Hello! I’m typing this from the comfort of my apartment in New York City. I was able to get home last Thursday afternoon and I thought I’d write about it in real-time, so I bought a notebook at Ale-Hop that morning at the Lisbon airport and started writing down what was going on and that’s what you’re about to read, plus my thoughts after the fact. Now onto what I wrote:
I woke up at 6am in my hotel room in Portugal, about a mile from the airport, and at first, forgot entirely to take my phone off Airplane Mode. I think I was just kinda in “GET READY AND GET TO THE AIRPORT” mode and I wasn’t really concerned about anything except forgetting my toiletry bag because I was tired, or something silly like that. To be honest, I kinda wish I had forgotten to take it off because it did not help my (at that point, okay) sanity to receive 100 Slack/text/IG messages telling me about President Fuck Face’s new European travel ban to go into effect at midnight the following day, and HOW WAS I GOING TO GET HOME? And the especially lovely, yet pointless, nonthreat from my mother, “Do not under any circumstances miss your flight!” Damn, I was really planning on doing exactly that for the first time EVER, but since you scolded me via text, I’ll reconsider. LOL
But really, I have a bad habit of getting to the airport too early, not that latter.
Then some people were telling me that the travel ban had already been enacted but my United app didn’t mention anything except that my flight was slightly delayed, so I ignored that panic.
So, I got dressed, brushed my teeth, and packed up all of my stuff. The lobby at the Radisson Blu was generally quiet, then again it was 6:30 in the morning on a Thursday, not exactly a busy hour at any hotel. I checked out, grabbed an espresso and a couple of croissants, and anxiously awaited the hotel staff to tell me that their transport was ready to leave for the airport.
The van was meant to leave at 7am, but we had everyone (everyone meaning myself and an older Canadian couple) at 6:55am so we left and arrived at the airport at 6:59pm. Shockingly there was no traffic, despite the new ban and the chaos that I was assured would be ensuing by my concerned friends.
I thanked the driver and headed towards security. It’s a small airport but there was a flurry of people trying to get through security. There was no sense of panic, but a sense of nervousness and maybe also of trepidation. It was almost as if I could hear the travelers around me thinking, “Will I be able to get through to my gate?” But that was for naught. I think this was thanks to the media and news alerts on our phone rather than anything real.
Lisbon security was super slow but I think it’s just the way it is there and not something that had to do with the travel ban. I got through security and with all my bottles of Port, too! Then I walked into the main hanging area in Lisbon’s Terminal 1 (or maybe it was Terminal 2, but I can’t remember). I did a few loops and decided to head into Ale-Hop to buy a notebook to write all of this shit down in. I saw this store all around Portugal and it’s basically a Portuguese version of The Flying Tiger. I love a good store with lots of cheap, yet somewhat useful shit in it. I picked up a notebook and some colored gel pens. Then the girl at the checkout sold me a self-massager that was on sale for 5 Euro, too.
I procured one last pastis de nata and an espresso and took a seat at one of the many open spots in a row of long tables. There were two American girls near me chatting, one wearing a Virginia sweatshirt, anxiously looking at the flight board. I didn’t hear where they were going but soon they were on their way.
The only canceled flights I saw on the boards were, unsurprisingly, to Milan and Rome. Duh. I sat down to eat, drink, and write. The sugar in the pastis de nata may have been too much for my slightly-on-edge self because I felt a little nauseous after eating it.
I was looking at the people around me and everyone just looked exhausted, rather than anxious. Had they been forced to move their flights up and cancel parts of their trip I wondered. I can only speak for myself, but I can confirm that I was just totally tired. Getting up at 6am is hard on the last day of your vacation.
My United app pinged me and told me what gate to go to and although it wasn’t yet on the boards, I picked up my stuff and headed to Gate D. I grabbed a smoothie and another espresso and parked myself on a seat at the gate. I kept anxiously looking at the boards to confirm I was at the right gate and it kept not appearing, so I confirmed and reconfirmed with the United app that my gate was correct.
Two airport workers came by at separate times while I waited to check my passport and boarding pass with a new special group of extra customs personnel at the gate. They asked where I’d been for the past 14 days and if it was my first time in Portugal and what I was doing here, etc. (Answers: I was in Portugal for 8 days and in NYC the 6 days before that; yes; and spreading coronavirus was the primary goal of my trip, now that you ask! That last part was obviously sarcasm and I didn’t say that to them.)
Then I just sat and hung out for a while. I saw lots of useless face masks and hand sanitizer being used. People didn’t look scared so much as they looked annoyed. I waited for my family and friends to wake up since they were four hours behind me, and ask me all sorts of questions. I have to say that I was kinda looking forward to a mandatory quarantine. The rest of my office was now WFH too as a precaution. I was looking forward to seeing my cats and my boyfriend too, of course. The couple next to me was driving me up a wall by talking about the plunging stock market and I was trying not to look at the news too much. I was worried about people who would fare far worse than me because they can’t work from home, or they wouldn’t be paid and not be able to pay their rent. But all that shit is out of my control. I was just trying to write it all down. I should’ve meditated. Then I felt a bit better and reassured when they finally put the flight info up at my gate. Finally!
