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'Washington Post' Reporter Documents What America Looks Like Now


From the driver's seat of a car, America looks really empty these days. Holly Bailey has seen it. She's a national political reporter for The Washington Post. She's also a dear friend of mine. She was in Arizona covering the Democratic primary when the country began to shut down, so she rented a car and plotted her way back home to Washington, D.C. Holly went through Marathon, Texas, where people were scared visitors could bring the virus and overwhelm their tiny health care system.

HOLLY BAILEY: One of the most desolate places in the country - I mean, you can drive for miles and miles and miles and not see anybody. And they shut down the hotels. They shut down Airbnbs. They shut down Big Bend National Park. There's nothing that's not been touched by what's happening in the rest of the country.

GREENE: Holly also passed through big cities like Austin, Texas.

BAILEY: Every time I've ever been there, you can always hear music and always see people in the street. And it was just so dead. And the bars and restaurants were boarded up, and there were messages written of, see you in May. And it was just so startling.

GREENE: For Holly, it is no longer just about finding a way home. She's been writing. She's been taking pictures, and she decided to just stay out there on assignment. Staying on the road has let her see America at a time like no other.

BAILEY: There was one moment in Little Rock, Ark., where I saw a woman pull up outside a Target store. And she parked in the farthest spot from the store and got out of her car, and she had gloves on. And she had a mask on. But she just could not seem to bring herself to walk to the front door. And she just - she stood there for several minutes, watching people go in and out - a lot of people who weren't wearing masks, a lot of younger people. And she got back in her car.

And I kind of knew what was happening, and so I drove over to her. And I rolled out my window, you know? I was like, you OK? You know, is there anything I can do to help you? She just told me she was just too scared to go in the store. And just - she just couldn't get out of the car. And she was so scared, she barely rolled down her window to talk to me. And then she was like, I'll try tomorrow and just drove away.

And it was like - it was very, very sad. And you know, it's those kind of moments that sort of hit you emotionally of what Americans are going through. There's fear, real fear.

GREENE: Everywhere.

Has that been a lot of what your travels have been like?

BAILEY: Yeah. Driving through - you know, I took a route that took me through Texas and then up through Oklahoma and then up to Interstate 40, which took me across Arkansas and Tennessee up into Virginia. And it was interesting to see the kind of differences in how some places were handling this.

GREENE: So I love some of the messages you've been photographing on theater marquees and church signs and businesses. I think my favorite is Dr. Scott's Pinball in Maumee, Ohio, isn't pinball an essential service - I guess not. What image has stuck with you?

BAILEY: You know, it just - you know, people write stay safe or whatever. But my favorite, I think, was in Tucson, Ariz. There was one that just said [expletive] you, coronavirus. And I think that gets toward the anger. People's lives have been completely disrupted.

GREENE: Do you feel like, on all these travels so far, that you've learned something new about our country?

BAILEY: I'm always struck, as a reporter, by people's resilience. When I was in Memphis, I had - was still sort of emotionally thinking about that woman in Little Rock who had been so scared to get out of a car and go into the Target. And so when I arrived in Memphis, I stayed in the same hotel - I'd been there a few weeks earlier covering Super Tuesday. And I saw the same hotel clerk I had met there before. Almost the entire staff of the hotel had been furloughed. And it was a brand-new hotel.

And she said it was literally like just a snap overnight that everybody had lost their jobs. But she still had one, and she said that that's what she was focusing on - is that she still had a job to go to and she was grateful. And she was just kind of looking at the the bright side of this. She said, well, maybe this is a chance for people to remember to be more grateful for what they have and, you know, grateful for the time with their families.

And she was a foster child. And she said, you know, I lost my parents when I was young, and I've gone through worse things than this. And she was like, I'm just determined to stay positive. And I think about her a lot and wonder, you know, if she's OK and how she's still doing it and - but also just admire her positivity because it's hard. It's very hard for people to be positive when, you know, who knows what's going to happen next.

GREENE: Holly, safe travels and thanks so much.

BAILEY: Thank you.

GREENE: Holly Bailey is a national political reporter with The Washington Post. And you can find some of her photos of what America looks like right now on Instagram. She is @hollybdc. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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