Parker Fairfield Sr., left, and his son, Parker Fairfield Jr. The younger Fairfield has published a book of photos he took during a cross-country road trip earlier this year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Submitted photo

DENMARK — In the middle of the pandemic in April with most everything shut down across the country, Parker Fairfield Sr. found out his best friend was facing financial difficulties where he lived in California.

Flying was too risky. Within three days, Fairfield left Maine in a silver Ford F-250 Super Duty truck with his teenage son, Parker Fairfield Jr., accompanying him on the cross-country road trip.

The cover of the photo book “Isolated on the Road.” Submitted photo

Traveling along empty highways and taking every precaution possible to minimize contact with other people because of COVID-19 concerns, father and son drove across the country and back in just under a month, covering 7,000 miles and 21 states.

They did not share the driving because the 19-year-old Fairfield does not yet have his driver’s license. But being a budding photographer, he brought his camera to document the trip.

Seeing America through a lens during a tumultuous time in history, Fairfield chose his best and most dramatic images and published a 56-page photo book titled, “Isolated on the Road.”

“I decided to make the book because I found a lot of people during the summer were wanting to travel, but due to the pandemic and the lock-down orders, that’s not really an option. The book would be a way to improvise that virtual travel. You could travel to see America and all of the scenery through my book.”

Readers would also see an America like one they have never before seen. Empty roads, no crowds and usually bustling downtowns quiet.

“I can imagine people 20 years from now would like to see something about what America was like when such a big event happened,” Fairfield said.

LEARNING TO TAKE PHOTOS

Parker Fairfield Jr. was born in California. He moved to Taiwan for a year at age 7, where his mother had lived. Then, starting with third grade, Fairfield attended school in China. He graduated last year from Huafu International School in Guangzhou, China.

He has lived in Maine for just over a year.

He discovered he had a talent for photography in middle school when he entered a photo contest. He used his father’s camera, a Canon PowerShot, and practiced taking photos of everything, getting creative, experimenting with light and exposure and studying online how to take photos.

“I got first place and thought maybe this is something I can be good at. So I tried it some more. I was able to express myself in something I felt very comfortable with.”

He said he took photos of family, friends and even strangers who would pay him. He earned enough money to purchase his current camera — a Nikon D800 — which he used to take the images that are in the photo book.

THE OPEN ROAD

Isolated describes the Fairfields on their month-long journey during the pandemic. They wore masks and gloves, slept in their vehicle and only ordered takeout, even in areas where restaurants had reopened in the South.

They left April 20, traveling mostly along Interstate-80, taking a few detours along the way so that the younger Fairfield could snap photographs of scenery and other artistic images.

They drove mostly by themselves.

“One thing that surprised us was that there were so few cars on the road,” Fairfield said. ” We would go 20, 30 minutes and wouldn’t see another car on the same road in either direction.”

A scene from Texas from the book “Isolated on the Road” by Parker Fairfield Jr. Parker Fairfield Jr. photo

His father, 50, a property manager, was going to the rescue of his best friend, who lived in Bethel Island, California. The friend faced financial hardships due to that state’s shutdown for the pandemic. Owning several properties, he had to allow his renters to live rent-free and he had to pay for their water and electricity. At the same time, the friend was also dealing with an ailing parent, Fairfield said. With no money coming in, he was near financial ruin.

The father and son stayed a couple of weeks, helping with repairs as well as financial and emotional support.

They took a different route home, heading down to Los Angeles before turning east on Interstate-40, which covers much of the famed Route 66. One highlight, said Fairfield, was Galena, Kansas, which served as the model for the town in the Pixar movie “Cars.”

But some areas on their return trip had started to reopen early, making the Fairfields uncomfortable.

It was April and May and most of America was pretty strict on lock down, but in places like Arizona and Oklahoma no one was wearing a mask. No one was social distancing.

Fairfield said he’s not surprised that they are among the nation’s hot spots for the virus now.

“Three days after we left Tennessee, we saw it on the news that they were a hot spot,” Fairfield said. “They had all the restaurants still opened when we went there. You could still dine indoors.”

But stops like the one at University of California at Santa Barbara were more representative of the isolated America he witnessed this spring.

“It’s a massive school,” he said. “It was early May during the shutdown, and there’s suppose to be a lot of people, but we saw just one person.”

The cover photo shows a flat stretch of deserted highway in Nebraska surrounded by farmlands with a small covering of snow.

They witnessed Southern hospitality in Oklahoma City, when they noticed they had a broken tail light. Stopping outside a Marriott hotel, a maintenance worker came out and helped them replace the light with a small flashlight and tape to hold it in place until they could replace the bulb a couple of days later.

The book features photos on blue and white pages representing different themes. The white pages contain Fairfield’s artistic images recording the trek to California and back. The blue pages are more documentary in style showing series of photos, including state welcoming signs and COVID-19 signs unique to the times like, “Protect New Mexico, wear a mask” and “Stay at home order in effect.”

They arrived home in Maine on May 16, just four days shy of a month. They were pleased with the state’s effort to stop the virus.

“Maine was super,” Fairfield said. “People wore masks and there was the two-week lockdown and self-quarantine when we returned.”

Self-publishing the book, Fairfield is starting with 100 copies through a Kickstarter campaign.

Fairfield plans to attend Vassar College in New York this fall. He may be one of the few students on campus with a published book.

When the pandemic finally ends, Fairfield said he would like to take another road trip across the country.

“There’s a lot of places we’d like to see,” Fairfield said. “And I want to eat again at this rib place in Tennessee — Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous. The best ribs I’ve ever had.”

 

An empty campus at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Parker Fairfield Jr. photo

A scene in Oklahoma from the photo book “Isolated on the Road” by Parker Fairfield Jr. Parker Fairfield Jr. photo


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