Off the grid

'He had one question: Have you been in contact with the outside world?' Also 7 other things worth your time.

Almost two months ago—just before the apocalypse—I hung out with a good friend from college. We only see each other once or twice a year now, and he was telling me about a trip he took last summer.

This friend is now a Boy Scout leader (man, we’ve changed since college!), and he led a group of young kids on a canoeing and portaging trip up in Minnesota. (For my non-American readers, there are something like, 10,000 lakes in Minnesota.)

I’m trying to remember how long they were gone: 10 days? Maybe more?

Anyway, it sounded like a lot of fun—the canoeing, sure, but also the idea of truly being unplugged for a few weeks. I can’t remember the last time I went without my phone for more than a day, and I thought about it a lot afterward.

Now, imagine if the trip had been right now — like, suppose you’d been out of contact with everyone else—no texting, no Internet (♫ no phone, no light, no motor car♫)— for a few weeks, maybe starting around February 19.

How strange would our brave new world would look upon your return?

Zach Edler and about a dozen or so of his friends did just that. They went on a 25-day rafting trip on the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon trip right then—and emerged to find the whole world had changed (New York Times, $):

By last Saturday, March 14, as they took the last paddle strokes of their journey, Mr. Edler and his friends were some of the last people on the planet unaware that the novel coronavirus had exploded into a once-in-a-generation pandemic, setting off a global health and economic crisis and shutting down large parts of American life.

In moments, the man waving to them from the banks of the river would tell them that the world they were returning to looked vastly different. … He had one question: Have you been in contact with the outside world?

They hadn’t. [T]he friends hadn’t heard anything in more than three weeks. No cell service. No news. Not even a passing dispatch from fellow travelers.

When I first read that Times article (by Charlie Warzel), I thought wow, it would be such a shock to emerge into this new reality.

But truly, how different would it be? It’s been a shock for all of us.

On March 3, I was writing blithely that I hoped the whole thing would be wrapped up so I could see a concert in New York City this Friday. (Update: I am not going to a concert on Friday.)

A week later I was amazed at the idea that Italy was in lockdown.

We’re not quite 100 percent there yet in the United States, but we’re getting close—well, except for the few who are still enjoying spring break.

And it’s all happened so quickly. We’re all a little shell-shocked. Lots more to talk about right here.

Got something to say? Click here to comment on this story.

7 other things worth your time

  • The White House is proposing a $1 trillion stimulus package including two means-tested payments to U.S. families, in April and May. (The Washington Post $)

  • GM and Ford are talking with the White House about making ventilators in their shuttered automobile plants. (Axios)

  • The New York Stock Exchange will close its trading floor and move to electronic trading, after yet another very rough day. (CNBC)

  • Our heroes right now: Truckers. (Wall Street Journal)

  • Also, supermarket workers. (Daily Mail—this article is about Australians, but it’s the same here.)

  • The shortage of medical masks is so acute that the CDC is advising doctors and nurses to use bandanas and scarfs “as a last resort.” (CDC)

  • You might have seen this elsewhere but just in case: the WHO says don’t take ibuprofen for COVID-19 symptoms. (Science Daily)

  • Two U.S. Senators are pushing for all 50 states to allow no-excuse voting by mail. Meanwhile, two members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19. (The Hill)

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