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Crossing the country & processing change, during a global pandemic

Updated: May 17, 2020

Friday, May 15th, 2020

“I chatted with my friend Dan Overly using voice to text towards the beginning of today’s drive. ... He noted that moving, to him, always feels very existential.

I could not agree more."

I’m currently writing this from a cozy corner I’ve set up for myself in the den of my mom’s childhood home in the Adirondack mountains in Lake Placid, New York. It’s been a week now since we walked in the back door of this big old house, and I could have cried upon looking at multi-colored patterns on the many different rugs and wallpaper when we began to unload our stuff: four huge plastic bins full of non-perishable food and supplies, two suitcases each, hiking backpacks and coats, a dog crate filled with food and toys, and a dinky Yamaha keyboard I keep with me wherever we move. The familiar sights and smells of the house after the road trip we had endured (and trust me, “endured” is the correct word) had me welling up with gratitude and relief. We immediately ordered a growler of Ubu, our favorite beer, and a burger from the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery.

I have never, never ever, been happier to arrive at this house. And the food and beer from the Pub tasted better than it ever has.

Although I’m generally pretty good at posting big life updates on Facebook when warranted, I slacked a little this time. So, this is the update on where we are, and what the heck we’re doing! And by the way: Throughout this blog, you’ll find little excerpts of thoughts I had while driving hours and hours that I wanted to “jot down.” I did so by dictating them out loud to my phone using voice to text. (Don’t worry Lauren - I had my eyes on the road!) The quote at the beginning is one of those little blurbs.

Scott and I drove out of Phoenix on May 1st, 2020 at the end of my contract with Arizona Opera to begin the process of our eventual move to Chicago to begin my work with the Ryan Opera Center, as part of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. With Scott driving the U-Haul truck filled with our belongings and towing his car while I drove my car with Hazel behind him, it was the strangest, most stunted goodbye to a city I’ve ever experienced.

I gotta say: I never took those beautiful Phoenix sunsets for granted.

“It was the strangest thing ever to drive away from Phoenix, Arizona. When I auditioned for AZO in the fall of 2017, Chris Cano asked me at the end of my callback: “Why do you want to come to Phoenix?” This question threw me off, because in my head, all I could think was, “I don’t!” because I hated super-hot weather. (Always a Vermonter at heart!)

After living in Phoenix for two opera seasons, I was right in thinking that Phoenix was never going to be my city, although we did discover a handful of places and restaurants we liked to visit. However, my time with Arizona Opera turned out to be one of the most wonderful work experiences I’ve had the pleasure to encounter thus far. That company, with its heart, its fiery support, and its impeccable leadership, is truly a gem in the heart of downtown Phoenix, and Tucson as well. I felt protected and respected in some of the most tumultuous and even scary moments of my career thus far. When I had arrived, my confidence and self-worth had been shaken up a bit, and it took a little while to heal my spirit. Although it wasn’t always easy, AZO gave my colleagues and me the opportunity to be onstage and perform supporting and lead roles on the mainstage, and the singers I came in with and I knew that our leadership was there to catch us if we fell - but we didn’t. In turn, we were free to be artists. So, driving out of Phoenix, out of the city I knew I would never fully love, I felt so grateful for my time at AZO, even though it had come to such an abrupt end (and even though I was thrilled to be escaping the 102° weather that day).”

*And just to follow up on this note:

I love my colleagues I spent my two years with and miss you already. Cadie, Kaitlyn, Bille, Brandon, Jarrett, Michael, Robert, and Rob, you are all such amazing people and artists and I am so proud to have laughed and performed alongside you. We did it! Xoxox.

Scott and I have taken over four cross-country road trips together now. We’re pretty damn good at moving, and traveling, at this point. However, this trip was quite different, and for a variety of (obvious) reasons. Reason #1, is, um, that we were moving during a global pandemic. Reason #2 was that we had always done our road trips together in the same vehicle, and now we were driving separately, caravanning across the country and using a walkie-talkie app to communicate. Reason #3 was that we had a nine-month-old pup with us who needed to run around and stretch her legs every once in a while or else she wouldn’t sleep at night. Reason #4 was that the 10x10 truck was heavy, packed to the brim, and towing Scott’s car, so each leg of the trip took at least two or sometimes three hours longer than Google Maps would have estimated, as the truck struggled to climb up mountain passes in the Southwest and merge around the eighteen-wheelers on the road.

The excitement to begin Day Two of driving is tangible in this photo, wouldn't you say?

Our travel days and stops were split up like this: Phoenix to Santa Fe, Santa Fe to Denver, Denver to Omaha, and then Omaha to Chicago. Then, we would store our stuff in a storage unit in the city, drive from Chicago to Rochester, and finally make the final push from Rochester to Lake Placid to quarantine. Six days of driving total. For our own sanity and safety, we didn’t plan the long twelve-hour days we usually would so that we could get more rest in the places we stopped, which consisted of mostly hotels, with one night of staying with best friends of ours and one night of staying with family. We donned our masks, and wore gloves at every gas pump and threw them out as soon as we were finished, and each vehicle had a little box of cleaning and sanitizing supplies at the ready. We brought those cleaning supplies into every hotel and place we stayed to wipe everything down for each stay.

