A family starts anew amid COVID-19
Some names have been changed in order to protect the identity of the family.
Almost every day, Anna* wakes up just before sunrise to go to work at the Stanford University Hospital. Three days a week, online classes for her bachelor’s degree keep her working deep into the evening. But on Thursdays and Fridays, with the last of daylight still to burn, she goes home to the parking lot in nearby Mountain View, where she, her two sons, her parents and an 80-pound German shepherd named Max live in a Jayco RV.
In March, as Californians sheltered in place, the family moved here from a nearby street bordering the Stanford campus, where cars speeding down the main thoroughfare shook their RV. Now, their home is parked in the Shoreline Amphitheater parking lot, within walking distance of nature trails, the Google Campus in Silicon Valley and a park where people still fly kites every day.
While others wait out COVID-19 in their homes, limiting their interactions with the outside world, in some ways, the pandemic has barely penetrated the family’s lives. The Shoreline lot is safe, beautiful and closer to shady escapes — a substantial upgrade from their former street-side homesite. Best of all, they live in a place that works for the children, where the stay-at-home orders have given Anna’s boys even more time to explore their new backyard.
On one recent afternoon, Anna walked the sinuous gravel-path trails on the Google campus with her sons, TJ*, 6, and Diego*, 7, who are both fascinated by the natural world. “Guys! There’s a lizard!” she told them. The boys went wild and searched for it, even though the reptile had already disappeared into a rocky hiding place.
The “safe lot” was planned before the pandemic, on space the city of Mountain View leased from the county. When California’s shelter-in-place order went into effect in mid-March, the county allowed RV dwellers to stay at the lot. According to the latest count, there are 38 vehicles; 15 vehicles house families with multiple children, and nine are home to senior citizens. The residents mostly stay tethered to their campers, practice social-distancing and are cautious about spreading the virus. Still, the lot feels like an island insulated from many of the pandemic’s realities. By the end of May, none of its residents had tested positive for COVID-19.
TJ and Diego play outside everyday. They pass the hours watching the kites sway on the breeze, dipping plastic wands into soapy water to blow bubbles and playing tag on a strip of grass within shouting distance of the Jayco. “We are just so happy to have a place we can go right now, and the kids can play outside,” said Abraham, Anna’s father. —Paige Blankenbuehler, associate editor at High Country News
Nina Riggio is a visual journalist based in San Francisco, California, and Reno, Nevada. Follow her on Instagram @ninareeg.
Co-published with High Country News.