“Code Red.”

My wife is from West Virginia. We typically drive up from Charlotte a couple of times a year to visit her family, and when we do I always get a Mountain Dew Code Red to make sure I stay alert during the drive. It started out as a joke – the first time I ever visited her family I happened to buy one on the road. We were staying at The Greenbrier that night, and Liz was horrified to see that her boyfriend was wandering around the hotel lobby, brushing shoulders with the socialites holding a half-empty bottle of Code Red in his hand, and a tradition was started.

Fast forward to the summer of 2020, and I’m making a drive up to West Virginia by myself for once, a quick run to pickup some furniture from my in-laws. I stopped to get gas near Ronceverte, and thought I’d grab a quick Code Red and snap a picture to send to Liz before getting back on the road:

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As I took the picture, I heard a low voice rumble behind me:

“It’ll shrink yer peter.”

I turned. A tall gentleman, about my age, wearing a trucker hat and an impressive beard, had just stepped out of his Ford F-150 and was staring right at me.

“What?” I was sure I’d misheard him.

He gestured toward my drink. “That Code Red. That’ll shrink yer peter.”

…I wasn’t sure what to do next. His comment didn’t concern me nearly as much as the severity with which he said it. I tried making a joke in an attempt to get a smile out of him. Not the type of joke I thought I’d still be making in my 30’s, but what can I say – these are strange times.

“I’m serious,” he snapped. There was a pause, and eventually he shook his head and walked toward the door.

I got in my car. I hesitated only slightly before cracking open my Code Red and taking a swig. I stared, dumbfounded, at the entrance to the convenience store. And as I watched the door slowly shut behind my new friend, all I wanted to do was roll down my window and shout the one question that was burning inside me:

Why aren’t you wearing a mask?!

Guys, I had big plans for 2020 – and the wheels fell off in March. Working out was the first thing to go. Then I started sleeping in later. I stopped planning my mornings, I stopped intermittent fasting, I stopped reading.

And eventually, I stopped writing. The last bastion of my 2020 goals, one night I just told Liz that the post I’d drafted wasn’t up to par and I didn’t want to publish it. After writing every week for well over a year, I decided to take a week off. One week turned into two, which turned into a month, and now, two months later, I’m dragging myself back to the page, kicking and screaming.

I went through ups and downs last year, but it never stopped my writing. Why was this so much harder?

I think the reason I haven’t written anything over the past few weeks is that, starting in March, it seemed like there was only one subject to write about. Then in May, there was one more. To write about anything other than those two things felt trivial at best, irreverent at worst. And lacking the energy, the courage, and the chops to write effectively about either one, I wrote nothing.

I will write about those things, although I’m not sure what that’s going to look like. Maybe it’ll be a blog post. Maybe it’ll be a private letter to my children, or an email to close friends and family. Maybe a book. But until then, I’ve been paralyzed by this weird mix of “what can I do?” and “what’s the point?”

Until today. Perhaps because it’s early July and, as far as 2020 goals are concerned, it’s halftime and I’m geared up for the second half. Maybe it’s because I just watched Hamilton which, coupled with an impressive fireworks show over New York City, has me feeling a measure of patriotism that I haven’t felt in a while. Or maybe it just took a brief encounter with a fellow American who was taking an urban legend about Tartrazine that I hadn’t heard since the 90’s more seriously than a worldwide pandemic to remind me that there’s only so much I can control, that I should laugh more and stop taking myself so damn seriously. But if there’s anything that these last few months have taught me, it’s this:

We have work to do.

And it’s time for me to get back to work.

2 thoughts on ““Code Red.”

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