I noticed the flight wasn’t open to book tickets anymore on the United app so I started praying the flight wasn’t magically sold out now because everyone had to move their flights up. Ugh. That was going to be miserable. That was selfish of me but whatever. I’m sure no one else wanted to be on a packed flight either.
People around the gate started to get anxious about half an hour after they were originally supposed to take off. They were circling the gate like cultures. The plane had finally arrived and was being cleaned and they started calling people to the gate to likely have their seat upgraded. I brought another espresso and muffin and called my parents to tell them I was fine. They told me President Dumbass corrected his initial statement saying that US Citizens would be allowed in the country so this was a racist move to make up for failing to respond initially, I guess. The good news was that Broadway tickets were cheap right now. I kept wishing I could see how many empty seats were on the plane because until that morning, I’d had the middle seat in an empty row of three and I was quite pleased with that.
I was going to buy more gel pens from Ale-Hop but then I decided against it. I was getting frustrated and hoping we’d board soon. I’d been running my phone’s battery down with constant IG stories updates, Facebook updates, and news updates so I went and reached over blockade so I could plug my plug converter in and get some juice before we boarded the flight.
Finally, finally, finally we were boarding. The boarding area was completely packed and I came to the realization that I was going to be stuck in a middle seat on a packed flight. Whatever. At least I was getting home.
I sat down in my middle seat and when the two older people on either side of me got there, they were a married couple and asked if they could switch seats with me and sit next to each other. SCORE. Why yes you can!! And just like that, I was in an aisle seat.
I was still feeling a little nervous about getting home while we were still sitting at the gate. It was only after we took off that I let myself breathe a sigh of relief that after we landed, I’d probably only get put into quarantine for a hot minute before being allowed to go home. TL;DR: I was almost home, just another 8 hours!
I wasn’t tired – thanks, espressos! – so I browsed the movies, settled in, and waited for lunch to be served. There was a tiny bit of turbulence somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean but other than that it was a pretty easy flight. Everyone was just looking forward to being home again, I assumed. I watched IT: Chapter 2, Yesterday, and Crazy Rich Asians on the plane back.
We landed in Newark early and deboarded the plane and headed towards customs. There was a long line but it only took 18 minutes to get through (yes, I kept an eye on the time). Then as I headed towards the AirTrain, with New York City in sight out the window, my mother texted me to let me know that Mayor Bill DeBlasio had declared a state of emergency for New York City. I promptly told her no more updates, please, as I was almost home and didn’t need them anymore and they were skyrocketing my anxiety. (I’m so close! Yet so far! Just get me home to my cats, don’t close the tunnels before then!)
I listened to a few off-duty transit workers joke about avoiding working in Newark (one of the most dangerous cities in the country that happens to be 15 minutes from NYC). It went like this:
Person 1: If I had to, I would just walk home.
Person 2: From Newark? Naw. I’m from Brooklyn and I won’t even walk in Newark at night.
Person 3: Yeah, if my car broke down in Newark at night, I’d just lock the doors and wait it out.
It at least made me laugh.
When I got off the train, I almost kissed the floor (but I didn’t because ya know, #pandemic and #gross). No matter what happened from there on out, I could walk home. (It would not have been fun, considering the backpack I was carrying, but I could’ve done it.)
I had never been so happy to see the shithole that is Penn Station in my life. Things weren’t particularly hectic there, more so than at any other time during rush hour, and I picked up some food at Pret a Manger (I was in no mood to cook) and then headed straight for the subway. The subway wasn’t packed, but it wasn’t totally empty either. I kept my space the best I could on the express train and then transferred for the last two stops to the local train.
I said hello to my doorman and asked for my spare key because I had no idea where my keys were (spoiler: they were in my apartment). They had Lysol wipes on the counter and my doorman was already wearing gloves (as they all are now).
I hopped in the elevator, opened my door, and said hello to my very sleepy cats who were as happy to see me as you could’ve asked cats to be.
So that’s my story! That’s what it was like to rush home the morning after the US government announced a travel ban from the place where I currently was.
Overall it wasn’t TOO bad, considering the horror shows that you saw at the airport this weekend with 7-hour lines for customs. I’m not sure how that was safe for anyone, but whatever.
I’m so, so happy to be home and I have lots of food for both my cats and me, as well as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBOGo, YouTube, and a DVD player with lots of DVDs that I bought in high school and college.
And up until today – I was laid off! – the company I worked for had a WFH policy every Friday anyway, so we were well prepared for this and I had been WFH since last Friday. But that’s over now! (Anyone hiring a travel writer? HAH.)
If you’re reading this, I hope you’re safe and healthy. And if you’re not healthy, please for the love of pasta, stay home! xoxo