This is old news but it’s a good story … and I like good stories.
Sunday, September 12, 9:00 pm or so. I’m sitting at the bar in PJ Horgan’s, my neighbourhood pub in Queens, New York City. I had just finished my immersion in the US Open tennis tournament. The men’s finals match between Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev was replaying on the big TV before me. I had settled into my nachos and IPA beer. All was right with the world. I was so pleased with myself that I’d fulfilled a dream, jumped through the Covid and vaccination hoops in Canada to get to New York, and spent two weeks watching the best tennis players in the world.
And then the word came to my cheesy lips: COVID. My eyes opened wide and so did my mouth. “Tell me true. I don’t need to get another Covid test to get back into Canada … do I?” My head started nodding with no accompanying thought. (Sigh)
Quick like a bunny, I found the Government of Canada app on my phone. “Although vaccinated Canadian travellers are now exempt from quarantine, they’re still required to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR test before returning to Canada [within 72 hours before the flight leaves].” There I sat, mid-nacho, watching my beloved tennis on TV, wondering where I would get a Covid test at the last minute. And it had to be the fancy test – PCR. Plus I had to get the results back fast if I was to make my 12:20 pm flight.
I sat there and smiled. I mean … What was that about? I had apparently turned off the Covid-related part of my brain, had made a huge mistake, and here I was having happy compassion for myself. I’ll take it.
I found the Clear 19 Covid Testing Center online. They did PCR tests with results guaranteed within two hours. And I could have an 8:15 am appointment in midtown Manhattan. All for a deliciously large sum of money. I had a Zoom meeting, which I needed to attend, scheduled for 8:00 pm. Plus the possibility of staying one extra night at my Airbnb was cloudy since my hosts had gone to Toronto (!) to visit friends.
I paid the big bucks and girded my loins about how I was going to pull this together.
Nachos and beer rapidly consumed, I walked the fifty yards to my Airbnb and got on the phone with Air Canada. Actually I was on the phone in seconds. They took forty-five minutes to join me. The Air Canada rep was very kind. She somehow resisted the temptation to blurt out “You idiot!” Thank you, dear rep. She told me that in order to make my 12:20 pm flight to Toronto, they’d have to receive my luggage by 11:00. And I’d have to show a negative Covid test result for that to happen. So … 8:15 > 10:15. Looked like I had forty-five minutes to play with. “You can do this, Bruce!” I was still smiling.
Miss Air Canada said that if I missed the 12:20 flight, I could catch a later one that went to Montreal first before gracing the suburbs of Toronto. That would be toast for my evening meeting, plus it would cost me $150 more. (Sigh again)
It was now 11:00 pm or so. I packed everything that wasn’t needed in the morning. I went to the NYC Subway app to find out how to get to Clear 19. This would be easy peasy. Up at 6:00, quick shower, pack the toiletries, ten-minute walk to the subway, emerge from the underground at 50 Street, find a place to eat something and walk the three blocks to my Covid saviour.
Up the steps at 50th and the first thing I saw was the Golden Arches. That’ll do nicely. Although the sign outside said “Dine In”, the woman at the counter said otherwise. No sweat. I sat on a ledge in front of an office building and munched my Egg McMuffin and hash browns to the accompaniment of hurrying pedestrians, a flurry of yellow cabs, honking here and there and, to the south, the towering neon of Broadway north of Times Square. I was so happy! The universe had conspired to feed me and give me copious amounts of caffeine.
8:05. I was early at Clear 19. 8:15. A swab was entering my nostrils (happily not all the way back). 8:20. I was on my way, considerably lighter in the wallet and continually light in the spirit. Life works.
Back on the subway, back to my luggage in the Airbnb, and now a twenty-minute walk to the bus that would take me to Laguardia Airport. As I left the apartment, I made an executive decision. I would stop at the Aubergine Café, my breakfast home for the last fortnight, and say goodbye to Mary, Jimmy and Lisette. They had been so kind to me. I had no room for my usual bacon, cheese, tomato and avocado bagel (Yum!) but how about if I linger over a mixed berry smoothie?
“Linger!? You, my dimwitted Canadian friend, have no time to linger. Don’t you remember? You have a plane to catch, luggage to drop off, Covid test result to receive on the phone, etc. etc.!” (By the way, that was me talking to me.)
I lingered. And changed my order to a strawberry banana smoothie. So good! Lisette and Jimmy asked me to come back next year, during the 2022 Open. I will. Sadly, Mary had a day off. Jimmy said he would tell her goodbye from me.
Back to walking. I saw a bus at the corner of Woodside and 61 Street, where I had exited fifteen days ago. The driver said that yes, he was the Q70 to Laguardia, but that the pickup spot was “around the corner, in front of Dunkin’ Donuts”. So around the corner I went – no donut sign in sight. I tried not to look at my watch. “Life works!” Remember?
I saw a fellow in a uniform, sweeping up garbage on the sidewalk. “Excuse me, I can’t find Dunkin’ Donuts.” “Oh, you have to turn right again. It’s down another block. Here, I’ll show you.” And he did. I heard years ago that New Yorkers were unfriendly. Not in my experience.
It took fifteen more minutes for the Q70 to arrive. Meanwhile I chatted with a couple from Kansas who were also catching a flight. I can’t remember why they’d come to New York but they too loved the place.
I was so glad that I had put “Terminal B” in my phone months ago because creeping traffic and visits to Terminals C and D slowed thing down. Oh well.
10:10. Arrival in the concourse. Searching for Air Canada. I debated whether to go to one of the freestanding terminals when I reached the airline, but a friendly employee told me not to. “Line up right away.” Thank you.
I checked my phone. Yes! An e-mail from Clear 19. I was negative. Such positive news.
I was about thirtieth in line. The Air Canada woman the night before had told me that I needed to download the ArriveCan app and fill out the info before getting to the agent at the counter. I hadn’t done that yet. No sweat, I thought. Well … considerable sweat. There was all this information asked for. Thankfully, I had it stored on my phone. I finished it around 10:35. I was third in line.
Finally a smiling human being awaited me at the counter. Show my two vaccinations. Show my negative Covid test. Show my completed ArriveCan form. Put my luggage on the scale.
10:45. Fifteen minutes to spare. Piece of cake.