FEATURE

Blindsided by 20:20 – LAX > LHR > SYD

Author

Caroline George

2019

December 31st, London: Celebrated New Year’s Eve with friends, full of merriment, hope and optimism about the new and possible clear-sightedness that a year titled 2020 could bring.  Blissfully unaware that in under three months, life as we know it, would be forever changed.

2020

January 11th, Los Angeles:  Due to a major OH&S misstep at a well-known bank ATM area, I stride into a double-glazed, glass panel at full speed and sustain a mild head injury, leaving me with a very pronounced black and blue left eye (lasting nearly two months!).  This was my first indication that my 20:20 vision ideals for this year could be challenged.

March 2nd, London: In the midst of renewing my visa at the US Embassy, a major system malfunction causes a no more than one-hour process to turn into four hours and a waiting hall with usually less than 50 people at any one time, now resembles a Mumbai marketplace.  Reports start to filter through about a novel Coronavirus in China. I think it probably best to refrain from ordering the Bat Soup from the beloved local Chinese take-away tonight.

March 8th, Salt Lake City: Waiting for my flight back to Los Angeles and noticing a dramatic decrease in passengers and constant PA reminders to sanitise.  My OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) voice is rejoicing at the thought of the world now coming into line with my overly exacting standards for hygiene and cleanliness!

March 11th, Los Angeles:  Attend a rehearsal for my role in a short-play festival, to be held in a theatre in West Hollywood at the end of month.  Talk of festival postponement amongst the cast is starting to intensify and the dire consequences for us artists if our already haphazard work opportunities were to suddenly cease.  We dismiss this ludicrous thought and replace it with our, the show must go on thespian perseverance.

March 13th, Los Angeles:  Complete a week of medical role-playing work with UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles) and are advised that this will be the last day for in-person activities for students and we will be given further instruction in regards to any future work we have scheduled. I have a four-week project on the calendar which now looks to be in jeopardy.

March 19th, Los Angeles:  The Governor of California issues a stay-at-home order.  State-wide confusion and panic take on a super-spreading quality and supermarkets are beginning to look like a crime scene.  I speak to my family in Sydney and friends in London and there is a feeling that their panic tsunami is about to hit but at this stage it is still somewhat business as usual.

March 30th, Los Angeles:  It has now been over a week since lockdown began and being glued to the 24 hour pandemic world news cycle is slowly driving me insane and living with my roommate has fast become a being stuck on a deserted island situation. Despite an endless supply of contactless Postmates deliveries, I am unable to see how this way of living is sustainable, even for the near future.  I decide that as this is a global health crisis, it would be best for me to head to my (eng)land of free healthcare.

March 31st, Los Angeles: Boarded a flight to Atlanta.  Masks and distancing are somewhat being enforced, however, the rules seem to be subject to personal interpretation.  Any cough or sneeze heard onboard is severely frowned upon and the offending person is feared and branded as undoubtedly diseased. The ordinarily energetic Atlanta airport is now eerily silent and passengers are moving about with serious but distanced purpose. The distinct absence of vacation excitement in the virused air, is both palpable and unnerving.

March 31st, London: I am collected from Heathrow by my dear friend. After only leaving London a couple of weeks before, I have returned to a very different city. After living in London for 10 years, I have fully embraced the sunny and spacious surroundings of Los Angeles and have often felt a tad suffocated during my short return visits. Now, driving through the almost deserted city, a beauty that was usually masked with commotion is clearly being exposed. It was an unexpected 20:20 moment in the midst of the craziness.

