I traveled on an airplane for work this week – four flight segments in total. I stayed in a hotel for one night. I ate meals inside two restaurants. I came close to spastic colon from all the anxiety at least twenty times over a two-day trip.
I practiced social distancing. Heck – truth be known, I cowered in the most unoccupied parts of every airport to ensure no one’s germ-ridden carcass got too close. I wore my filtered mask much of the time in public. I removed it only to eat or nervously sip some bottled water. Looked pretty fly in it, too.
I wiped down my hotel from top to bottom (including the sheets and pillows) with PDI’s hospital-grade Super Sani-Cloths. My amazingly resourceful and germophobic wife found them online from a medical distributor and packed me a killer care package so I would not return home and kill her with the plague.
I am so appreciative of the freedoms I have as an American, not least of which is the freedom of movement.
When I visited China years ago, my old business partner Charlie Chan (yes his actual name, you smartasses) would remind me how thankful I should be for our freedoms. As Americans, we take for granted that our press is free to puke up their opinions (thinly disguised as facts). In turn, we are free to make fools of ourselves by vociferously debating those opinions on social media.
The Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution enshrines essential American freedoms and rights. It provides us guarantees for freedom of religion, expression, the press, assembly, and petition. Additional rights include bearing arms, no quartering troops, equal justice, and property ownership. And the Ninth Amendment suggests there are unaddressed but implicit freedoms not explicitly captured in the first eight amendments.
But freedom comes with a price tag. It only works if it’s respected and cherished by all. It only works when everyone strives to be a contributor instead of a taker. It only works when individuals embrace the profound personal responsibility it entails to remain free.
Within that context of freedom and personal responsibility, I thought I would take the time to share with you my observations from this week’s business travel. The highs. The lows. Some of it will restore faith in humanity for you. Some of it will make your skin crawl. Hopefully, it gives you some information to assess risks more purposefully while also ensuring your safety as the world reopens for business.
But first, before I get into the details, let’s acknowledge that Independence Day falls on this weekend. I want to show some respect for the freedoms and liberties that earned me that right to travel so freely.
Americans celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, memorializing our independence from the escalating oppression of Britain’s government under King George III.
The thirteen British North American colonies rebelled against the Mothership for no single reason. Rather, events culminated due to increasingly heavy-handed political and militaristic actions taken by the British Parliament.
And, as it has in all good governments, corporate money played a role in the drama. The British East India Company was bleeding money. Many of the members of Parliament were major stakeholders. They did everything in their power to cram their massive stockpile of unsold tea up the Colonists’ derrières with the Tea Act in 1773.
The ensuing Boston Tea Party found the Sons of Liberty dumping tons of British tea into Boston Harbor. This enraged the British Parliament, spurned by such colonial effrontery. Tit for tat came the despotic Coercive Acts in 1774 which ultimately united the Continental Congress in outright hostilities. In 1775, tensions leading to the Battle of Lexington and Concord were almost inevitable. A well-warned Colonial militia attacked a large British suppression force sent to capture a weapons stash, killing 73 British soldiers and wounding 174 more. The Revolutionary War officially began with this “shot heard round the world.”
The brutal eight-year war ended when the Treaty of Paris was negotiated and signed in 1783. David had won independence from Goliath, though not without the help of some inspired military creativity, some motivated allies in France and Spain, and some pure dumb luck. The mortal cost of freedom was staggering for the time. Of the approximately 100,000 men in the Colonial Continental Army, estimates indicate that 25% died from battle or disease. One in sixteen American enlisted males died overall. Compare that to World War II, when one in seventy-five enlisted men died.
Understanding the “why revolt?” question starts with appreciating the Colonists’ inherent independent streak. In those times, people did not typically risk sailing across a massive ocean to an unknown land without a bit of a “suck it” attitude toward their current government. For many, emigration was a form of escapism, fleeing a hardened class system full of religious intolerance with a pioneering yearning for greater liberty. And the distance separating England from their cocksure colonies did Britain no favors in their ability to maintain control over their increasingly disgruntled subjects.
Add to this recalcitrant American spirit the intellectual challenges to authority presented during the Age of Enlightenment. The 18th Century witnessed woke thinkers and philosophers challenging institutional authorities in governments and the Church as never before. Sophists like Hobbes, Rousseau, and especially Locke deeply affected American revolutionary leaders, shaping their novel concepts of limited government, social contract, the separation of powers, and popular sovereignty.
Popular sovereignty is memorialized in the opening three words of the 1787 United States Constitution: “We the People.” Following the colonies’ victory for independence, a new government emerged to serve the consensus of the people. In turn, the people had the sovereignty – and in fact argued the natural authority – to sustain or even overthrow that government.
