I have what's called a Smart Folder setup in iPhoto that sorts photos by  month from the previous thirteen years. The photos for whatever month we are currently in then displays as the screen saver on our living room TV. I know that makes me kind of geeky, but really it's a nice trip down memory lane, at least normally. Lately it has also been a reminder of how much COVID-19 has changed our lives, which were pretty much centered around travel.

For example, now playing on our TV for just this month of September from our photos over the years:

- In 2009, Rita and I went to New York City to see Wicked on Broadway (pardon the cheesy necklace I'm wearing)

Enjoying a pre-musical meal at an Irish steak house on Broadway

- In 2010, we kayaked around the waterways of Cambridge, MD and took a trip to the coast of South Carolina

Doesn't look like a traffic hazard, right?

- In 2011, just back from a three-week trip to Italy, we bought a boat and began exploring the Choptank River

Cap'n Rita navigates the vast Choptank River. Yar!

- In 2012, we mostly hung around our home in September, recovering from my daughter's August wedding - but we had started the year with trips to Palm Beach, New Orleans, and Hawaii, and ended the year by celebrating Rita's birthday in St.Croix.

Our condo was on its own island in St. Croix

- In 2013, we were packing up in Cambridge, MD and preparing to move to Salinas, Ecuador

It was hard to give up this view in Cambridge, but ....

... we traded it for this one in Salinas!

- In 2014, we made our first trip to Cuenca, Ecuador to explore part of the Andes

The three domes of the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción seen from the hills around Cuenca, Ecuador

- September 2015 found us flying back to the States to spend time with some of our children and grandchildren, including a trip to the Washington DC Zoo

Just two cool dudes, chillin' at the DC Zoo.

- In 2016, we rented a car and spent a week driving up the Pacific Coast of Ecuador to check out some of the other villages and citiesPelicans and fishermen share the beach in San Jacinto, Ecuador

- 2017 set a personal best record for travel miles. In September we had just finished our hike of the Inca Trail and celebrated by spending a few days in Lima, Peru followed by two weeks in Uruguay - with a side trip to Buenos Aires!

Street tango at the San Telmo Sunday market, Buenos Aires, Argentina

- In 2018, by September we were embarked on a new master plan; we returned to the US to purchase a new "home base" in east Tennessee. Our plan was to sell our Ecuador condo and use the proceeds to find and secure an investment property in the US. We would then use the income to help fund a roving retirement lifestyle. We would spend 2-3 months at a time in a target country before moving on to the next, and return for  2-3 months of the year back in the US, visiting family and friends

Historic Tennessee Theater in our new home base

- September of 2019, plans were proceeding smoothly. We had sold our Ecuador condo, and we were just back In the US after a trip to Quito and the Galápagos Islands. We had picked out an investment property too - a new build that would be completed in December. We hoped to find a tenant by March, and begin to really start exploring the world! Nothing could stop us now!

Seals lounging in San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Then 2020 came along and said "hold my beer". 

We did indeed find a tenant who moved in that March, but it was already obvious that 2020  was going to be a problem. By late April, we had to cancel a modest two-week trip to Colonial Williamsburg and Virginia Beach planned for June, as the state was closed to all tourists.

Our September pictures from last year show only a brief overnight to Carmel, Indiana for one of our grandchildren’s birthday (she and my son, like us, had been quarantined since March), and a day hike at the Cucumber Trail in the nearby Smokey Mountains.

As 2021 began, things seemed to be looking up. By April we both were fully vaccinated, and we were able to take a “vaccication” in the woods of Georgia with some similarly protected friends. We also took a three-week trip in June, hitting Virginia Beach at last, visiting some of our family in West Virginia that we hadn’t seen for over a year, and finishing up with a week at Ocean City, Maryland.

Due to the cancellations of the previous year, we had a vacation week that would expire at the end of October 2021, so we began to make plans to book a week in Orlando, Florida. We figured we could drive that way, and really take our time. This would let us stop at some friends' home in Georgia on the way down or back, Rita and I both have friends we could see in the Orlando area, and we might even be able to visit some Ecuadorian friends now living in Miami.

Then somehow, a public health issue got twisted around into a political pissing contest. Some talking heads decided that money could be made and their careers boosted by questioning the effectiveness of the vaccine, hinting at ulterior motives from the doctors, and hawking horse de-wormer. Most ridiculous to me, was that the childish complaint that getting vaxxed and wearing a mask in public places was somehow an assault on individual freedoms started being promoted by places like Fox and Fiends (no, that was not a misspelling) and various Internet trolls. Several Repubican Senators and Governors (all of whom were vaccinated themselves, along with their families) chose to tell the people that they are supposed to represent that they don’t have to get a vaccine if they don’t want to, and that wearing a mask is more of a fashion accessory than a health measure.

Worse, folks like Governor DeSantis in Florida began to actively campaign in favor of spreading an infectious disease, going so far as to threaten to financially punish schools and business that try to protect their employees, families, and customers by following the CDC guidelines.

As a result, infection rates in Florida over the past few months have skyrocketed, hospitals have become overcrowded, and for several weeks they led the country in Covid-19 deaths.

So we decided that maybe Florida wasn’t such a great place to visit right now. Way to support tourism, Gov! Great slogan - “Come for the beaches, stay for the ventilators!”

After some discussion and research, we decided to take advantage of another side effect of so little travel for the past 18 months – we had a massive number of miles accumulated on our airline credit card. We found that we could get two round trip tickets to just about anywhere in the continental US at no charge. The airlines have been enforcing mask rules in the airports and on the planes, so we feel okay with flying, as long as we are careful.

So next week, we will save this year’s September photos by taking a trip out to San Francisco, California. Neither of us have been there before, and we were able to exchange into a great art-deco hotel suite convenient to Fisherman’s Wharf, the Mission District, Chinatown, Golden Gate Park, Lombard Street, and much more. We can ride the cable cars, even take a day trip to Muir Woods to see the redwood trees and stop to check out Sausalito on the way back. The biggest challenge on the trip will be trying to keep the Rice-a-Roni jingle from running around in my head.

More importantly, as of today San Francisco County has 79.8% of their population vaccinated. Yes, they do require proof of vaccination if you want to eat inside of a restaurant, or enter some public buildings. Yes, masks are required on public transport, inside public areas, and even outdoors in crowds.

And we are okay with that. We like the idea that the people and government of San Francisco have decided that spreading an infectious disease is a bad thing. If only the rest of the country and the world would start to lower the emotional temperature and take common sense precautions, maybe a simple trip to see a new destination would not seem like such a big event, and we would have some nicer recent September photos.

Or maybe I'm just California Dreaming ...