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Covid Journals: Go West, Young Man

By Ryan Bedell

During the Fall 2020 Semester, The Oppy will be publishing submissions from members of the Stern community about how the Covid-19 Pandemic has impacted their experience in and out of the program. If you wish to write about your own experience, please e-mail us at oppy@stern.nyu.edu. 

The following entry comes from Langone student Ryan Bedell.

In mid-August, I found myself in a gas station in the middle of Kansas, the only person with a mask on, being laughed at by a cashier with a cough. One of the lower moments of a cross-country road trip from New York to Los Angeles, I got back in my car and thought about how the past few weeks had led me here.

In June, my job asked if I could help with its operations in Los Angeles as part of its pandemic response. I agreed, very much underestimating both the uncertainty of the Covid era and overestimating how in jeopardy my job was. I assumed if they were asking me to take on this important task, I probably wasn’t in danger of being let go. Luckily I was right. I told my company I preferred to drive across the country rather than fly, as I’m still not yet comfortable getting on a plane. The uncertainty bit was reinforced by the fact that I hadn’t received a reassignment contract until the day before I left, and I didn’t have any idea what my life would look like once I arrived on the West Coast.

Maybe I would be living in a hotel. Maybe I would be in an apartment. My contract just said “housing provided.” Maybe I would be provided with a car to use in L.A. Or maybe not. Maybe I would be staying until January, or maybe I would be asked to stay until May. I found a sublet for my apartment in Brooklyn and placed myself entirely in the hands of my employer, feeling rather helpless to dictate what the next six months to a year of my life might look like.

As I got back in my car at that gas station in Kansas, I thought about my frustrations, but also the opportunity this drive and reassignment provided me. I had kept my job, so that was luckier than many. I was able to see my parents in St. Louis on my drive, and then my sister and newborn nephew in Denver (taking all necessary Covid precautions, of course). These were things I imagined would not happen in 2020 or perhaps even 2021. To be able to meet my nephew in person while he was still so young is a gift my employer gave me, and despite the (insert expletive here) the reassignment process was, I was grateful. I camped for two nights at a remote spot in Zion National Park, one of the more beautiful places I’ve seen in my life, and I drove the Strip in Vegas, all over the course of my drive from coast to coast. 

On a related note, I wouldn’t suggest going to Vegas right now for more than a drive down the Strip; it’s as crowded as ever.

The gas station attendant in Kansas was far from the only curious Covid-related interaction I had on the cross country route. In Pennsylvania, a Jimmy John’s worker made my food with his mask below his chin and coughed without covering his mouth multiple times. I paid for the sandwich and didn’t end up eating it. In St. Louis, while visiting my parents, my cousin’s family held a high school graduation party for him. My mom, dad, and myself stayed home because we took the virus seriously. Belittling and mockery from the rest of the family followed. My mom felt so guilty about not going that she made some food for me to bring over for the party. No one had masks on or was physically distanced, so I dropped the food at the door and left. At the world’s largest Chevron station in Jean, Nev., a convenient pit stop as I made my final push into L.A., folks perused the fountain sodas and 64 different types of beef jerky with masks on their chins, hanging off their ears, or in their hands to put on if an employee were to notice them.

Six months ago, if you’d have told me I’d be in L.A. now, I’d have probably wondered what zany scenario got me here. The last thing I wanted to do was move from New York, but I also was no stranger to taking on a move with very little warning. I moved to South Korea with two weeks’ notice in 2014, and from there I moved to Italy on about a month and a half’s notice in 2015. Picking up and moving my life to the next adventure had sort of become my calling card, and the opportunity for a Stern MBA is probably what was keeping me in New York to begin with. When I found out my courses could be online for the fall, other options became available for where I could spend this semester. I’d never lived on the West Coast, and it seemed like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

Underneath it all, I was a bit of an anxious mess. The uncertainty leading up to the move only grew when I arrived in L.A., and it manifested itself in the question of where I might live. I was living out of a suitcase in a company apartment for a month when I arrived. It was assumed I might move to a hotel in September, but then we got the news that my job was going to cease Los Angeles operations as a result of the pandemic. I moved across the country, quite literally, for nothing. I wasn’t a huge fan of my roommate in New York, and living alone as an alternative was one of the chief reasons for my comfort in subletting my room. Living alone doesn’t seem as glamorous when you move from the pandemic epicenter on one coast to what became the pandemic epicenter on the other.

That said, when I’m alone with my thoughts for days at a time, one thing that is increasingly apparent is how lucky I am. I have a job. I can still afford my expenses and to treat myself from time to time. My conversations with myself are becoming more elaborate by the day, but if that’s the least of my worries, it’s hard to avoid gratitude — and sometimes guilt — for how well I’m doing in comparison to some. Complaining feels silly when others have suffered so much over the past few months.

I’ve learned a lot about myself from my mid-pandemic cross country move. I’ve started curing and smoking bacon, something made possible by the additional space I have here. I love it so much that I want to turn it into a business. I get the L.A. Times and complete try the crossword puzzle every day. Before this, I can’t remember a time I sat down and concentrated on something for an extended period of time that wasn’t work or studying. While the need to physically distance keeps me from seeing friends, many friendships have been strengthened through Zoom and the shared struggle of quarantine. In a way, it’s been a nice refresher about what is important in life. 

Don’t get me wrong. Bacon is important. 

But more importantly, I set my mind to something and am doing it. I’ve realized that in the endless routine of our jobs and daily lives, I took so much for granted. Because of this experience, I no longer feel that I can just let those things slide or go unnoticed. I’m getting to know myself in a way I hadn’t before. For that I’m grateful.

Despite the bleakness of the pandemic, racial injustices, and political circuses of the past eight-to-nine months, I hope everyone living through this time has been able to find a bright side and take a journey of their own. Of course, this isn’t the scenario in which I would have hoped to have these revelations, but my experiences as a result of the pandemic have changed my life and my worldview for the better. For the sake of my family, my friends, and my classmates, I hope I’m not the only one.

Photo Credit: Ryan Bedell

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