April to June, London: Lockdown in London was taken very seriously and for the most part, compliance was high and rewarded with lowering case numbers and reduced pressure on the truly amazing NHS. I was fortunate to be locked down with another good friend in his lovely home in South London. We quickly fell into the classic lockdown routine of work, meal planning, meal ordering, meal eating and nightly watching of every streaming service available. For the most part, it was a great distraction from reality. However, I became increasingly aware that I had to make some difficult decisions. I was still paying rent on my apartment in Los Angeles, which initially made sense as I assumed this would all blow over in a few months.  However, at the end of May it was glaringly obvious that the situation was indeed worsening and more importantly due to a President Proclamation, I was now unable to return to the US from the UK anytime soon. I had to find a way to move out of my apartment without being there and whilst Zoom was enabling us to be connected in ways we never before thought possible, this was a task that I couldn’t envisage being completed online. However, thanks to yet another good friend and 28 tumultuous hours straight on FaceTime, I did indeed move out of my apartment remotely!

July, London: It now seemed the only logical next step would be to head to Sydney and ride out the pandemic storm in the safety and security of my vigilantly border controlled, island home Down Under. It was to be a simple case of booking a flight on one of the few airlines flying from London to Sydney. I hurriedly booked an economy fare flight on Qatar Airways for July 21st and was relieved to receive email confirmation of my departure. I could now look ahead to the next phase of my plagued adventure.

July 16th, London: I see an email in my inbox from Qatar Airways with the Subject: Important: Changes to your Qatar Airways flight timings. I immediately see a slight change to the departure time and think how considerate to advise passengers of such a minor difference and then it hits me; not only has the time been changed but the date has also been altered to… August 13th!  After a few panicked calls to the airline and nearly every member of my family, we quickly learn that the only way I can make it to Sydney with a confirmed seat, at an earlier date is to upgrade to Business Class. So with the help of my generous family, a ghastly over-priced seat is booked to get me home in under two weeks.

July 27th, London: I had heard much about the unparalleled Business Class experience on Qatar Airways and have always loved flying in any class but as this was a forced fare, I found myself wanting to be excited but also feeling somewhat resentful. It was great though to see the airline taking all the necessary precautions as we were issued a mask and face shield whilst our temperature was checked. Don’t get me wrong, I was extremely grateful to have had a private suite and a flatbed but let’s just say that my flights were not without incident and to be in a full Business Class section whilst Economy Class was virtually empty, seemed infuriatingly nonsensical.

July 29th, Sydney:  Arriving at a desolate Sydney airport except for hazmat clad officials, army and police staff herding us through excessively cordoned pathways, I am quickly reminded that I’ve landed back in the Soviet Republic of Australia. This sentiment is further confirmed when we are left on the Shawshank Redemption bus without information for an hour and then confronted by a less than friendly police officer at our designated hotel with, ok everyone, this is Day 0 of your 14 days quarantine and handed 6 pages of rules. There is definitely a feeling of not being welcome as we’re probably infected being projected by the quaranteam, only resolved by locking us in our rooms and the threat of possible arrest if we dare attempt to put a toe outside of our room before the granted parole date.

July 29th  to August 11th, Sydney: The first couple of days were a welcome rest after the epic journey that was. On day three, the lack of fresh air, increasingly inedible food rations left at the door and the realisation that this would be the status quo for the next eleven days, started to cause some anxiety. Nevertheless, I was determined not to let this final hurdle get the better of me and implemented a highly vacuous routine based around morning TV, bingeing Married at First Sight (Australia) and playing name that dish with the questionable food items being delivered; all of which surprisingly got me through my Circular Quay sentence.

August to Present: Whilst this year has been eventful in so many ways for everyone, including me; upon reflection the overwhelming feeling I have is one of immense gratitude.  As the US and UK are looking destined to head into another lockdown, I am so thankful to finally be here where we are now almost virus free and enjoying the increased freedom that brings.  I am mostly thankful to my friends who have sheltered, fed, watered and moved me without question and also being able to spend extended quality time with my family that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. We will each have our own feeling about this year and see what we want to see of our own experiences.  

For me, even with all its extreme highs and lows, my New Year’s Eve wish actually did come true as I am definitely seeing 2020 with 20:20.

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