Early April: Attend booked training in Edmonton to bring safety certificates up to date
May onward: Work a turnaround near Redwater; House sit for our Edmonton family for three months while they go to Pittsburgh where our son-in law was working on a Shell petrochemical plant; Spend the time after the turnaround getting to know Edmonton better.
Reality as we know it:
We get news that travel insurance is cancelled due to Covid. There is a general outcry from those affected around the world and the forthcoming revision of you’ve got ten days to get back to Canada.
We try phoning Flight Hub but they are swamped and so just go ahead and rebook our flights home on line and pay the change fees with the assurance we will be re-imbursed. That got sorted out in a couple of months. We had planned to fly out of Managua early one morning at the end of the month and stay in Managua the night before in the Best Western across from the airport. Our reservation was non-cancellable, but they graciously waived that and refunded under Covid. Our new departure date was in the afternoon of March 15th. We had paid the Hotel Jerico ahead as well and they very graciously refunded our money, which they really didn’t have to do especially when they were already suffering with the drop in tourist traffic due to the troubles a few years ago. Shortly after we left they shuttered the place for the foreseeable future.
On March 15th, Abdulah Tours picked us up at the Hotel Jerico and drove us to the Managua airport for our flight to Houston, Texas.
We had bought hand sanitizer, surgical and dust masks at a few pharmacies and hardware stores in Esteli and Granada. Shortly after our purchases the Nicaraguan government clamped down and banned the pharmacies from selling hand sanitizer and masks and, if I understood the pharmacists correctly, commandeered their supplies.
We were among the minority wearing masks. Few people in the Managua airport were wearing masks. Only a few people other than us on our flight were wearing masks.
When we arrived in Houston the airport was close to empty compared to normal.
In Houston there were some issues with the Air Canada flight to Canada. The AC app would not issue us boarding passes. The Air Canada gate people within the secure area jerked us around when we tried to sort out the problems with the boarding passes to our next flight. Then they left the area once the flight left for Toronto. In typical Aeroflot Canada fashion they tried to send us to an AC office outside the secure area but a) it was probably closed for the day and b) without boarding passes we would be unable to get back into the secured area. We hung out overnight trying to sleep sitting up in chairs designed to make that as uncomfortable as possible. The airport emptied out to just the cleaning staff and the occasional clump of people passing through from their arriving flights. Hardly any masks.
When the nearby food court started making noises it was going to open up for the breakfast crowd we went and found ourselves a bathroom and then a table. Other than a few Asians passing by we were the only people (passengers or workers) wearing face masks. Got some funny looks, but nobody harassed us. There.
After breakfast we went to the purported departure gate and hung out there. We were early enough that we had the place mostly to ourselves. There was one toddler that wandered in on the way to his gate followed by a parent who then failed to convince him to carry on to the right gate. He liked this one better. The kid then dominated his parents. Who am I to judge? But I did.
Every once in a while I would go check a monitor to make sure they didn’t make a gate switch on us. They do that.
When the Aeroflot Canada gate people showed up we got boarding passes and settled in to wait for the boarding mess. It went as well as it usually does and we settled in for the flight to Calgary. We flew out of Canada from Edmonton, but the government of Canada had restricted entry airports and Calgary was ours on the way home. I guessed it was so people could be quickly trained and brought up to speed to efficiently handle this potential public health crisis.
It is to laugh.
I was shocked when we moved to Saskatchewan and people would automatically say “the government should do something about that”. That was never my first response to any problem. I never thought government was generally efficient or the first choice for any solution. If there is one thing I have learned from 2020 it is that government is even more bumbling and incompetent than I ever considered possible. This has been a Pandemic Severity Index 2 (PS2) which is a relatively mild event. If it had been a PS5 like the Spanish Flu in 1918 we’d all be dead. The only thing that has helped Canada at all is population density is so low.
Enough ranting. Back to the flight. We were just about the only people wearing masks, lowering them briefly to eat or drink. One stewardess loudly proclaimed to the people across the aisle that she thought masks were stupid as she glanced in our direction. She is young enough not to be at particular risk other than BMI but I wonder if she still holds that view.