To this day, as in the times following the revolution, our leaders disagree as to whether that national government should be strong (Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists; today’s Democrats) or weak (Thomas Jefferson and the early Democratic-Republicans; today’s Republicans). The American experiment continues.
Freedom and liberty were at the heart of the Founding Fathers’ motivations. America’s Founding Fathers believed deeply in the notion of duty and personal responsibility as it pertains to the preservation of those blood-soaked freedoms and liberties. The People’s great duty is to keep their government in its cage, never letting it escape.
- “The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution, are worth defending against all hazards: And it is our duty to defend them against all attacks.” -Samuel Adams
- “Posterity, you will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make a good use of it.” -John Adams
- “It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government.” -Thomas Paine
- “We have all one common cause; let it, therefore, be our only contest, who shall most contribute to the security of the liberties of America.” -John Hancock
As I reflect on this notion of personal responsibility tied to freedom in a modern context, particularly in this time of resurging American Covid outbreaks, I am concerned. The emergence of Covidiots, up to and including their White House resident messiah, Cheeto Christ, flies directly in the face of what our Founders intended.
Covidiots break the social contract. No masks, no social distancing, no accountability to protecting all our shared liberties. They are walking, talking, particle-spraying murderers. Asymptomatic felons. They ignore the fact that you should wear masks to protect others more than yourself.
In large part, they are the cause behind why the Covid resurgence is occurring in the United States. They misconstrue the precepts of their very own freedom. They lack the social responsibility so clearly and consistently described by the Founders. Freedom has a conscience. Freedom never takes for the gains of one, it contributes for the betterment of the many. It is selfless, not selfish.
Now that we have discussed where we started and how we landed on where we are… I still needed to embrace my freedom of movement for work this week.
Before this week, my last business trip was on March 4, 2020. For the subsequent 116 days, I quarantined securely at home – safe, healthy, and in control – conducting business by video conference. My wife is an absolute Boss about entry and exit protocols. Our travel consisted of shopping at the grocery store or garage visits with our aging parents. Thanks to her indomitable intransigence, we continue Covid-free at Chez Conway.
I am literally knocking on my wood desk as I type. Anywho…
Monday, June 29th started off with a 3:30am alarm. Has anyone ever had a cramp in your calf wake you up from a deep sleep, roll out of bed and hit your face on the nightstand, stand up disoriented in the dark, and stumble sideways through your open bedroom door falling headlong down a flight of stairs?
That’s how a 3:30am alarm felt after spending the last 116 days waking up at far more godly hours.
Showered, pet the dog (who was super pissed he did not get his regular morning snuggle with me), gulped a coffee, and drove to the eponymous Syracuse John Hancock airport. TSA line was virtually non-existent for my 6:00am flight. I travel so often that I’ve purchased TSA Pre-Check to blow through the normally massive airport security lines. Turns out my TSA Pre-Check expired during quarantine. Fuck. After a few sleepy minutes of arguing with the TSA agent, they let me stay in the Pre-Check line…this one time. Hello? Terrorism? WTF? White privilege is insane sometimes.
Flight to my connection in Charlotte, North Carolina was uneventful other than the increasing agitation with continuously wearing a mask. You are sweaty. You are thirsty. Your nose dries out and gets crusty with boogers. It is a little harder to breathe. Your eyeglasses fog up from your moist exhalations. Real First World problems, eh? Suck it up, buttercup. Seriously sounds like Gilda Radner’s iconic SNL character Rosanne Rosannadanna bitching, “if it’s not one thing, it’s another… I thought I was gonna die.”
I am, however, appreciative that I learned the game as a kid where everything except your seat is hot lava, and you die if you touch anything but your seat. Substitute Covid for hot lava, and that’s kind of what it felt like in the plane seat. I knew instinctively that Covid buried itself in every nook and cranny of that plane, awaiting discovery by some poor unwitting soul. Every time I kinked my mask aside to furtively sip some blessed water, I was certain I was about to inhale that one airborne plague ejecta from the coughing idiot ten rows ahead of me.
Honestly, all airports were unsurprisingly quieter than usual. Most people wore masks. Don’t hold me to this number, but I would guess 95-98% of people wore masks. I was more surprised by the poor old bastard who suited up in mask, goggles, face shield, a garbage bag poncho, and food service plastic gloves. His sweaty clear gloves and fogged up goggles caused him to fumble his coffee in a soaking explosion of brown nectar. Is it bad I laughed? Hell awaits, I know.
