"You Will Not Be Allowed To Get Off The Plane" (OR, A Very Long Precursor Post Setting The Stage For THE QUARANTINE CHRONICLES)
|Chateau de Poigny, the chateau where we were staying until the world turned upside down|
I'm writing this a few days after it all happened, and back-dating it for chronological clarity... but I wanted to kick-off the (possibly temporary, as this quarantine will be) relaunch of this blog with some backstory. The precursor to my upcoming Quarantine Chronicles: AKA how I got home from Europe and wound up in quarantine.
It all started at around 2:30 AM on Thursday, March 12, in Poigny-la-Forêt, a small village outside Rambouillet in the Versailles area of France. I was asleep in my bed at the chateau where twelve other American writers and I were staying for the week. My roommate for the week, Ian, was asleep in his bed a few feet away.
My phone rang. It was my husband.
He forgot the time difference, I thought groggily, and ignored the call.
He called again.
I picked up the phone, fumbling, not answering it in time, so I sent him a text.
It's the middle of the night - is everything okay?
Trump just said all travel from Europe is going to be shut down at midnight Friday. After that there's a 30 day travel ban.
My heart stopped. Twenty-some hours from now? My flight wasn't for another few days. If I didn't get on an earlier flight... I'd be stuck in Europe for a month, away from my family? My three-year-old daughter?
Shit, I texted back.
"Ian," I said aloud, and Ian was instantly awake.
Within minutes, he was talking with his husband, I was talking with mine, the whole house was up, everyone panic-dialing the airlines, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Desperate to make sure we could get home.
We all knew that Coronavirus, alias COVID-19, was something to be concerned about. But none of us had any idea that in the week we would be gone, the landscape would experience such seismic shifts. That a global pandemic would be declared. That we might not be able to return to our families.
Then we got an update: Homeland Security had issued a statement clarifying Trump's statement. The European travel ban didn't apply to US citizens. Not yet, anyway. Two of the writers still got in the car right then, heading to the airport at 3 AM to take their chances and try to wedge their way onto a States-bound plane, even after reading the Homeland Security update.
The rest of us decided to wait until after Friday, figuring the mad rush of non-citizens with ties to the States wanting to complete their travel before the ban impacted them would make it impossible for us to change our flights anyway. We're citizens, we said. We'll be fine. Right? I mean... right?
At 4:30 in the morning, all far too wired to sleep, we decided to do a Paula Vogel Bake-Off - setting a timer for twenty minutes, brainstorming four ingredients, and writing a play. You can read mine in this Facebook post if you really want to, but it really was a surprisingly wise mental health move. We were all writers. Trapped. Writing helped, as it always does.
That Thursday passed in a blur of family calls, airline attempts, half-naps, a walk through the village, then some folks saying eff it and going out to a fancy dinner in Paris while the rest of us ate crepes in Rambouillet.
Folks started departing in earnest on Friday, particularly as rumors of additional border shutdowns began. Although we both had tickets for early Saturday morning by then, Ian and I decided to drive to the Charles de Gaulle airport Friday night, and sleep there just in case. If anything changed again in the middle of the night, we wanted to be able to be first in line at the desks saying Get. Us. Home.
|Ian and me, before the madness|
So Ian and I sat at the airport for seven hours, watching BBC panel shows and pitching each other on new plays and stories. I think. I don't know. We'd already barely slept in two days by that point.
Around six, we said our farewells and headed to our separate terminals. He was getting on a nonstop flight straight into JFK. I was heading to O'Hare in Chicago by way of Amsterdam.
My flight from Paris took off on-time, and I half-slept for the hour-long journey between France and the Netherlands. Nothing at either European airport seemed odd. Which was odd. There was just a low hum of anxiety.
And my heart, beating get home, get home, please let me get home, over and over.
In Netherlands, new alerts on my cell phone told me France was talking about closing its borders. I'd made it out just in time. I paid $5 for a bottle of water and was only bothered by that for one little minute. Things were serious.
Then my plane was delayed. Security issues, we were told, and it almost seemed passé to momentarily be worried about terrorism instead of a pandemic.
But after an hour, we were allowed to board the plane. By that time, I'd been mostly-awake for close to two days, but was on so much adrenaline that I managed to watch all of Parasite (MUCH DARKER THAN Y'ALL LET ON) before passing out. I woke up when we had a little over an hour left of our nearly-nine-hour flight.
That's when the pilot made the following announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, we have just received word from the ground. When we land at Chicago-O'Hare, you will not be allowed to get off the plane. A U.S. Health Official will board the plane and provide a Coronavirus update at that time. This is all we know."
WHAT. DID. THAT. MEAN?
Were we being kept on the plane because of some risk we were bringing to the States? Or in the eight hours we'd been in the air, had things on the ground gotten so bad that they didn't want us to step off the airplane and into the disaster that awaited us at home?
We flew for an hour, not knowing.
When we landed, the captain reiterated that we were to stay seated.
For half an hour, nothing happened. Then, the captain:
"Ladies and gentlemen, my apologies for the confusion. There is no health official available to board our plane. So you will get off the plane and get in line and they will tell you more."
Thus began a FIVE. HOUR. PROCESS. of lines, lines, and more lines between thousands of O'Hare passengers. Let's fast forward this part. I wound up interviewed by multiple news outlets about what it was like. Here's an NBC article, or feel free to watch this Washington Post clip, just as two examples:
It was awful. I didn't tell the reporters about the woman who tapped me on the shoulder and said "haha, I gave you coronavirus," four hours into line-standing and misery. I nearly burst into flames at that point. But I made it through. I made it home. I hugged my husband, my mother, my sleeping daughter, and finally exhaled.
So that's how I wound up in mandatory quarantine at home for 14 days. Plus, social distancing and voluntary isolation is now a thing, so my husband is also working from home, my daughter's school is closed, and we'll be having no guests and going nowhere for the foreseeable future.
Which is why I'll be writing my daily #QuarantineChronicles, charting my temperature and symptoms per CDC mandate (hopefully, all's fine - I don't have any symptoms, but will not be violating my quarantine because I am 100% on board with flattening the curve). If you want to keep up with the daily goings-on during my quarantine, welcome! I promise the other posts won't be so freakin' long.