghamton. The three of us dined at Oaks Inn, a time-capsule of a red-sauce joint that felt straight out of a Scorsese film. Soft light, large Martinis, and lamb spiedies, a local specialty of marinated meat cubes cooked over charcoal.

Signs on the road to Rochester indicated that Mark Twain, the bard of the Mississippi, was buried, improbably, in Elmira. So we pulled off the highway and visited him.

We hit Rochester and toured the Susan B. Anthony house. In Buffalo, we had lunch at the Anchor Bar, home of Buffalo wings, and followed the bartender’s directions to the cemetery where Rick James (author of “Super Freak”) was buried.

But by the time we got to Niagara Falls, we knew the jig was up. The streets were as empty as had been the highways leading up to them. We started our honeymoon on March 13: supremely bad timing. As the coronavirus spread, America closed up. We knew we had to head back home.

I canceled all the hotel and restaurant reservations. There would be no cocktails at the Velvet Tango Room in Cleveland; no visit to the jazz pianist Art Tatum’s birthplace in Toledo; no tour of the Detroit Athletic Club, where the Last Word cocktail may or may not have been born; no sinus-clearing shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo Steak House in Indianapolis; no walk through the wonderland of modern architecture that is Columbus, Indiana; no chili in Cincinnati.

Instead, it would be honeymooning in place in Brooklyn.

We returned to a city entirely different than the one we left only days before. It was shut down and eerily quiet. But in this strange new world, we found ways to pick up where we left off.

Parts of old New York — as old as the places we had planned to hit to the west — were still nominally functioning in a sort of tourist-free diorama mode. Timeless joints like Peter Luger Steak House, Sam’s Restaurant and Pizzeria in Cobble Hill, Brennan & Carr in Sheepshead Bay and Rao’s in East Harlem were doing takeout. McSorley’s was offering its classic ales and cheese plates to go.

We had the days to admire the city’s deep well of architecture during long, socially distant walks. And we continued our grave site tourism at Green-Wood Cemetery. I thought this must be what it was like in the 19th century, when Green-Wood was a popular strolling destination. Except with masks.

I asked Mary Kate if she wanted to give the road-trip honeymoon another try once things had returned to some semblance of normalcy. She didn’t. This was our honeymoon. It had been unique and unpredictable. Moreover, it felt like a continuation of what we had planned.

  • Updated June 30, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

We longed to tour the Rust Belt because we felt those cities represented a world loved but fast disappearing. The pandemic made us realize how the same fate might befall New York. The shutdown had stripped the city of all the usual noise, traffic and distractions, leaving the mighty and distinctive framework of the quieted metropolis as a stark reminder of why people live here in the first place.

We spent the rest of our honeymoon money on the bars, restaurants and shops we loved and hoped to see again on the other side. Though not able to patronize any of these places in person, we were somehow more present in New York, and New York was more present with us, than at any time I can remember.

We took walks through the city’s many layers of history. One traced all five of the bridges that cross the Gowanus Canal; another touched base at each of the novelist Thomas Wolfe’s several Brooklyn homes.

The takeaway food and cocktails (a previously unthinkable and wonderfully illicit-seeming development!) somehow tasted better given the time, effort and risk involved. The lard bread at Mazzola Bakery and the sfingi at Court Pastry Shop, two institutions in our neighborhood, had always been top notch. Now they felt like miracles. Each time we returned home, we marveled anew at our luck that we lived in such a place.

Meanwhile, every day at 7 p.m., we go on the back porch and bang pots and cheer for the first responders. It’s an effort, and a city, worth cheering on.

“See you tomorrow!” the little girl from the ground-floor apartment says each day from her backyard after the whooping subsides. See you tomorrow.

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