What was it like to move during a global pandemic? Actually, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, but the days of driving felt longer than ever, and the risk of contamination added a layer of stress that we weren’t always aware of. As to be expected, we only became aware of just how strung-out we were at the end of each day, when we checked into a new destination every night. Our bodies felt like they had been hit by a truck after sitting in the same position for hours on end and I suffered a terrible tension migraine after our second day of driving once we arrived in Denver (#thisis30 - and also, thanks for the back massage tool, Lynde!). We were much more short-tempered than usual, me in particular, but I can happily say that we got through it, and Scott and I are still happily married (ha). But, this trip definitely tested us more than we’ve ever been tested, and we passed the test!

During our trip, it was interesting to observe the ways each city or town was different, and also the same. For the most part, I was pretty happy that most people were abiding by social distancing and wearing masks at gas stations and dog parks. This was evident both in more rural areas, and in suburbs and cities, as well (mostly... Payson, Arizona was kinda weird, to be honest). Hotel front desk staff were mostly cheerful behind plexiglass barriers and our friends and family (figuratively) welcomed us with open arms. (Although we were careful, staying with loved ones posed a whole other moral conundrum for me, but I won’t get into that now.)

“For the first time, I’ve found comfort driving through the Great Plains. Even amidst the pandemic, being out here in the center of Nebraska, It feels as though we are nestled into the very heart of this country.”

Checking out the Chicago skyline before leaving the city.

There were some major pangs of hope and dread that came with experiencing the different stops along our journey. Until our road trip, we had only lived in the pandemic from Phoenix. We had, of course, been in touch with friends and family in other places, and had heard first-hand from my best friend what it was like to survive Covid-19 in Manhattan (yeah...he had a really terrifying two weeks in late March and early April, but he’s fully recovered and just tested positive for his antibody test. I’m so grateful every day that he beat this nasty thing.) But driving across the country, we got to witness - in person - the grand scale of how this pandemic has affected every. single. place. It was reassuring to know that we’re all in this together, and discouraging to be reminded how widespread this situation truly is.

Now, we’re carrying out our current plan, which is to self-isolate here in Lake Placid for another week and continue to work remotely from our family’s home until the end of the month. We hope to return to Chicago the first week in June. Once we drive back to Chicago, we’ll self-isolate again in a temporary housing situation and begin our apartment-hunt. We were glad we’re able to put off the search for apartments for a little while, as the beginning of May was seeing a spike in cases in the city of Chicago and the apartment selection looked slim. We are so, so, incredibly lucky to be able to quarantine in such a beautiful, remote area for the time being, where we can hike when we want, order grocery deliveries to our front porch, and easily avoid close contact with others. (Oh, by the way - it snowed for the first three days of our stay, with 1-3 inches covering the ground at any given time. After 102° in Phoenix, I was in heaven!)

Sunset from the front yard, with views of the Lake Placid house, the birch trees, and the church next door

So like, how are we doing? We’re okay. It took at least five days for our bodies to fully recover from this trip, and I think we’re still mentally recovering a little bit. I’ve had some really wonderful catch-ups lately via Zoom, Scott has a beautiful view overlooking the town and the lake and the mountains from his workspace in the dining room, and we found a huge fenced-in baseball field where we can let Hazel run and chase a ball just a short drive away. Life is good and we’re very fortunate.

I’ve since begun working for the Ryan Opera Center, and am coming to the end of my first week of new employment. It has been completely wonderful, surreal, odd, comforting, and bittersweet. Upon leaving Arizona Opera, I’ve grieved the lack of proper goodbyes, and I still am, to some extent. Upon joining the Ryan Center, I’m surprised to discover that I’m also grieving the lack of normal hellos. Yet, I have been immensely grateful and appreciative of the care that the staff has shown from afar. I’ve had to keep my emotions in check on some of the group meetings we’ve had, wishing I could spend some time in the same room with these new faces and colleagues. I can’t wait for that to happen someday. As the general director of the Lyric said this morning on Zoom in our welcome meeting with him, it’s the uncertainty of the future that is the hardest part about this situation.

My little workspace nook in the den of the Lake Placid house.

It was recently suggested that the singers in the Ryan Opera Center are likely the only opera singers in North America that are actively working throughout the entire summer. This hit hard. I’m grateful, sure, but hearing it mostly just breaks my heart. For my musical family: I am going to bring everything I have to this job in your honor. Now more than ever, making music is not something I do for myself: It’s for everyone else. For all of us.

To wrap up, I just want to thank you all for reading and extend my sincerest love to all of my friends, family and social media followers during this time. I think we’ve all mostly adjusted to the new “normal,” but if there’s anything I’ve come to understand throughout our time being #AloneTogether through all of this, it’s that we all have good days and bad days and we all handle the day-to-day of the pandemic differently. On my bad days, I’ll try to reach out to others more for help, as reaching out can be something I struggle with. On your bad days, I am here for you, just a phone call or video chat away. Please, please, please, take me up on this offer, and I promise to do the same!

Little tidbits of joy on the marquis of the Palace Theater in downtown Lake Placid.

Love, peace, health and hope to all, and I’m looking forward to writing more blogs with more clarity and overarching themes sometime soon. Oh, and also, Happy Friday!


P.S. Also, I thought it’d be fun to recognize some of the people I chatted with on the phone, a LOT, during my drive. Mom, Dad, Dudney, Erica, Perry, Bille, Brandon, Abby, Matt, David, Dan - thanks so much for helping the drive feel shorter and for keeping me company, sometimes for hours!

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