It’s been 1 1/2 years since I was in the USA. It didn’t feel as strange as I expected but it has felt strange in ways I wasn’t expecting.
Of course, first, it’s been beyond fantastic to be with my family again after all this time. I thought my adult children and I were fine with video chats, not wanting to admit to myself how much I missed them. The grandchildren are almost different people now. They have grown and learned new things and I’ve been getting to know them all over again.
So, what is it like in the US in general? I’ve been in Seattle and northern California. As expected, everything is clean, manicured, and orderly. Roads are well paved with road signs and lanes clearly marked. The weather was sunny and warm with beautiful blue skies. There is tons of merchandise to buy in the stores everywhere, all beautifully displayed and easy to find. Some things are cheaper, but food is not and don’t even ask about eating in restaurants. English is the language everywhere, so easy. Social greetings are less common, but I’ve noticed more smiles than usual. Maybe it’s because I have been out in neighborhood parks more than on the streets. But, none of this was unexpected.
But, COVID is a thing! I’ve been in my little bubble at home, knowing in my head that the whole world is dealing with it, but that’s not the same as actually seeing it. The majority of people wear masks where I’ve been, even if it’s not always required of vaccinated people. I’ve gone out without a mask and felt strangely naked, and I prefer a mask especially with kids, since they are unvaccinated and have to wear their masks. I see social distancing marks on floors in stores, and hand sanitizer available in entrances. Even in the house, you can’t ignore the basket of masks by the front door. My little grandkids put on their masks along with their shoes and think nothing of it. I wonder if they even remember when we didn’t wear masks.
It will be interesting to see what changes stick. On line ordering, curbside pickups, and deliveries are so common now and maybe we want to keep those options? Maybe working from home will continue, at least some of the time. I think my kids miss seeing coworkers in person though so they don’t want to work at home all the time. Restaurants have outside dining arrangements which have been popular, and may be here to stay? International travel is a big hassle though, I will be very happy when this isn’t a thing any more!
There isn’t much more to say about the US. I spent the majority of my time playing with the kids and reconnecting with the adults, and I cared much less about what was going on outside the house.
Traveling back wasn’t as nerve racking as going, but COVID still added another layer of stress and complications. I flew United and their travel info said you could fly without a COVID test, but you would need one on arrival in Panama. OK, no problem. But, when I checked in at San Francisco she read and read and read her computer screen before she felt OK with letting me fly. I could have been tested at the airport but it’s crazy expensive, so I was glad I didn’t have to do that.
I had a layover in Houston, and thought everything was just fine until they announced that boarding would begin soon. All passengers need their passport, health affidavit, COVID test, and boarding pass in hand. What?? oh sheesh. Thankfully I had done the health affidavit on line and had the QR code in my phone (I saw other travelers filling out papers for that). I did not have a COVID test though. Another official thought it was ok, but it wasn’t until the announcement came on 15 minutes later than I could breathe. Yes, passengers were allowed to test upon landing in Panama.
Testing in Panama was great. I went to the testing center, no waiting (yes it was the nose probe but not too bad), and waited 30 minutes. As I was going back to check he was coming towards me with my negative test in hand. The first stop at customs was the table with the people in medical protective garb who wanted to see my COVID test. Then, it was customs as usual, and my suitcase was waiting for me at baggage claim. I waited about 5 minutes and the hotel van showed up. Yay, time to collapse in the hotel.
Flying from Panama City to David was a mess at check in. The airport was super crowded and all us David people were confused and anxious that we wouldn’t make our flight. But, an agent helped us by making a special line for us so we could go directly to a check in agent. I don’t think he even looked at my COVID test, and then it was downstairs for the flight. And, then I was HOME!
Whew! That was Thursday (after overnight flights on Tuesday night), 2 days of travel. I’m not getting any younger. Ha! Thursday I went from the sofa to the bed, and Friday I actually did a few productive things. It wasn’t until Saturday that I felt like myself again. I will be really glad when they bring back the San Francisco – Panama direct flights. It’s still an overnight but at least only one day of travel. The agent in San Francisco told me that they are still running very reduced schedules and it may be quite a while before that changes. But, my flights were totally full going and coming, so who knows.
So, that’s my story of the moment. Now I’m getting reoriented at home, and preparing for our first band gig (finally!!) on Friday. With any luck, we won’t be sidelined this time, and we’ll rock the house down! 😁
You all take care! The recent news isn’t good, so keep on being careful and taking care of yourselves and each other.