“Adventure, yeah. I guess that’s what you call it when everybody comes back alive.” – Mercedes Lackey
We were a couple of hours away from boarding American Airlines flight 907 from Miami to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
My travel companion and I were on our way to a dream trip prompted by a destination wedding in Colonia, Uruguay — a wedding sandwiched in between a visit to Iguazu Falls in both Argentina and Brazil, and five days touring the vineyards of Uruguay before flying back home from Uruguay’s capital city of Montevideo.
I was more than 13 months into self-imposed sobriety, a dry period that had begun as a challenge to myself and which had been surprisingly easy given my penchant for good wine and any cocktail that included vodka. I didn’t miss it at all, and I was looking forward to my first wedding and vineyards, sans le sauce.
My traveling companion and I had arrived at MIA about three hours early for our overnight flight. As seasoned travelers, we knew the wait to check our luggage and go through security could often take up to two hours. Better safe than sorry had always been our motto.
Less than 20 minutes after we arrived, our luggage was checked in, boarding passes issued, and we had gone through security in record time.
We exited security and found our gate immediately in front of us. In an airport as big as Miami International Airport, that happens like never.
Next to our gate was a restaurant with an empty high-top on the edge of the perimeter — the perfect perch from which to watch our fellow travelers go by as we waited for our flight to board.
It was March 11 — the day the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.
That would explain the near-empty airport. Yet despite WHO’s declaration, travel abroad had not yet been suspended, and South America was not even a blip on the coronavirus outbreak radar. We had never considered canceling our trip.
The Beings who protect us from danger, however, had other plans.
My traveling companion and I sat at our little table, ordered dinner and settled in for a couple of hours of people watching. About a minute after our quesadilla and salads arrived, we made a decision that would set in motion a series of events that, in retrospect, saved our sanity and perhaps our lives.
“Let’s take a selfie and send it to Andres and Valeria to let them know we’re on our way,” my traveling companion said.
We took the selfie, sent it via text to the soon-to-be-married couple, and received an almost too quick response.
“Barb, can I call you?” Andres responded.
This can’t be good, I thought.
Let’s cut to the chase.
Earlier that day, the president of Argentina had announced that anyone arriving in the country from Europe, China, Japan, South Korea, Iran, and the United States would face a mandatory 14-day quarantine. That meant that if we boarded the plane that was now sitting at the gate, the earliest we could leave Buenos Aires would be three days before our scheduled flight home from Uruguay.
This dream trip was in the throes of “not happening.”
Here’s the CliffNotes version of what happened during the next two hours:
- My traveling companion and I finished our meal.
- We went to the American Airlines customer service counter and asked that our luggage be removed from the plane.
- About an hour later, our bags came off the conveyor belt. They looked sad, confused and lonely.
- We Ubered back home.
- We went to bed, wondering WTF had just happened.
The next 72 hours were the “This Could Have Been You, Barb” compilation reel of scenes from the pandemic movie in which I had been denied a starring role.
- COVID-19 began its relentless journey across the planet.
- Argentina and Uruguay closed their borders. Only a limited number of flights were allowed in and out of either country.
- The ferry on which we would have crossed from Argentina to Uruguay suspended operations.
- A gathering in Montevideo, the city from which we would have departed to return home, was the genesis of the spread of COVID-19 in Uruguay.
- Non-stop flights from Uruguay back to Miami were either canceled or rerouted through Madrid, Spain, a city that was beginning its own coronavirus crisis.
Two weeks later, the U.S. State Department issued a Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory, its highest level warning.
Hell officially broke loose around the world.
As of this writing, hell’s hotspots are scattered around the globe, and there are signs that the early fires are starting to die down. In fact, just last night, the U.S. government announced its plans to begin opening the country’s economy so we can begin our journey back to normal. (Insert sarcastic comment here.)
But let’s not be fooled by the tiny embers that remain. In the blink of an eye, those embers can reignite into a raging inferno that will bring us back to March 1 and consume the tiny inroads we have made to control COVID-19.
My travel companion and I have spent the last month attempting to get our money back from the airlines and hotels we had booked. Most of them issued refunds immediately. Others, like Airbnb, are still refusing to give us our money back.
But these inconveniences don’t matter. What does matter are the things for which I am grateful, and which have come into clear focus during the past month of this “unprecedented situation” in which we all find ourselves.
For starters, our dream trip was exchanged for a “WHO knows how long quarantine.” But our quarantine quarters are clean, comfortable and safe.
We have our jobs, we work from home and only have to dress from the waist up to look presentable on Zoom videoconference calls. If that’s not the definition of blessed, I don’t know what is.
Groceries are delivered to our doorstep whenever we need them, while every day (even pre-COVID-19), an estimated 25,000 people around the world die of starvation.
We can’t go to restaurants, theaters, sporting events, or any other gathering because well, nobody can. Woe is us.
I can’t go see my mom without wearing a mask and gloves. But I can pick up the phone and talk to her whenever I want. And there’s always Alexa Echo Show. (God help us when I install those in her house tomorrow! LOL)
We desperately need haircuts and mani-pedis. I won’t even touch that one because it’s so laughable.
I could go on about how horrifically inconvenient the new normal has been. But you get the point.
Our petty first-world problems are pathetic compared to what millions of our fellow planet Earth brothers and sisters have called reality long before COVID-19 joined the coronavirus family.
We will survive this crisis. Millions of others won’t.
What about you? What’s your silver lining in this situation in which we find ourselves? What’s your lesson? Once we return to “normal,” will you remember what you learned? Or will “business as usual” induce amnesia?
Life can turn on a dime. Stop bitching and start giving thanks.
God’s denials are often just postponements. My dream trip and others like it will hopefully happen one day.
For now, I’m grateful for the denial.