I felt it best to end my Austin, Texas getaway recap with an entry that dealt with something that became all the more real while on travel, that being the ongoing ramifications of a world that’s plagued by a pandemic.
Let me start with the first part of the trip, the flying. I really used to love flying. The whole experience of driving to the airport, to checking in, to going through security, to finding a tasty bite and a drink to consume while waiting at the gate, to the takeoff, to the flight itself, then the landing, and ultimately waiting for my bags to come down that huge chute into the terminal, it was always the most incredible experience for me as a kid and continued well into my adulthood. When 9/11 came, that began to change. Heightened security measures added complexities and often annoyances that weren’t present before thus taking away some of the fun. Then my difficult health issues came in my early 40’s, making it even more difficult to enjoy the experience. With COVID present now, it honestly felt like a chore to travel. For as much as I know how important it is to wear masks, it became a burden. Airline agents couldn’t quite understand me at the gate. The constant pulling down and putting back up when eating and drinking led to my mask smelling like the food I ate and the coffee I drank. I also used to see a lot of happy expressions and laughter at the airport, but I honestly didn’t see any on this trip and I did look for it. Most airport shops were closed. And yes, even my favorite, Starbucks, was closed in almost every location I walked to. And thank goodness I have good credit and a credit card because no one seems to be accepting cash where I did purchase anything!
As for my actual time at my destination, when out and about, it was evident how hard COVID has rocked our nation, as I’m sure the world. So many businesses have closed with signs on their doors and windows saying that this pandemic has forced them to close for good. I noticed this a lot in a number of my previous more local trips in the past month as well. Businesses that have operated for decades just couldn’t keep up with the social distancing rules that halved their profits or more. I honestly can’t even fathom what my life would have been like during this pandemic if I still was operating the bed and breakfast I once owned in Chincoteague, Virginia. That truly is one thing I’m grateful for that is out of my life during these crazy times! Phew!
Another thing I noticed during this trip was the serious lack of physical closeness due to COVID. I’m a huge hugger and handshaker. I like touch in empathetic ways to show I care. And I tend to notice others like me when I’m out and about doing the same as well. That is something that seems to just not be present right now, not even when meeting new people. There were plenty of times where I met others on this trip where our gazes met, where our arms or bodies twitched from that impulse to do what we normally would do in a pandemic-free world, but most of the time we just stood there, frozen in place, greeting awkwardly from a distance with masks on, unable to see any type of warmth emanating through facial expressions. The impersonal feeling in this world nowadays is extremely difficult for extroverts like me.
Lastly, the one thing that stood out the most to me was all the homelessness in Austin. Tent after tent after tent lining street after street after street there. Whether that was going on prior to COVID or not I don’t know, but I can’t imagine what it would be like to be having to live on the streets in a tent during a pandemic. Seeing so many homeless people made me very grateful though for the small humble home I knew I had waiting for me back in Toledo with my partner Chris.
In the end, for as much as I truly treasured my time with my friend Karen and her family, dealing with this mask-based, socially-distanced world, where touch and love and closeness wasn’t really present much, and where you never quite knew what’s going to be open from what you looked up on Google to go entertain yourself, made for a truly frustrating experience while on travel, and made even worse when combining that with all my health issues. In light of seeing the harsh reality of COVID while on travel, I’d say it’s a safe bet that I’ll be staying far closer to home until some sense of COVID-free normalcy returns…
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson