Big Chuck: COVID made trip planning more tricky | Columns

Vacation time was a little different this year. OK, it was a lot different.

I had put in my request for time off at the radio station months ago, at the Dawning of the Era of COVID. As the first week of August got closer, we were heartened when we saw New York’s efforts at crushing the curve paying off and we were able to still take our trip.

But it was a little tricky.

We made the safe and cautious decision to travel only to the one state in the United States that had the best numbers, had the safest conditions and, frankly, a state we could get back into New York from.

We let the data decide where we would vacation. If the “greenest state” was Ohio, then that is where we would spend a week. If it was West Virginia, the same thing. We were determined to be prudent and let the focus of this year’s vacation be more about safety precautions, positive data and pared down expectations.

We studied the graphs and the news reports and watched the CDC website twice a day until the time came to make reservations and plot our journey. So, at the very last moment we settled on the safest, the greenest state in the union at the time of our departure. Where to?

Maine. Yes, Maine.

I’d never been to Maine before, but that was our decision, so off we went, just me and Trish, on our merry way. Kind of like Lucy and Ricky off on their motor trip to California. Our bags were packed, munchies were stowed, the GPS was warmed up and guidebooks were spread out all over the dashboard. The only thing missing was Fred and Ethel.

Maine was full of surprises for us. First of all, it is drop dead gorgeous. Second, it has some wonderful historic sites. Each little coastal community looks like the backdrop for Jessica Fletcher’s nosiness in “Murder, She Wrote.”

We had a ball. Boothbay Harbor was akin to visiting a picture postcard. There is a section of Portland that is called “Old Port,” and it was great. Cobblestone streets, the earliest in the city, dotted with coffee shops, pubs and restaurants. Freeport? Sure, for the de rigueur selfie with the gigantic boot at L.L. Bean’s flagship store.

We snaked our way out along the coast to see Walker Point in Kennebunkport, the summer retreat of several generations of the Bush family. Old Orchard Beach is a tiny Coney Island with vintage rides, carnival barkers, a boardwalk and cotton candy stands.

All in all, if we had to go to just one state, Maine was really a perfect choice. From the first “Moose Crossing” sign along the highway, to a packed and messy real, true Maine lobster roll, it was a winner all the way.

Except for one thing. It was closed.

Yes, the entire state of Maine was pretty much closed.

Every museum, from the largest art museum to the smallest duck decoy gallery was closed because of COVID-19. Historic places, walking tours, lighthouses, winery tasting rooms. All closed. Some restaurants were open. In a modified way. Almost every meal we had we ate outdoors (did I tell you it was 90 degrees every day?).

Retail stores were open for the most part. But all following the usual mask-wearing, socially distanced, hand-sanitizer, limit five-at-a-time, no public restrooms kind of open.

We did stay in hotels. Again with the COVID-19 way of life: no restaurants, no bars, no valet parking, no housekeeping services, etc. Not even a magazine in your hotel room. But we understood. Really, we did.

So, we’ll go back. Maybe next year when (from my lips to God’s ears) this pandemic pandemonium has passed. We will go back and enjoy what we missed. We might even take a whale-watching trip. We may even climb to the top of one of Maine’s 33 lighthouses. We may even have a nice dinner and a glass of wine actually inside one of the state’s great restaurants.

And when our trip was over this year we raced back though the “iffy states” of Vermont and New Hampshire nonstop, all the way home to beautiful and safe Upstate New York.

I’m glad we were able to get away this summer, even in these troubled times. It was great to get back on the road, even if it was just to Maine.

But, I have to tell you, vacation time sure was a little different this year.

Stupid COVID.

I’ll catch you in two……

“Big Chuck” D’Imperio’s morning radio show can be heard weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Otsego County, WDLA-AM 1270 in Delaware County and WCHN-AM 970 in Chenango County.  All of his columns can be found at