On the weekend of March 13, just as Mayor Bill de Blasio was flirting with a stay-at-home order, Viviana Spiers and her husband, Rich, who live in Hell’s Kitchen, decided to celebrate their youngest son’s 6th birthday in Atlantic City, a destination they chose because, as Ms. Spiers put it, “the hotels were dirt cheap.”
All weekend, “Rich and I were stressed out about what we’re going to do,” said Ms. Spiers, who works for a Manhattan-based venture capital firm as an office manager. “Should we go back to New York City? It seemed so bad. At the end of the weekend, we just kept driving.”
They ended up in Lynchburg, Va., for no other reason than it was on the way to Houston, where Ms. Spiers had family. Compared to New York, Lynchburg felt laid-back and relatively virus free. They rented an Airbnb, took their two sons to Dollar General for toys, settled in.
Mr. Spiers moved to America from his native England, and spent years as a self-employed music agent and concert promoter, before the virus torpedoed his business. The pandemic seemed to bring out the rambler. “Possessions and such don’t mean anything to me,” he said. “It’s that tour mentality where you just leave with a grocery bag. Just move.”
Mr. Mealer, the seminary student, drove his wife and children 1,700 miles to Texas, where he grew up and where the family had lived before New York, only to find upon arrival that they had nowhere to stay. His parents lived in Texas, but what if he unwittingly gave them the virus? The same concern extended to friends. Eventually, the family found a rental house well outside Austin.
“There was a little land behind the house. We had no neighbors. We weren’t seeing anybody,” Mr. Mealer said. “That was our little sanctuary. We stayed out there for two months.”
Out in the hill country, Mr. Mealer had spotty internet and no cable. After years of constantly working and traveling as a journalist, and then studying all weekend in seminary, “it forced me to slow down and be with my kids,” he said. He went on nature walks with his three children, sat around a fire pit at night, reconnected. By summer, the family had changed locations again — driving north to Minnesota, where his wife’s father was suffering from dementia. His father-in-law died while they were there.