hotel, lubbock, sunset, exterior

The Cotton Court Hotel in Lubbock.

Hitting the road from Austin to West Texas in March, my family felt excited and a little nervous—like we were pulling off some tremendous caper.

My husband and I were on our way to get our first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

A few weeks prior, on a whim, I hopped onto the CVS website and saw open appointments holding steady for days in Lubbock, a mere six-hour drive from our home. We were already planning to take a socially distanced spring break road trip to New Mexico, so the timing seemed fortuitous. With our 10- and 6-year old sons in tow, we decided to make the detour and our first steps back to “normal.”

In the Austin area, where we live, demand for shots is predicted to continue to outpace supply for a while, according to local health officials. Elsewhere in the state, supply has been more readily available—resulting in excess vaccines in some communities. Vaccine tourism, with all its potential ethical pitfalls, has definitely become a thing in Texas, as people from high-demand/low-supply areas scramble to get immunized as quickly as possible wherever they can.

The intense interest is certainly justifiable. My kids haven’t hugged their grandparents in over a year. We’ve grieved the loss of the first day of kindergarten, extracurricular sports, and time spent with friends. My entire livelihood as a travel writer was gone seemingly overnight. Our losses from COVID-19 were hard, but not nearly as heartbreaking as losing family members and loved ones to the virus.

That’s why we decided to take our first steps toward rebuilding from all of that loss, fully acknowledging our privilege in our ability to do so.

I smiled as my husband drove out of town and we watched the landscape shift to the small towns where I always loved to lose my way, and then to rural fields of cows and windmills. After looking at the same old walls and the same old backyard for a year, the new terrain was refreshing.

outdoors, cadillac ranch, spray paint

Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo

We pulled into the Cotton Court Hotel (our first hotel in so long!) just in time to watch the candy-colored sunset fall over Lubbock while my boys took a dip in the chilly outdoor pool. In the morning, we took our places in line with about a dozen locals and waited for our jabs. I confess I teared up at the arrival of this moment, so ordinary and profound at the same time. My COVID-19 vaccine is a vacation souvenir I will never forget.

When it was over, I wrangled my kids into taking a selfie outside to commemorate the moment. What will they remember from the year we stayed home? A shopkeeper came out and smiled at us. “Did you just get your vaccine?” she asked. “Let me take your picture.”

Later in the trip, we hiked through New Mexico’s Petroglyph and Bandelier national monuments, as well as Palo Duro Canyon back home in Texas. Breathing the fresh air was restorative—and something we’re not likely to take for granted any time soon. We also made a stop at Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo to put our artistic marks on the Panhandle.

As millions of Texans receive their vaccines (as of March 29, every Texan 16 and older is eligible for one), I imagine there will be a lot of relief, along with the arrival of hope.

During Easter weekend, I signed up for a volunteer shift at a mass drive-thru vaccine clinic close to home at the Circuit of The Americas. As I helped folks fill out paperwork, I heard a lot of relief. One man told me, “This really is a ‘Good Friday,’” and another woman remarked that she wished to take her sedan for a spin around the COTA racetrack in celebration of her vaccine.

As for my family, we’re getting back on the road again. Adventure is calling, and we’ve got some hugs to give along the way.

The February 2021 cover of Texas Highways Magazine, The Return of Car Culture


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