This is a true story. It took place in July 2022.
It’s late in the afternoon, and I’m an hour from home.
We started the day in Gurnee, Illinois. My kids go to a summer camp outside of Milwaukee, and on the way home, we often take 94 East, which takes us right by Six Flags Great America. Our kids know several kids in the Chicago area, either through camp or through us (and sometimes they go to camp with the kids they met through us), so we finally decided to stop and spend a day at Six Flags. It was a great day. Perfect weather, and the lines were not bad at all.
Anyway, that’s why we started the day in Gurnee.
We’d been in and out of the car for six hours at this point, and we’re about to merge onto the highway that will bring us to within a mile of our house. I turn off the one-lane road we had driven for the last 27 miles and breathe a sigh of relief that we’re almost home.
This is an unusual intersection, because unlike most clover highway intersections, the cars already on the road I’m merging onto are doing the same speed that I am, because the speed limit is only 35 MPH. This leads to an expected cluster of vehicles all wanting to go faster. I am in the passing lane thinking that I’m going to pass the truck to my right, but we’re doing roughly the same speed. Suddenly, a dude on a motorcycle appears in my rear view. He looks close enough to jump onto our roof. I move to the right lane so he can pass. I’ll pass truck dude in a minute.
The biker doesn’t just pass us, though.
Instead, he zooms past and then slows down so that his rear wheel is even with our front wheels. Then the female passenger on the bike looks at us, covering her mouth with both of her hands, then gives us the international sign for ‘What the hell?’ Once she puts her arms around the rider, they take off.
I’m confused. “What was that?” I said to my wife.
“It’s about the masks,” she said.
It takes me another minute before I put it all together.
We were wearing KN-95 masks in our car, which is admittedly odd.
But how did they figure that out so quickly? They only had the right angle to even notice that for maybe a second, and only if they chose to stare at us as soon as they passed us. And yet, instantly, the woman had a whole choreography routine ready for us.
And then I was reminded of a moment a few minutes before the confrontation, and it clicked.
But first, we need to go back to the day before.THE DAY BEFORE
We pick up the kids at camp, and they are super excited for Six Flags, but we asked them about the emails we received from the camp during the week informing us that each of them had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. As they told their stories, it was clear that the specter of COVID was everywhere at camp. Multiple counselors had to leave, and there was clearly going to be a ripple effect on the following week’s counselors-in-training, some of whom were campers this week. You can see where this is going. This is an issue where the contagion spread slowly creeps over from week to week. The credits scene in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” springs to mind.
About 20 minutes before we arrive at Six Flags, our daughter tells us that she slept for maybe an hour the night before, so she was already running on fumes upon arrival but ready to seize the day. And we largely had a good day, until she texted us saying that she had a screaming headache that ultimately turned out to be self-inflicted, because she was dehydrated. We gave her a bunch of water, but she then mentioned that she had been exposed to COVID multiple times after the camp had informed us of her initial exposure earlier in the week, so we make a new plan. My wife and daughter go to the hotel, get some COVID tests and order dinner (Lou Malnati’s, yum) while I hang with my son and one of his camp friends (who’s also the son of two of our Chicago friends), riding two wooden rollercoasters that serve as constant reminders why every wooden coaster built in the ‘80s or ‘90s should be demolished immediately and with extreme prejudice.
But I digress.
My wife texted me before we left the park: the daughter has COVID.
Well, shit. Now what?
Thankfully, the hotel had an extra room, so we put the boy in his own room (he tested negative), while the girl slept for roughly 12 hours. She never sleeps for 12 hours. She was even too tired to eat more than one piece of Lou Malnati’s pizza, proof positive that she was not her normal self.
Morning comes, and we get up and leave Gurnee wearing masks in our own car, knowing how ridiculous that looks, but what choice do we have? We have a COVID-positive kiddo in the back seat.
At lunch, the kids – because they’d been exposed to COVID and their parents hadn’t – ate together outside while we ate indoors. We weren’t happy about it, but at this point, we’re just trying to minimize risk.
TWO MINUTES BEFORE THE BEGINNING OF THE STORY
And then come these assholes.
That one-lane road I mentioned earlier is in deeeeeep red territory. (We vacationed here in the summer of 2020, and it was such a miserable experience that we left a day early.) Right before we hit the state highway that would bring us home, we had to slow down, much slower than the speed limit required, because of traffic. At that same point were a bunch of bikers in a parking lot, facing the road.
I heard a honk.
After that, I had two simultaneous thoughts.
The first: Did someone just honk at us for wearing masks inside our car?
The second: Dude, the honk has nothing to do with you. Jeez, you’re paranoid.
Back to the highway.
There aren’t a lot of exits in this section of the highway. Had our biker friends really been traveling for the sake of traveling, I would have seen them again once I moved to the left lane to pass the guy I pulled behind to let the biker pass.
But I didn’t see them again. They were gone.
Which means left the highway as soon as they could.
Because the only reason they were on the highway in the first place was to taunt us.
That honk I heard when we passed the bikers. That was them.
They saw us, and made a choice to follow us, for as long as it took, to express their disapproval with our decision to not get COVID in our own car.
This couple had options.
They could have done nothing. They could have told their friends about it later over a beer (something they surely did anyway). They were not obligated to follow us and do what they did, but they did it anyway. They just had to follow and “shame” us.
It didn’t work. We weren’t at all embarrassed by what they did. We knew we looked silly, but we’re not going to risk getting COVID by temporarily going maskless to appease a group of total strangers.
(The masks worked, by the way. No one else in the car tested positive once we were home.)
Looking back, I wish that I had waved at her. I’m pretty sure that would have pushed her Rage button. That would have been fun to watch.
But I didn’t, because I was so surprised by it all (recall, I had to ask my wife what had just happened). It never occurred to me that someone would put so much effort into something so…stupid.
And what they did, however proud of it they may be, was fucking stupid.
I’m willing to bet that both of those people have recently joked with a friend about how they’re living their best life. This shouldn’t need to be said, but if your best life is the one where you follow a family of four on a highway for a mile or two in order to shame them for not wanting to catch something that has killed over a million Americans, maybe you’re not living your best life.
Next time, maybe just fuck off.
Fucking off immediately leads to living a better life than the moment when you could have fucked off but chose not to. Fucking off is a sign of maturity. Fucking off is an act of kindness. It’s a symbol of wisdom. It takes strength to fuck off. If you see a group of people doing something you disapprove of, but their actions are causing no harm to anyone around them, fuck the fuck off.
If you see Nazis, though, definitely do not fuck off. All Nazis must fuck off.
You get the idea, though. It would have cost them nothing to just let us drive by while they minded their own business. But they just couldn’t help themselves. They lacked the emotional maturity to let it go.
These are trying times. One of the most meaningful contributions you can make in society today is to know when to fuck off. The better we all get at fucking off, the better everything will be.
Now fuck off.
(Kidding, of course. Thanks for reading.)