Travel Roulette

We had a great vacation in St. Lucia over the holidays, but boy–traveling these days isn’t for the faint of heart. I’m not talking about spending long hours in a mask, either. There is so much uncertainty about pretty much everything, plans can change on a dime, and you’ve got to be willing to endure some stress and be quick about making alternative arrangements if necessary.

Here are some of the things that make travel so difficult:

  • Departure COVID tests — Many overseas destinations, like St. Lucia, require them. Some people have experienced long lines to get tested; that was not a problem for us (we took one of the self-administered tests at the CVS drive-through pharmacy). Other than the basic unpleasantness of the test itself–I always think of the Vinnie Barbarino comment from the ’70s sitcom Welcome Back Kotter, “Up your nose with a rubber hose!”–the main issue for us was trying to time the test to provide the results in time to meet the reporting requirements while also falling within the three days of departure time period. If you’re getting ready to travel, you’ll probably spend a fair amount of time checking your phone for results.
  • Flight cancellations — There were a lot of flight cancellations over the holidays, and you wonder how long the cancellation problems will continue. The cancellations seem totally random and unpredictable, and the airlines tend to rebook you as if there is no problem (or schedule disruption, or cost) iinvolved in your staying longer somewhere. We lucked out and didn’t experience a cancellation, but our travel partners did and had to stay an extra day. Fortunately, it didn’t mess up their plans too much. If you’re traveling, I’d recommend building a potential “cancellation day” into your travel plans.
  • Return COVID tests — In my view, the return COVID test is a lot more troubling than the departure test, especially if you are overseas. There are lots of reports of fully vaccinated people who faithfully followed mask rules and maintained prudent social distancing and still tested positive. Once that happens, even if you are asymptomatic, you’re looking at multiple days of quarantine, and in some places you apparently have to go to a special quarantine facility. When your departure test comes back negative, it is an enormous relief.
  • The condition of airports — Admittedly, our return flights yesterday probably were on one of the peak days of the holiday travel season. Still, the conditions were pretty grim. There not only were long lines, documentation issues, and lots of trying to understand what masked people were saying, but when we reached the U.S. the conditions at the Miami airport were pretty pathetic. Trash cans were full to the point of overflowing, lots of eating places seemed to be closed, and the restrooms didn’t exactly pass the white glove treatment. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that one of the levels of hell is eternity spent in a men’s restroom in a busy American airport during a hectic holiday travel day. I found myself wondering if the conditions were due to staffing shortages, which seems to be a problem with a lot of places right now.

We don’t have any travel on the horizon in the immediate future, and that’s probably a good thing. Perhaps, in a few months, the craziness will subside a bit

Life’s Unspoken Signals

The other day a group of us were at our traditional lunch with summer clerks at Indian Oven.  I wanted to get the check, so I caught the waiter’s eye and gave the universal “I would like the check” sign — that is, left hand held flat and extended, right hand scribbling across it, like you are signing your name to a credit card receipt.  (I’ve been told by waiters that they prefer this to the one finger raised in the air and waggled, like Horshack begging for Mr. Kotter to call on him.)

ExceptIMG_20140621_061121 that the universal sign apparently isn’t that universal.  The Unkempt Guy looked baffled and asked what the hell I was doing.  A quick poll of the table confirmed that everyone else at our lunch, aging attorneys and fresh-faced clerks alike, understood the meaning of the gesture.  It just confirms what most of us have long believed:  the Unkempt Guy needs to get out more.

The fact is, a surprising amount of our communication is usefully non-verbal and therefore capable of getting the message across from a distance or in a loud setting where the spoken word might not be heard.   Whether it’s the thumbs-up signal of approval, or the finger twirl telling you to speed things up, or the index finger tapping at the temple to remind you to use your noggin, or the finger drawn across the throat instructing you to stop, just stop, our hands and fingers are extremely effective communication tools — and that’s without even getting into the kind of vulgar gestures that drivers might use to express displeasure at your abrupt, no-signal lane change on the morning drive to work.

The eyes are an wonderfully effective non-verbal communication tool, too.  Long-time married couples are adept at reading each other’s eyes and faces.  A glance and look can tell you unmistakably not to get into that topic, or that it’s time to get heck out of there.  Correctly interpreting the non-verbal cues of your spouse is a crucial element of any successful marriage.