When I noticed the illuminated gas light, I knew it was too late-I would never make it to the next big town, 22 miles away. Then, like a mirage, an old building with the words GAS/FOOD painted on its side appeared. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that there was definitely no gas in the pumps, and that there probably hadn't been for years. I looked around helplessly, allowing the worry train in my mind to run at full speed. What would become of a Black Jewish woman, alone and stranded in the boonies of a red state? I could feel tears pricking at the corners of my eyes, begging to fall. Suddenly, I heard the sound of laughter and followed it to a set of tall wooden doors. The echo of collective chortles, chuckles, and hee-has derailed my thoughts long enough for me to make a move, and I wrapped my hand around the cold metal moose-head door handle. The antlers made it so my fingers spread into an awkward claw. I pulled one of the doors open, and behind its heavy mass sat seven white strangers and a white bartender. My breath felt caught in my chest and butterflies fluttered up from my stomach into my throat, choking me. “Hi. Um, can y'all tell me where the gas station is?” My voice came out shaky and those damn tears were still fighting against me. A tall, thin man with shoulder-length grey hair, a thick mustache, and a familiar face stood, looked me up and down, and said, “You're shit outta luck in this town.” The tears finally won their battle and marched right out of my eyes and down my cheeks like hot soldiers pumped up with the emotions of victory and the price paid for it. "Don't worry, come on now. Don't you worry. Is your gas light on?” “Yes,” I replied, feeling foolish with my red eyes and puffy lips, “and I don't know how long but I've driven at least 20 miles since I noticed it.” A blonde woman, the only other woman in the bar besides the plump bartender looking on from behind the old wooden counter with an air of indifference about her, smiled at me. “Oh, I bet you could make it sweetie! I almost run out of gas all the time, but now I know exactly how far I can go once that light turns on!” She broke into a laugh that nobody joined. The tears incessantly fell from my face and were beginning to slide down my neck, which was already sticky with sweat. “I really don't think I can make it, I'm scared I'll get stuck.” The tall man still seemed to be analyzing me as he said, “I really think you'll be fine. Just go on ahead and try—" “I'll go get you some gas.” We all turned our heads toward the low, raspy voice. A man who had been sitting silent in the corner, wearing a white t-shirt and khaki pants stood and pulled his keys out of his pocket. "Be right back, y'all.” He pushed open the door and sunlight rushed into the room, brightening our faces. It slammed behind him with a thud and we were left with our jaws open. A younger man with a large body broke the silence. "So what the hell is a girl like you doing in lil' ol' Pringle, South Dakota?” I wiped the tears from my face and told them about my solo road trip. The large man seemed amused by my response: “Well honey, you sure ain't home in California anymore! You in Trump country now!” I laughed nervously. “Oh, hush Jimmy!” The blonde woman playfully slapped his arm. “What now, darlin'? I'm just tellin' her like it is!” And then to me, “You don't believe in this global warming bullshit now do ya?” The woman slapped him again, harder. “Don't listen to my husband, he's just giving you a hard time.” “It's okay,” I told them, "I wanted to travel this country because it's easy to come up with ideas about people who think differently than me, when I really don't know them at all.” The blonde woman liked that a lot and smiled at me, nodding her head in agreement. “So," I asked, "is this where Pringles chips were invented?” The people laughed and the air felt lighter. We carried on a cheerful conversation, ending abruptly when the door swung open to reveal the silhouette of the khaki man holding a gas can, and sunlight once again spilled over our faces. The blonde woman followed as I led him to my car. She was beautiful, with a face so warm; she could have been one of my grade school teachers. As the man poured gas into my tank, I dug through my backpack for a ten dollar bill I remembered tucking away earlier that morning. “Thank you so much, can I give you some money for all of this?” “No.” He tightened the gas cap and snapped the little door shut. “Alright, this should get you to town. Keep an eye on your tank now, ya hear?” “Yes sir, thank you, I will.” Pulling away, it struck me that I'd had a transformative experience. My gas light illuminated, and it brightened my perspective on humanity.
Dear Reader of the Future: I haven't the slightest idea about what world you live in as you read these words. I don't know if you know the name of the device I typed this letter on (it's a computer). I don't even know if you'd know what to do with a keyboard. What I do know, though, is that if your world is any different than mine, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic most likely had a lot to do with it. It's a strange feeling to live in a time in which the failings of the global commercial society are so glaringly obvious. In my short seventeen years on this planet, I've learned that the American love language is crisp and green (and I'm not talking about summer leaves). Everything, even our very reality, is augmented to ensure the maximum - maximum emotion, maximum entertainment, maximum workload - all so a glorious few can reap the maximum profit. But the virus has brought this exploitative orgy to a grinding halt, or at least exposed how under-stimulated it leaves the vast majority. Of course, people are still trying to keep the gears turning. Despite the fact that there are almost 3.53 million confirmed cases in the US as of today (compared to almost 14 million worldwide), many are holding tight to the dirt-faced American pastime of hard work. This is understandable. In this country, those who don't work don't eat (unless someone in their family worked a long time ago and made enough for their descendants to eat forever). We've been inundated in this ideology since birth. But the fact remains that, more often than not, it doesn't pay off. Many people work all their lives and still never make enough to enjoy life. Now that those same people are either unemployed or essential workers who risk their lives (but aren't important enough to receive livable wages), I feel that this country - this world - is on the precipice of an awakening, the likes of which I'm not sure will end much better than that of the heroine in Kate Chopin's famed novella. The fact of the matter is this: our economic system has not been constructed to ensure the wellness of the whole population. The implications of coronavirus have made this more evident. Hundreds of homeless sleep on the streets instead of in empty houses, which increases the risk of transmission. Health care is so expensive that many people are unable to even get tested, let alone receive treatment. And the presidential election primaries chug along even in areas without a vote-by-mail option, exacerbating the already egregious issue of voter suppression. In the sullen city of Augusta and the even quieter suburb of Evans, students like myself are tasked with completing coursework online, which carries difficulties for working parents of young children. Of course I am not expecting a ruddy-faced Lenin to swoop in and rally the proletariat at the doors of the White House, but this has to be a wake-up call that our way of life is unsustainable for the masses. I hope that this will prompt a flurry of revolutionary fervor in people from all walks of life to seriously examine their circumstances and try to take action. I know that I am in a relatively privileged situation right now. I wake anytime before noon and pad around the house all day in a cotton-candy pink robe and fuzzy socks, completing online assignments in between episodes of whatever's good on Netflix (Mad Men now, Kim's Convenience a few days ago, Community before that). My most dire ailment is loneliness. Of course I fear for my mother, who is a doctor and on the wrong side of sixty. She comes home every day, peels her mask off, and speaks to me from across the room for the silent fear that she might have brought the virus home with her. But others are not so fortunate. Many have lost friends, family, income, and homes. There are scientific rumors now that this is only the first round in half a decade's worth of “quarantine” periods until doctors find a cure. This is only slightly less alarming than the prediction that COVID-19 marks a coming trend of pandemics that, due to environmental change and population growth, will alarm more people than only those in the global south (Ebola, which has taken thousands of lives in Africa, was a joke to pink-skinned kids in my fifth grade class, although I suppose everything was). Reader, I'm sure you know by now if these predictions came true. I pray that they don't. I hope that this account has been enlightening. I hope that you aren't reading this and shaking your head at my naivety. I hope that some semblance of the world I live in still exists, if only the language I wrote this letter in. What a trivial death my generation would have if no one could read the words on our gravestone. Sincerely, Elizabeth Fulton