As I have written about on this blog over the past four years, we’ve travelled a lot. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to travel a lot. And we’ve enjoyed every minute of it. But we hadn’t traveled in a global pandemic, let alone traveled across the world in one. I’d like to tell you we were prepared, that we were now seasoned enough to take it all in stride. But the truth is nothing can prepare you for this. It’s like landing on the moon, and every aspect of our journey took on a surreal quality. Just gearing up with masks, face shields, gloves, and hand sanitizer to face airports, planes, hotels, and rental cars makes you feel like you are up against something massive.
We first got a sense of what we might be attempting to take on when kids at school began to ask Jackson and Cassius if they had any summer plans. When the boys informed their friends they were going to the United States, their friends looked on in disbelief with the most common response being, “Good luck.” One friend, who grew up for a time in the states even asked, “Are you crazy?” Even though the US is home to us, comments like these do make you think twice.
After all, in Spain, they watch the news too. We were going to the US, the epicenter of all things COVID 19, the place where cities were under siege with burning buildings and shattered windows, where state capitols were being stormed with semi-automatic weapons, and racial tensions were boiling over.
It started off innocently enough. We booked our flights and lodging. Nothing really seemed out of the ordinary. And then, about a ten days before our departure, our flight was cancelled. Just cancelled. Like finding out your girlfriend had broken up with you. Only the airline did it by text. So what could we do? We doubled back, started over, and found another route—a route from Madrid to London to Seattle since we were heading to the Pacific Northwest. All seemed fine until a week before our departure when we received another break-up text. Cancelled. No explanation. Just travel in the time of coronavirus. We weren’t giving up, but I have to confess we were beginning to worry if we could pull this off. However, if there is one thing living in another country teaches you, it’s that you don’t quit, can’t quit, and that persevering is a daily occurrence. Not everything comes easy abroad, so why should this be any different. Nothing ventured nothing gained.
When we began sharing this story with some of our friends in Spain, one of Karen’s friends told her that they were flying to Dallas on American from Madrid, and that the flight was going every day. So I began looking at flights from Madrid to Dallas. If we managed to get to the Lonestar State, it seemed like we’d be able to connect with a flight to Seattle. The only problem was that the flights to Dallas were all pricing in $3,000 a person! I know the airlines are suffering, but this hardly seemed like a good approach to entice customers. But this was an important trip for our family (more on that in the next blog) and there just had to be a way.
I figured I had nothing to lose by trying to search every major destination in the US that was receiving international flights. And lo and behold, I stumbled onto a round trip flight to New York from Madrid via Dallas (on the plane we wanted to travel on!) for $200 per person!!! Why? I have no idea! So we decided we would book this round trip from Madrid to Dallas to New York, and we would just get off the plane in Dallas and miss the flight to New York and the entire return leg. Still, it was a fraction of the price of the same flight without the NY destination and round trip. Madness! Sheer madness! But we booked it. We’d obviously have to travel without any checked baggage (Karen loves traveling with only a backpack:) but this seemed like a small price to pay for an $11,000 savings. Keep in mind, we were preparing to travel to the United States knowing that Spain had closed their borders to all Americans for the summer. So our return was also in jeopardy, although we were told our Spanish residency should be enough to guarantee us re-entry into Spain even with the US on the banned list. So off we went to the United States, but if you thought this was the end of our adventure, you’d be wrong.
When we arrived at the airport on the day of the flight, we overheard the staff at the check-in counter saying one of the staff flying was sick! Not exactly what you want to hear in a global pandemic. Then we heard that the flight crew had been flying for so many hours that they were not legally able to fly to Dallas, so the plane would have to touch down in New York (off all places) and change crews! This mattered little to us, except the two hours on the ground in New York forced us to miss our connection to Seattle.
For those of you that haven’t traveled internationally during this pandemic, it’s different. We’d be lying if we said we didn’t enjoy the extra space on planes and the tiny security lines. At the same time, it’s also slightly unsettling to see the eerily empty international terminals and feel the COVID-19 tension emanating from flight attendants on predominantly empty flights.
After a night in Dallas, where the airport was actually jam packed, masks were optional, and the coronavirus was surging, we boarded our flight to Seattle and arrived on the other side of the world. It was the end of pretty epic transatlantic and cross-country trips.
Over the next five weeks, we would sleep in 10 different beds, drive from Seattle to Palm Springs, wear every kind of mask imaginable, and use enough hand sanitizer to cleanse Satan. We’d stand on social distancing circles in hotel elevators, restaurants, and lobbies. We’d avoid hitting protesters on the freeways in Seattle and manage not to get hit by Molotov Cocktails in Portland. We’d hear the relentless cries of political rallies in Palm Desert and we’d rent four different vehicles on a car trip across 3 states. We’d pass through Weed, California and see weed stores on every corner from north to south. We’d inhale the cool, crisp air rising off the Puget Sound in Washington and inhale the scent of fresh cattle at Harris Ranch in Coalinga, CA. From the coastal waters of Washington and Oregon to the High Desert to the California Grapevine, scorching Desert, and finally to Los Angeles, we managed to make it through.
On the last day of our trip, we were flying out of Los Angeles. It was our only day of our trip in LA, and we decided to eat at Marty’s, home of the combo—and epic sandwich with a hot dog and burger housed beneath a single bun. But Marty’s really is special. It is an authentic hamburger stand where we often ate after Little League Games, soccer games, karate, basketball, and just about every activity when the boys were young. The guys that work there know our names, and it feels like home. Marty’s was also the last meal we had before we headed to Spain four years ago. So it only seemed fitting it was our last meal before we headed back this year.
After lunch, we visited the boys’ elementary school and took photos in front of our old house, currently being rented by a young family with young kids. A young family much like we were 18 years ago when we moved in. The boys just stood there and stared, somewhat incognito with masks over their faces, an epic journey in their rear view mirror and more to surely come in the years ahead.