Three weeks ago on a Thursday night (the night before I left for vacation) I got a text from my sister. They had to postpone their own vacation departure unexpectedly. My niece was ready for vacation and very disappointed to wait. We checked airline flights, schedules and seat assignments. We were back forth and until Friday morning when we booked her ticket and she left with me.
My family has been vacationing in the Cocoa Beach area for 30 years, give or take. We’ve seen a lot of changes over that time: the final years of the shuttle program before its eventual shuttering and private companies coming more to the forefront. Port Canaveral has become a hub for many cruise lines and the development in the area is amazing. The economy has changed and diversified.
As I was driving to the beach with my niece we talked about all the road construction. She’s weeks away from getting her permit so all things driving are interesting now. I told her by the time she’s able to drive a rental car the road will be three lanes. As I drove that same road on the way back to the airport three weeks later, I wondered if it really would be.
I’m a bit of a news junky. I watch the news every morning with my first cup of coffee. CBC is my channel of choice. I knew about the coronavirus and while there had been cases in Canada, they were related to travel in Asia and seemed very far away. The first case from travel to Iran had just been identified as I was leaving. There were cases in the US but also seemed related to travel. Not going to Florida never crossed my mind.
The first week was relatively quiet. I searched US news channels for updates but everything was Primary focused. What news there was had a definitive political slant, depending on which channel you were watching. We watched updates from the World Health Organization streamed on CTV and CBC while election news played on on the TV. (There are advantages to news channels whose goal is reporting facts, not generating views.)
By week two there was more news about the virus with reported community spread in Washington. What little I had learned from my morning news binges at home indicated this wasn’t good. Community spread means the virus has taken hold in a community; it’s transmitting locally and not imported by travellers. Washington is in the other corner of the country. It still didn’t feel like an impact was imminent.
This past week was surreal for everyone. It was bizarre to be watching these dire policies coming from Canada to lessen or prevent spread. I’ve often wondered how people find themselves in foreign countries needing government assistance to get home. By the week’s end I could understand how it could happen.
Things happened fast from Wednesday night on. New Brunswick had its first presumptive positive. Sports shut down. Cruise lines tied up. Disney (Disney!) closed. The world seemed a lot more uncertain. Streaming news conferences from the NB Chief Medical Officer of Health takes the shine off a beach day no matter how bright the sun is.
This past Thursday night was again spent checking flights, schedules, and seats but with a very different feel. My sister spent 2 hours waiting on hold to change our tickets. Even getting home 24 hours early seemed better than waiting and worrying another day.
Early Friday afternoon as I drove back out past the port and through the road construction I remembered my conversation with my niece. I wondered what changes the next year would bring for that area. Cruise lines not operating will be a major hit to the area. Travel restrictions during spring break will be a double whammy. With a major dive in the economy everywhere, recreational travel could be a while coming back even after the virus is contained. The potential impacts at home are just as bleak: markets for lobster are drying or have dried up. We know from past economic downturns the recovery time always takes longer than the fall.
I always feel a bit melancholic when I leave for home. This year was different: there was relief to be heading home and an underlying unease wondering how much different the world would be the next time I was driving out that road.