Editor’s note: with new CDC guidelines that fully vaccinated people can travel safely domestically, our TRT writer Christian took to the skies again. My return to travel is only a week away (more later), but my first flight won’t be for a while yet. I wonder what my emotions will look like. For more of Christian’s amazing work here, click to visit his index.
I packed a bag this morning in Los Angeles, and ended my day in San Antonio. It was the first time in over a year that I’ve been on an airplane. On March 8, 2020, I took flight #1621 from SNA to PDX.
That was 387 days ago.
387 mornings ago, I packed my crumpled dress clothes into my favorite scuffed Patagonia duffel and headed back to Portland. I had flown to Orange County for my cousin’s wedding. Their wedding was the last time I saw friends hug one another, and the last time I saw old friends reunite. The wedding (like most weddings) was the type where everyone is happy to see one another, and dancing with strangers was completely acceptable. I love weddings because it’s a beautiful thing to revel in the couple’s love, and personally, I get a special joy out of reuniting with the people I care about, too. There’s even a special joy that comes with running into people that I mostly forgot existed, but then seeing them at a wedding and remembering how I much I like them. “Remember that time, we did that thing, with those people? Oh, man, it’s good to see you again.”
Saturday, on the way to the wedding, I remember some conversations as ones where I was almost the wrongest I’ve ever been. Like many of us, I was confident that the new virus was something that wouldn’t upend my life. I reasoned, with how frequently you might hear about a new scary thing on the national news, what are the odds that this particular scary thing is going to sweep the globe? Even if this new thing does sweep the earth, surely it wouldn’t affect the US. Welp. I ate crow, and it was bitter. I still don’t believe in jinxing, but I might be more cautious about it from now on, anyhow.
Sunday, On the way home from the wedding, I remember distinctly sitting in the airport, and watching CNN at Gate 19. The reporter suggested that governors might be “closing states” pretty soon. I didn’t know what that meant at the time (and frankly, I’m not convinced anyone ever fully understood the baffling conflicting orange, red, purple rules that governors administered). Sitting in Gate 19 last year was the first time I saw people look at each other in the way brought on by the Covid era. Instead of the aggressively passive attitude that people normally treat one another with at the airport, folks started spreading out, side-eyeing their travel neighbors who might give them a deadly disease.
Since then, I’ve spent the last 387 days on the ground.
I’ve cried three times in the last six months. The first time it was tears of joy after I got my second dose of the vaccine. The second time was for personal reasons (please stop prying). The third time was today, when I landed in Las Vegas for a layover. Usually I don’t cry on layovers; usually I just watch The Bachelor on my phone. But today, when I looked out the plane’s window, I was overwhelmed with joy as I watched the sunbaked Nevada desert turn to sprawling suburbs, and then turn to glittering casinos.
The LAS Southwest terminal isn’t a place that’s built for quiet reflection; it’s a place filled with dinging slot machines, rushing passengers, crying babies, and spilled coffee (I admit it was actually me who spilled the coffee…). The bustling, which I normally find overwhelming, brought me a great deal of joy today. As I write this, about one third of the American people have received a vaccine. I recognize that we’re not done with this thing yet, but the dinging slot machines and throngs of travelers were, to me, a symbol of hope that the world is on a path to returning to whatever the new version of normal might be.
Do you intend to return to travel soon? Please tell us how it makes you feel!