The Counterpoint
To Mortality Is Mobility
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2020 -- I'm headed to Manhattan's Chinatown on Sunday for a lunch with friends. In a few weeks I fly to Paris, where I'll hop on a TGV for a five-plus-hour train ride to Turin. After checking out the legendary old Fiat factory and getting my first look at the Lingotto district, I will hop on more public transit and kick around Northern Italy for another week or so.

Who knew such simple acts now count as dangerous, revolutionary conduct? Eating Chinese food! Flying! Riding trains! Going to Italy's north! Wow! How risky! Never has so little been viewed by so many as so brave.

I've lost track of the number of "new normals" we've been required to accommodate since 9/11, but this travel-in-the-time-of-Coronavirus stuff is truly nauseating.

Why in hell are people avoiding Chinese restaurants in the United States? Why is public transit scary? You gonna stop flying between Chicago and Charleston because of the Coronavirus? You're dumping travel because some people somewhere got sick?

Let me stop here and say, as forcefully and as earnestly as possible, that I cannot be in your head or your body. You must do what you think is right. You must do what you think is wise. I support your choices. If you are older, if you are prone to illness, if you are considering a trip with a long period of confinement in small spaces (read: a cruise), certainly a few pounds of prevention is the best course. Don't go. Cancel if you can, eat the costs if you must.

But for the rest of us? C'mon. Do I have to trot out the old more-people-die-in-their-bathtubs trope? You didn't let terrorists or the TSA stop you. You going to let this thing make you cower in the corner of your living rooms streaming reruns of Friends or making believe you think Game of Thrones is riveting?

As my late friend Coleman Lollar once so wisely noted, the counterpoint to mortality is mobility. And in this case, in 2020, I don't think you risk mortality with mobility.

We can argue about the statistics. I can explain how the mortality rate of the Coronavirus is surprisingly low and disproportionately concentrated among the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. I could explain--in better, more rational terms than Trump did yesterday--that more people die of flu each winter than are likely to die from the Coronavirus. You could retort that the mortality rate for the flu is substantially lower than for the Coronavirus. You could insist there's less chance of getting the virus if you do not travel in a plane or train's confined spaces and didn't go where there's been an outbreak.

Dueling stats, however, mean nothing. They prove nothing. It's what's in your head and your heart that matters. It's what you want to do with your life that matters. It's how you want to live your life that matters.

I live my life on the road. And when I have free time, I actually prefer not to travel. But I do like to eat Chinese food with friends. Besides, it's chilly back home in March and I choose to roll through the French and Italian countryside and see Torino and revisit Chiavari and Genoa, two off-the-beaten-tourist-track towns I've come to love.

I'm not gonna let some virus make me crazy and old before my time. I can't imagine calling that little hotel in Chiavari and saying, "Uh, sorry, I'm afraid. Maybe next year." And, hey, I scored a 53,000-point Genoa-Paris/CDG-New York/JFK business class award on Air France. You think I'm surrendering that small victory because of a virus?

Last week, Travel Insider David Rowell took what I thought was a brave (if a bit rash) step and cancelled his entire 2020 slate of hand-crafted, personally escorted tours.

I called David and asked him why. He had a fabulous answer: "I don't want people quarantined on a tour bus in Scotland with someone handing a bottle of whisky through a window," he said quite rationally. "I don't think it's fair to travelers to take that risk."

David did an honorable thing and I admire his decision. But I don't agree. For me at least.

I just cannot get Coleman Lollar's line out of my head and my heart. The counterpoint to mortality is mobility. He believed that up until the moment of his death a few months after he wrote those words.

Sadly, he never got to go back to Rome, his favorite place, and sit with a caffé doppio in the Piazza della Rotonda in front of the Pantheon. I won't be in Rome this trip, so I can't have one for him.

But there's this little cafe in Genoa, Klainguti, on the Piazza di Soziglia. I'm gonna go there (above) next month, order a caffé doppio from one of the grumpy waiters, tip him big so he stops being grumpy and raise my cup to Coleman.

Mobility bests mortality. Mobility bests Coronavirus. Mobility is life.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. I will stuff a few bottles of hand sanitizer and a supply of sanitary wipes in my carry-on and make some basic, commonsense adjustments to my usual travel routine. But that's the only compromise I'm willing to make to a virus.

Under much more dire circumstances--and with his cruel and untimely mortality staring him in the face--Coleman was wise enough to understand that mobility beats mortality.

I think I understand it, too. If you also understand it, go have a Chinese meal with your friends. Do your business travel. Book a trip to somewhere new or somewhere you love.