When my son and daughter-in-law bought an older home on the other side of the country, I decided I should head over to see if they needed help fixing anything that was broken. This wasn’t a fixer-upper, but there were a few things off the rails so to speak.
No one in our family has travelled since March. It was time to leave the old normal and find out what the new normal looked like. Plus, my wife told me to go. So I left the confines and safety of our home in Manitoba to fly to Victoria.
Let me tell you that the new normal looks like the old normal that you might see in any science-fiction movie dealing with a virus. Everyone seems like a strange person in a strange land.
I arrived at the airport about 30 minutes earlier than I normally would. I did my online research. Entering the terminal, everyone had masks on at all times. The airport air smells somewhat like pocket lint since that’s where I keep my mask. In the old normal, I can’t see anything without my glasses, and in the new normal I can’t see anything past the constant fog on my glasses. Things change, but ultimately remain the same.
I downloaded my boarding pass to my phone the night before and that allows me to move directly to the kiosk and scan my phone. I need to check my bag since I have filled it with various tools in order to break things apart and put other things back together again in Victoria. The bag weighs in at one pound under the allowable limit! Later I found a nice note in my bag from Canadian Air Transport Security saying they opened and checked my bag, too. They put in a similar note for the return trip too.
The airport emanates an unusual post apocalyptic aura since the terminal remains mostly empty. Kiosks selling the country’s most overpriced coffee remain closed. But when I near the Tim Hortons kiosk I feel like I’ve stepped into a fantasy movie since, for the first time ever, there is no lineup. I treat myself.
Hand sanitizer pumps stand like sentries everywhere. I use one and it dispenses enough solution to do my hands. And forearms. And a bit left over to sterilize my elbows. I can’t leave the sanitizer till I use all the liquid in case someone thought that foaming elbows was a symptom.
Our friendly airline announces that they are now open for boarding. Everyone lines up almost socially distant. The line snakes down a bit further than normal. A pleasant attendant comes by and asks everyone the now familiar COVID-19 questions of whether they have been feeling ill or in contact with anyone with COVID-19 recently. This reminds me of the midway rides as a child, when they lined you up against a “you have to be this tall to be on this ride” sign. Now it’s more of a “you have to be this healthy to be on this ride” rule. I start sweating, thinking I might not pass the criteria.
But just to make sure, gate staff take my temperature by one of those remote thermometers. The attendant smiles and raises the device and I try not to think of Javier Bardem’s character in No Country for Old Men, who dispatches a hapless victim with a similar looking captive bolt pistol.
We know to keep our masks on at all times – except when we show our government-issued identification to show that we actually are the same individual actually boarding the plane.
Upon entering the plane, all passengers are treated as if they are in business class. But instead of a hot face towel, everyone gets a lukewarm germicidal hand wipe. Only use it for your own seat area. Wiping down your neighbour’s seat will only get you looks. Or so I would assume. Safety tip: Do not use it on your face. Or any open wound.
Eventually, the seats beside me fill up. Social distancing appears to be a relative concept. Attempting to purchase the eight chairs surrounding me appears to be relatively expensive. So, I grin and bear it. Not that anyone can tell.
The pleasant young woman beside me asks if she can pull down her mask in order to drink her coffee. In a moment of supreme forgetfulness, I pull down my mask so I can clearly smile and tell her that it would be fine. I had to, I’d instantly lost all moral high ground if I pulled my mask down to tell her “No, and could she keep her mask on.” That would have made me the male equivalent of a Karen. Is that a Ken?
My airline follows normal survival training when it comes to service. You can survive three days without water and about 30 days without food. The benefit appears to be that the aisle is mostly clear most of the time. But since no one has any food or water, no one uses the washrooms anyway.
We land quickly and easily. Upon landing, flight attendants ask that everyone not stand up at the same time to grab their luggage and strongly suggest only moving once the people in front of you have left. So the theory seems to be that you should socially distance when standing and not worry about it when you were sitting down in even closer contact with your neighbours.
When I do retrieve my luggage this seems like the same old normal. Retrieving my rental car takes me back to the new normal. All services areas now have the ubiquitous Plexiglas that impede virus and sound transmission.
I believe the sound impediment becomes an unintended but not unexpected consequence. The company-issued mask for the car rental attendant seems far more efficient than my mask in sound stopping capability. When the attendant asks me questions about insurance and the collision-damage waiver on my credit card, I can’t help myself and poke an ear around the Plexiglas to find out how much I would be liable for in case of an accident. I pull back. Don’t be a Ken, I thought. I’m sure the insurance company would be understanding and accepting. Unless I really needed them for something.
After short drive I arrive at our son and daughter-in-law’s new house. I enter a new social bubble and a new interprovincial health guideline. Proper adherence to both allows me to give both kids a hug. And I feel a bit of the old normal slip in ever so slightly.
Things are going to be okay after all.
Until I fly home.