Then, of course, Wayne Doug and a few of his Covidiot comrades stood out like sore thumbs. They demonstrated their freedom of expression with douchery, oppositely emulating our Founding Fathers’ dream of liberty earned with personal responsibility and accountability. High character. Class acts.
Arrived early in Des Moines, Iowa airport. Dead. Quiet. My boss, our CEO, had joined me in Charlotte. Starving, we decided to eat in the one open restaurant before our afternoon of meetings with the client. Delicious bacon and egg on dark rye aside, this was my first time dining out in 116 days. Surreal.
It is amazing how quickly you get comfortable with this new norm. You take your mask off. You lube up on Purell, eyeing your surroundings to ensure that no one is within spitting distance of your table. Then you get down to the business of mastication. I said mastication, not masturbation. My eyes are up here, Captain Pervis.
Clever Covid risk mitigation strategy in this restaurant. No menus. Just scan the barcode, and the menu pops up on your iPhone. Combine that with the waiters in gloves and masks, very good social distancing between very few patrons, signage everywhere about sterilization techniques, and you at least feel like you are safe. Needless to say, the minute chewing ceased, we donned our masks and washed, washed, washed our hands for the 50th time. It was noon. The precursor to spastic colon gurgled in my belly.
Met with our client that afternoon and took her out to dinner early that evening. Indoors again. We intended to eat outdoors, but the weather conspired against us with the stifling, breezeless heat at close to 100°F (38°C) and the moist, humid dew point cresting 75°F (24°C)…and all of us in full business raiment.
Okay, quick sidebar. Many of you likely think at this point I am a pussy and perhaps a bit of a pampered prince to not sit in that swamp. Guilty. I live in a cold, barren, desolate place. By choice. Why? Because j’adore le froid dans le grand nord blanc. See? So close to Canada I am practically Québécois.
Our table was socially distanced from the few other maskless patrons. They constantly glanced around, wide-eyed, like hyperthyroidic prairie dogs alert for invisible dangers they could sense but not see.
Did not love that this establishment used only physical menus. It was so upscale – why could they not have the cool barcode thingy like the airport restaurant? We pounded down a steak and several bottles of a delightful, fruit-forward Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was insipid yet salubrious. Meal finished; masks returned to faces, we departed for our hotel.
Upon entering my well-cleaned hotel room, “sanitized” according to the seal on the door, my colon decided to transition from cartwheels to violent exorcism. The pent-up stress of this 16-hour day exited me like a screaming demon, assuredly heard up and down the hotel hallway. Thankfully, my mask held tight as hell’s sulfurous fury raged. The fiend extinguished, I made the sign of the cross and closed the bathroom door until morning.
Honestly, I was just thankful the anxiety manifested this way instead of a full-on Ulcerative Colitis flare-up. That would have been a real shit show (pun intended).
Sleep came intermittently after executing my aforementioned full room sanitation protocol. I dreamed I was a bald eagle with an American flag for a cape, flying free over rivers of lava. My dog battled Darth Maul as they floated down a red river of raging, flowing, surging heat below me, fighting atop the dead bodies of Covidiots.
And then my alarm woke me at 3:30am to mirror the prior day’s identical routine for my 6:00am connecting flight home through Detroit. Like a lot of business travel, it was Groundhog Day. Same feelings of emptiness and distance in the Detroit airport as I had felt in Charlotte the day prior. Same feelings of pending doom sitting in my airplane seat, hoping I did not touch the wrong grime hole of Death.
What would our Founding Founders think about freedom and personal responsibility in a time of pandemic? Clearly, they lacked the science, the communication methods, the technology, and the experience to even contemplate something as novel as the coronavirus. Honest answer… Who knows?
All I know is that I honored them and their sacrifices by doing my best to fulfill my end of the social contract. I was part of the solution. I hope.
Best part of my travel experience?
When I arrived home at noon on June 30th, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Love Gov, announced on TV that anyone flying into New York from Iowa needed to quarantine for 14 days. Apparently, the state of Iowa was now one of the high-risk states with dramatically increasing Covid infections. The handsome bastard was calling me to task to fulfill my social contract yet again.
Now that I am home and the adrenaline has dissipated, I rest, quarantined in my sanctum for the next two weeks by my governor. At this exact moment, I am experiencing the freedom to curl up in my dark cool bedroom, pop a Xanny, maybe two, wash them down with a tall glass of vodka, and sleep away the horror of it all.
For the next 14 days, as Christine Daaé sings in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Phantom of the Opera, “Think of me, think of me fondly…”
Love to hear in your comments if “We the People” or “Think of Me” keeps repeating in your brain all day. I keep unconsciously whistling both and cannot stop. Everyone in my house now hates me.
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