Story and photos by L. Kincaid Holmes
When we saw National Guard troops and their camouflage Humvees on the side of I-95 stopping cars, my palms got sweaty.
On Monday, I was returning to my home in southern Massachusetts with my boyfriend after a quick trip – in the social isolation of his Jeep – to North Carolina for family business. But between the time on Friday that we left Massachusetts and the time we returned, state borders were closing up a bit.
When we reached the Connecticut-Rhode Island border we got a glimpse of what fear can produce in the social order. It was a scene straight out of a movie.
Because New York is now the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic that has surged across the globe, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo issued travel restrictions on all out-of-state passenger cars coming into Rhode Island.
At first, this restriction was solely in place to pull over New Yorkers, and they would be required to isolate in quarantine for 14 days. After threatened lawsuits from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Raimondo quickly amended the order. The aim of the restriction shifted: Not only New Yorkers, but any out-of-state driver must pull into a cordoned-off rest stop to be questioned by Rhode Island’s National Guard. And the Guard and state police were actually going door to door along the 43-mile-long, east coast state of Rhode Island in search of “transplanted New Yorkers” residing in the state, requiring them to quarantine for 14 days.
My dad, who delivers The Boston Globe in New England, had actually driven through this the night before on his work shift and warned us. Since he was driving an International six-wheeler delivery truck – a commercial vehicle – he was not required, nor asked to pull off the interstate.
My boyfriend’s Jeep has California plates. So we knew we’d be pulled over, and were prepared to explain and prove our travel reasons to the guards.
Things were already a bit surreal. The usual bumper-to-bumper jam on the George Washington Bridge was gone – we flew across the Hudson River from New Jersey into the Bronx and didn’t even put on the brakes. We sped into Connecticut, which is a quick hop, skip, and jump into Rhode Island.
Upon entering Rhode Island, traffic signs blared to out-of-state drivers to pull off at the upcoming rest stop in Hope Valley. There were two lines for passenger cars to pass through and be questioned by National Guard troops.
We were directed to go through the right lane, immediately behind a car from New York. As the New Yorkers in front of us passed through quickly, my nerves died down, and we rolled up to the tent where a uniformed soldier stood with a protective mask on his face and a clipboard in his hands.
We rolled down my passenger-side window and the man asked for our plans while in Rhode Island. We explained that we were driving home to southern Massachusetts.
“Okay, you’re all set,” the man said, and we were off, with a new sense of compassion and understanding for those in other countries who travel through and are held back by restrictions like these, everyday.