Friday, March 27, 2020

Traveling in The Twilight Zone

So yeah, when the entire United States decided to shut down for the Apocalypse, my happy ass was on the way to a customer in Indiana. I've done quite a lot in my life and seen quite a few unique things. I served 12 years active duty Army. I've spent the last 25 years traveling for a living, and between my civilian and military careers, I have seen much of the world and thought I'd seen just about everything. I was wrong. This last week was the most bizarre experience I think I've ever had

Normally the shuttle buses for the parking areas all cue up in a designated area to drop you off at the airport, but there was no need for this because the airport was absolutely empty.
No long line of cars disgorging or picking up travelers.
No endless series of taxis and buses.
No pedestrians trying to cross the busy road.
The Austin International Airport was all but EMPTY.
I waked directly up to the Delta counter - not one person in line.
I walked directly up to the TSA inspector at the checkpoint - not one other person going through security.
I walked clear to the end of the concourse and passed maybe three or four people. Bemused, I looked back and took a couple of photos.

When it eventually came near time to board my first aircraft, I struck up a conversation with one of the Delta representatives that I've known for years and asked her if she thought they would close the airports at some point. She assured me that there was no way the airports were going to close, but that I could definitely count on a whole lot of flights being canceled. She told me that they had had one flight arrive that morning with ONE passenger on it! We managed to do a little better than that on our flight, and packed that puppy with a whole nine passengers . . .   My connecting flight to Indianapolis? Fourteen passengers. When my flights landed I had a voice mail from one of our engineers that lives in Indiana telling me that the governor had signed something decreeing that all non-essential companies were to close their doors, and that everyone was required by law to stay home unless they were considered "vital" or "essential" and so the first thing I did was to call my customer to make sure they were going to be open for business in the morning. He assured that they were indeed considered vital, and had just that day been asked to start producing face masks. Thus assured that I was doing the right thing both morally and legally, I went ahead and headed out for the hour drive south to where my customer was located. Along the way, I thought maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to stop at a grocery store and stock up on some sandwiches just in case I wouldn't be able to get food anywhere once the governors decree went into effect. I stopped at a super Walmart, grabbed six huge sandwiches, a 12 pack of Pepsi, and just for shits and grins looked for toilet paper. I've already failed to find any in New Mexico and Texas, so maybe Indiana would treat me better? Nope. No toilet paper in Indiana either!
It turns out that my customers company may not have been quite as vital as my contact had thought, because as I was packing up my tools and spares at the end of the service call, he came back into the room shaking his head and looking shocked.
"You see all of those technicians out there?" he asked, pointing out the large window into the huge bay.
"Yeah?" I answered.
"Every one of them just got laid off . . . "

Do you know that I spent a week at the Holiday Inn and never saw a single other guest there in that time. Not one. Including my car, there were three cars in the parking lot and I think two of them belonged to employees. Obliviously no breakfast was served and no housekeeping was provided or offered during my stay. At the end of each day, I made my way through almost empty streets, to my empty hotel where even the people working there hid in a room behind the counter. I think I spent to two entire nights watching "Abandoned Engineering" on the Science Channel while eating sandwiches and slurping Pepsi. For the record, I'm pretty damn sick of store bought subway sandwiches at this point. Just sayin . . .

Not a big surprise, don't get me wrong, but my flights home were canceled. I booked alternate flights. An hour later they were canceled. I again booked alternate flights. They were canceled.  I got it right with my last attempt though and headed for home this morning. My first stop upon entering the concourse was at the Starbucks for some badly needed caffeine. I cued up behind three other people, all of us minding the 6 foot or so gap between each other, and so the line was moving pretty slowly and I was surfing Facebook on my phone . . . when I heard someone behind the counter . . . cough . . twice. Right then and there I decided that I didn't want coffee quite as bad a I had thought I did and exited the line.

I had to laugh on my flight from Atlanta to Austin though, when it became obvious why this flight had not been canceled - most of the people on it were Delta flight attendants. By luck, I'd managed to select a flight that Delta was apparently using to transport about a dozen flight attendant on their way to other locations.
So yeah, I'm home now, and I will not be getting back onto another airplane until the dust settles on this virus.
Oh, and if anyone notices that several rolls of toilet paper went missing from my hotel and the airport stalls I visited, I had nothing to do with it . . .


8 comments:

  1. I was waiting for you to tell us about seeing a tumbleweed in the aisle of the airplane.

    If I rub low on toilet paper, I may need to trot out to my airport and pick some up.

    Best, Rhonda

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  2. So Glad to see you are blogging still. I wouldn't worry about toilet rolls missing from hotel rooms. Like soap etc they are factored into the price and nowadays must be changed for every new customer lest the dread virus is on them. Stored for four days they should be safe anyway and your kids will not have to learn about cutting up newspaper into squares or searching the garden for large leaves.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Glad you were able to get a few days out of quarantine. The concept of being 'stir crazy' is taking hold nationwide

    ReplyDelete
  4. Kim-

    It would be hard to believe in any other time that an airport could be as empty as you describe. But we live in a strange time. No toilet paper in New York either. None of the drug stores, supermarkets or warehouse clubs have any. Strangely, the only place I've seen any was at a bagel shop - which had a stack of 10 on the counter for $1.50 per roll. It's a steep markup from what stores might usually charge for a roll of this brand, but it's not unreasonable given where it's being sold and the scarcity evidenced elsewhere.

    M

    ReplyDelete
  5. Best of GOOD HEALTH and Good Luck on your journeys.
    This stuff is scary.
    Velma

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  6. Kimberly- take care, dear. You are wonderful. Thank you for your trip report.
    Btw, I loved the story the other day about the guy saying how much he loved your skirt. :)
    You're such a pretty woman, and inspiration!
    hug, sara

    ReplyDelete
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