Maybe…finally…we might soon be able to have a dinner party with more than four people. We might be able to hug loved ones whose births significantly preceded ours (as of January 12 of this year I’ve slapped a moratorium on the adjectives “old” and “older”) without worrying about unintentionally infecting them. We might be able to travel again soon! And…be still my heart…we might be able to have face-to-face industry meetings again! Damn I miss my Biz Buds!
A look in the mirror is a daily disenchanting reminder that I don’t have a mystical painting locked in my attic, but reflecting on 2020, and in particular my prior periodic disappointment with my travel schedule, I’m again awakened to how much I took the blessings that came with my chosen profession for granted.
I realize that my pre-pandemic travel schedule was nowhere near as demanding as that of your typical carrier regional rep. I salute them for their diligence. Hope and I would average about a dozen business trips per year. Inevitably, however, a few nights before a departure I would bemoan the interruption of a planned project—sometimes home, sometimes business. Thankfully, as soon as I saw a familiar face in the lobby of the meeting hotel my reticence would evaporate and I would again appreciate the opportunity to catch up with “friends of long standing.”
Our last trip, a little over a year ago, was to NOLA to attend the TMA meeting, and the hints of the severity of the coming crisis were still just meandering whispers, unsubstantiated speculation, and suggestions that seemed at the time to be born of an overabundance of caution. Granted, the China travel ban (and cries of xenophobia) began January 31, but on March 10th the U.S. count of confirmed cases had just crested 1000. NOLA had no reported cases when we landed. I greeted my friends with hugs, despite the aforementioned cautions, and the clueless “Hell, if hugging you kills me I’ll still die a happy man.” Then the first two NOLA cases were reported, rumored to stem from a conference at the Marriott…we were at a Marriott…fortunately at the other Marriott, on the opposite side of Canal Street. No more hugs. This was real. And then our trip was cut short due to a family emergency and we flew home, planning to change out our travel duds and fly to Oregon. Hope had sinus symptoms and a scratchy throat and went to the doc in KC, where, upon revealing that she had just flown, she was instructed to quarantine at home for 14 days. Fortunately it wasn’t COVID-19, but by the end of the quarantine travel was all but forbidden. We haven’t been further than 25 miles from the house since.
There are myriad negative consequences of the pandemic, most tragic of course are the unfathomable death toll, the horrible suffering of many who didn’t die, and the effect those cases had on the loved ones of those patients. The forced extended isolation of children during crucial times of social development and learning. But there are numerous, albeit by comparison trivial, societal warts brought on by the virus. Unpleasant blemishes on our day-to-day interactions. I hate not being able to see people’s faces when I’m talking with them. Over a year in, and at least several times per week I get 20 feet or more toward a store before slapping my forehead and returning to the car to retrieve my mask. I’m not a Seinfeld “close talker” but I vastly prefer a bit closer than six feet unless I’m loudly questioning the parentage of the “Bold Adventurer” who just made a three lane swerve right in front of me to exit the freeway. Fist bumping used to be just mildly cliche over-”Bro”ing, but now knucks and elbow taps are the requisite condoms for our social greetings and partings.
By all indications the vaccination of America is progressing, and I’m eager for the opportunity to chat in person with business friends, many of whom started as clients but over 38 years have grown to mean so much more. Prayers and fingers crossed that these coronavirus-caused communication carbuncles are soon sufficiently salved. I don’t care what Dr. Fauci says, I’m going to thoroughly enjoy my next firm handshake and Bro-hug with back slaps.
There isn’t any Dr. Pimple Popper to fix 2020, but in 2021, when properly vaxxed, I am going to lean into my business travel with greater enthusiasm and more fully appreciate the blessings I’m given by having frequent opportunities to renew my business-fostered friendships, and grow new ones, even if it still has to be mask to mask.[SPH]