NY Dispatch: Two weeks ago I did something that I wasn’t sure I was going to do for a long time. I got on a plane. A short vacation that was timed in the trough between the summer wave of COVID-19 cases and the tsunami that is cresting as we head into winter. It was going to be now or much, much later.
It took some time to figure out where to go since so many countries have barred entry to Americans; our rate of infection is completely out of control. There are only a handful of places left, mainly in the Caribbean and Mexico. I ruled out islands after a friend of mine got trapped on one when they locked down; it took him months to get home. I had booked tickets to Mexico only to cancel the trip a week later when the number of cases forced them to close states and enforce restrictions. I was less concerned with the restrictions than their president saying, “Don’t worry.” I finally settled on Florida, despite their voting record, for somewhere still warm enough to eat outside.
I was anxious going to the airport. It was going to be the first time I was going to be inside with a group of people since March. Reading about air travel put me as some ease; my airline blocked off all the middle seats, the air is circulated through filters, and everyone was required to wear a mask. I chose to wear my N95 mask as per travel recommendations and kept it on from boarding until I left the baggage carousel.
At JFK’s Terminal 4, which predominately serves international flights, I breezed through TSA. There were only a handful of other travelers on a Friday night. This process normally takes 45 minutes to an hour, which is why they have a fast track service that you have to pay for. Not sure how they will survive the pandemic because there was literally no line to avoid. I was done in 10 minutes. The terminal was empty with most of the stores and restaurants, and all of the duty free stores, shuttered. Not closed, but with the gates pulled down and all the merchandise in view. They have been that way for months. This made the airport eerie, but oddly safer; it was deserted.
Onboard everything was normal, except that it wasn’t. Everyone was wearing masks (not always over their nose). I settled into my window seat and the normal routine of flying took over. After an hour I realized the only thing that was different was that I was wearing a mask. I relaxed and distracted myself with a movie.
Over the course of the week I ate at off-peak times to avoid crowds when indoor seating was the only option (it rained a lot thanks to Tropical Storm Eta), or took it to go. Most people, but not all, wore a mask indoors, much less frequently outside. There was a checkpoint at every entrance to the beach to make sure people had masks on, but they came off as soon as people hit the sand. This was relatively safe and everyone kept to themselves in little clusters. I had to do a rapid COVID test before I returned, and have to quarantine for 2 weeks now that I am back, but after 8 months that is a piece of cake.
Although my experience was not bad, with the holidays coming up I would not encourage anyone to travel unless they have to. This disease is very communicable and travels with you. All you need is that one exposure. But if you do travel, take precautions, wear your mask, wash your hands, avoid indoor spaces, and use common sense. Happy Staycation.
Today I am grateful for Charlie Jane Anders. She is a proud technology geek and has published essays, short fiction, and novels, in venues as varied as Wired, MIT Technology Review, The New York Times, and a plethora of literary magazines both online and in print. She writes in a blend of journalism, fiction, science fiction, and magical realism. Anders has a Lambda Literary Award, Hugo Award and a Nebula Award on her shelf and in her free time acts as the emcee of a reading series, Writers with Drinks. Her 2016 novel, All the Birds in the Sky, like the author, transcends boundaries and genres, creating a unique mashup of magic, sci-fi, and character driven storylines set in a near-future dystopian San Francisco. Happy Transgender Awareness Week.