Space. I’d like a little more space around me, standing in line waiting to board the plane. At the grocery store, they suggest customers stand three feet apart while waiting to check-out at the cash register. Socially distance is the catch phrase. But to load an airplane with passengers, time is measured with dollar signs. We hold out our smartphones and paper slips with our barcoded boarding passes. Tuck the edges of our masks around the edges of our nose and chin.
It’s been 19 months since I’ve boarded an airplane. January 2020. Pre- pandemic, I was worrying about a snow storm, the weather in Portland, Maine. A member of the last MFA class at the USM Stonecoast writing program pre-pandemic, to graduate in person, physically walk across the stage and hug my teachers. What a privilege to be able to shake hands with my program directors, to be able to spontaneously embrace.
It’s been 20 months since I’ve seen my daughter in person. During the Christmas 2019 holidays we addressed wedding invitations, a marriage celebration cancelled due to the pandemic. It is the miracle of digital technology that has enabled us to visit— by video camera. I’ve toured the house she and her husband rented last year. We chat by text, phone and email. Spend an hour visiting virtually and it almost feels, almost like you’re sitting in the same room.
But it’s not enough, and we long to see them in person. We’d like to see the new house they are renting. Meet the dog they adopted. Cautiously my husband and I assess the travel situation. Maryland to California. We have no choice but to fly.
Reports on the news will tell you flying is grim. The labor shortage and escalation of extreme weather—tornadoes, floods, forest fires, hurricanes— translate into flights consistently being cancelled. My husband tells me horror stories relayed to him of vacationers stranded overnight, unable to make connections. I try to find a direct flight and a direct flight does not exist. Did it ever exist? I honestly don’t remember, but I’m not too enthusiastic about changing planes in Dallas, Texas. Texas, one of the current hotspots for the coronavirus. The best day and time, very early in the morning, is the most efficient route to San Jose. Deal with it, I tell myself.
My husband and I arrive way too early, following the recommendations to allow plenty of time, but at least at 5:00 a.m. not many people are walking around the Baltimore Washington Airport terminal.
The planes are only two thirds full going West, and my husband and I have an entire row to ourselves. Mid -flight, we order our beverage by number. The choices are coke, diet coke, 7-up, water or coffee. The snack is a tiny bag of pretzel sticks. The airlines were stingy before, but due to Covid-19, snack service is even more streamlined. We both order #4. Alcohol is not served. This probably helps to cut down on unruly passengers. As required, everyone wears their masks. I wash my hands thoroughly at every opportunity.
In California, everyone must mask up any time they enter a building. I also see more people wearing masks outdoors than in Maryland. Some are wearing N-95 masks to filter the air because the smoke from multiple forest fires is severely impacting air quality. One day of our visit, the four of us plus dog drive to Santa Cruz, to walk on the beach and inhale cleaner air. This is the state of our planet. As I write this, Category 4 Hurricane Ida, is destroying homes, businesses, and lives. Again and again I am reminded to live in the moment and savor what I am fortunate to have.
Fully vaccinated, we made the trip safely back and forth in both directions. I’m glad we made the journey. But for the next 10 days I’ll be watchful. Incidents of breakthrough infections are possible.
Back at the grocery store, filling my cart to restock the refrigerator, I try to maintain several feet of space between myself and strangers. I recall an earlier time when distancing was not something I thought about, but the world has changed and I’ve changed with it.