Arriving in Calgary we are prepared for temperature checks and detailed health questionnaires for Covid risk and detailed quarantine instructions. Nope.
“Okay. Here’s a photocopy. Have a nice day.”
Photocopy has a number to call if you feel sick. We move along to the gate for our flight to Edmonton. There is an earlier flight available and we make the changes. The gate agent is an Air Canada rep who is friendly, helpful and cheerful. You do run across them. They must feel so alone.
We get front row seats on the plane. Passing children ask their parents why those people are wearing masks.
Arriving in Edmonton we deplane and get a cab. The cabbie says he doesn’t know what he should be doing about Covid. At our daughter’s house the garage door opens when we arrive. Our car is in the garage in the spot normally occupied by our son-in-law’s car. He is in Pittsburgh working on construction of a Shell petrochemical plant. Within a week or two they will shut down the project “for two weeks”. He drives to Ontario and flies back to Edmonton. It is months before they recall any workers and in the mean time they cancel the work visas for the Canadians. During the summer he will fly back to Ontario to pick up his car.
All the stuff we had left in the closet of the spare room has been moved to the car. Our winter coats are on the backseat. We put them on and stand behind the car and talk to our daughter and grandkids as they shiver in the doorway between the house and the garage. Then we leave in our car with the snacks and bottled water she has supplied. We stop once at Tim Horton’s in Vermillion to use the bathroom and buy some coffee. They still have a few customers inside and Plexiglas shields for the cashier. There are no straws, napkins or stir sticks at the order pickup counter. This is a change from last fall. I ask why. They’ve moved them away from public touching. Makes sense. I ask for a couple of straws for our coffee (try it!) and we’re back on the road.
We had booked a Choice hotel in Lloydminster because we didn’t know how tired we’d be and what the roads would be like but all was good. I pulled over as we crossed into Saskatchewan and called and cancelled the reservation. They graciously cancelled and refunded our points because Covid.
We drive down the driveway cleared by Willy McAmmond, leap across the snow bank to get to our porch, go in and turn up the electric heat and start the woodstove. Water can wait until tomorrow. We unload the car, turn down the electric heat and not long after go to bed. The memory foam remembers the cold for a while then it adapts to our bodies and we sleep. Our Meadow Lake daughter brings us groceries for the next two weeks. We wipe them down with the Lysol wipes our Edmonton daughter put in our car (she has five kids and buys in bulk) before bringing them inside.
I check about the safety courses. They’re still on but even though we are out of quarantine the day before the first course starts the standard to attend is not having been out of the country for four weeks. Cancel the courses. Later in the month the safety certificate expiry dates get extended to September because of Covid so I could work if there was work. The May turnaround I had been talking about with a potential employer gets cancelled.
I had not been planning to work again for pay when I retired in 2005 but stumbled into short-term turnaround and construction work in 2007 and really liked it. It turned out that 2020 was the first year I didn’t work since 2007. Maybe I’m really retired. Or maybe it is just a Covid gap year. My university “gap year” lasted from 1968 to 1998 when I started on my MBA.
I had worked enough in 2019 to qualify for what the rest of the civilized world calls unemployment insurance. Canada being ahead on the Orwellian curve calls it employment insurance. As we left the country I phoned and advised them I would be out of the country until the end of March. They said fine we’ll mark your account that way and when you get back just go on line and restart your claim. Hah! If I had it to do over again I would have just kept filing the on-line bi-weekly reports and said I was out of the country for the last two weeks, don’t pay me.
My online dashboard now showed my claim as permanently closed. Two or three hours a day of being on hold and being dropped off resulted in getting through to real people three times in six weeks. The first two didn’t know what they were talking about if they believed what they told me. The situation was fluid. Recorded instructions were ambiguous and a lot of people were manning phone lines who were ill informed. Normally you would go to the local Service Canada Centre and see somebody. However, they were all worried about Covid so they shut down the Centres and paid the agents not to be there. If there was justice, they would have to apply for benefits through the system everybody else uses. It might improve.
So that’s what happened to the plans. We’ll talk about the rest of 2020 another day.