LETTER TO THE EDITOR
I am of the opinion that travel might have lost its last shred of appeal and romance for me. A case in point is my return to Grand Cayman on July 7th following a long day’s travel across Britain and the Atlantic. Soon. Then there’s the two-week quarantine.
“Where did you vaccinate?”
It’s an odd question. Don’t you think? And I’m not really sure what the (I believe) young woman in the Hazmat suit, mask, and filter is trying to gather. But I’m pretty sure that I don’t understand because of the mask. Still, it’s an odd question, and I want to laugh because it reminds me of an episode of Friends — the one where Phoebe Buffay asked, “where does everyone summer?”
But I have been travelling for eighteen hours. And I need to quarantine. I’m coming from Manchester, the site of all those impromptu soccer raves, where the infection rates are already twice the British national average, so I can’t go home to risk passing Covid onto my father or the dog. And there’s been this toddler coughing over the seat in front of me, one of several children surrounding me on the flight over, all coughing in dissonance like some strange variation on the Von Trapp children rehearsing a late-life smoking cessation campaign. Maybe it’s this sleeping pill, but I’m in no mood to return the stares of this child who has been trying to play peekaboo with everyone in sight and screaming to get attention. I’ve spent the last nine hours with eyes shut but unable to sleep — not open my eyes, or God forbid look up because I know I won’t be able to resist offering this woman’s child one of my sleeping pills. When did gripe water (the branded and sweetened cocktail for loud travelling children) go out of fashion?
I’m aware of the likelihood that this young person is a volunteer. And my obligation to be polite. Volunteering is an important fact facet of Caymanian life. Whether part of parochial or civil duties, satisfying the points system for permanent residency or hoping for a spot on the New Year’s Honours list, this would be a far less pleasant place to live or visit without the benevolent community spirit of the people who live here. So I ask her to clarify, or perhaps repeat the question.
I ask Miss Hazmat Suit to clarify and elucidate. I honestly didn’t understand the question, which she repeats, only this time she asks it much louder and slower like I’m the naughty toddler, but dumber.
“Sir, I asked where did you vaccinate?!”
Oh, no, she didn’t. Seriously? You wanna play this game with me, Miss Grammar?
“Ummm, In the arm?”
I know from the eyes, which now remind me of Sarah Paulson’s interpretation of Mildred Ratched, that this is the wrong answer. She tries another line of questioning, even slower and louder. We could be here all day.
“Sir? What is the name of the place where you did vaccinate?”
“Oh, you mean where did I have the vaccine? Manchester.”
“Manchester, England?” I nod and try to smile behind my mask because I can tell where this conversation is going otherwise. A cubicle or if I’m lucky a totally private room with a surplus of rubber gloves, lubricant and laxatives. I’ve seen enough episodes of that show about daily life at Sydney Airport’s arrivals and customs to know I have to turn on the charm if I want to get to my hotel bed without the room service or body cavity search. I bite my tongue and resist saying, “No, sweetie. Manchester, New Hampshire.” I bite my tongue till it hurts. I don’t say this. But I’m really tempted to even if it means holding up the rest of the passengers from British Airways, flight 252. I realize I’m a little short on everything from patience to goodwill and deodorant, and I just want to get out of here. By the time I do get out of the terminal, I’ve been interviewed by seven people who have clarified that I have received the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. I’m put in a shuttle to a facility to spend the next five days. Solo.
The facility turns out to be a local hotel that buttresses the golf course, and it’s not that bad, really. It’s on the edge of the North Sound and boasts a stellar view. There’s a large suite, plenty of hot water and the bed is huge and comfortable. I mean, how bad can it — Holy shit! what the hell was that thing that just rolled across the floor?! It looks like a miniature tumbleweed. Like some small wild animal under the bed has coughed up a furball or the previous guest in this room spent the week combing out their weave and housekeeping missed the sacrificed remains. Oh, stop being so prissy, Arch. It’s not like you’re about to find anything else. Oh Jesus, is that a pubic hair?! I have got to get me one of those blue lights for when I travel, and some of that spray stuff like the liquid he uses on Dexter. Have I always been this nervous a traveller? I get out my DIY sanitation kit and get to work on the door handles, the phone and the toilet seat, mostly for fun.
You’re here for quarantine. That’s right; I may as well just go to bed and sleep this fatigue and stupidity off. My sense of humour is not going to return until I’ve had about twelve hours of rest. It’s only five days. I keep telling myself this, and I’m telling myself this when I receive it. An email. From some authoritative looking address connected with the government. Informing me that I’ll be receiving my COVID test and conditional release from this facility. You’ve got to be shitting me. In fourteen days? Fourteen days, what the hell is wrong with these people? Fourteen days?! I’m not staying in this shithole for fourteen days. There has to be some mistake. So, I put on my best be nice voice as opposed to my WTF voice and try calling the person who sent the email.
“You know you’re here for fourteen days because apparently you didn’t open the app and show the proof of vaccination when you were at the airport.”
“But I’ve sent you everything — all of this. In an electronic version. Scans. Screenshots, you name it. That’s what email is for, isn’t it? I mean. So that you don’t have to hand dealing paper, it’s the same reason why I’m not allowed to tip the staff here at the hotel.”
“Please be patient, Sir. We’re sending a team out to verify and authenticate your information and documents. It’s just part of our due diligence process.”
The due diligence proper process turns out to be two students on work experience. Well, I assume this because if they’re at a pay grade any higher than interns, we’re totally screwed as a society and I finally understand the need for all the imported labour.
Due diligence continues, degrades and shows its shortcomings over the next week, As I try to explain to no fewer than three visitors over five visits to the door of the hotel room. I try to keep calm and on the last visit. I’m successful when the app opens and in red letters from the NHS app it is confirmed that I did vaccinate and gives me the date of the vaccine. Both parties look at each other, look at the app again, read the text silently with moving lips then look back at me.
“So yeah, you should be good to go. Thanks for being patient.”
But no, that’s just the beginning of the nightmare. I call again. And again. And again.
“No, you’re still here for fourteen days. No, I really can’t say why.”
I try calling someone else. Fourteen goddamned days. On the 13th of July, after a full day’s work and pacing, I realize that there hasn’t been any food or water delivered to me for twenty-four hours. Yeah, yeah, I suppose I should have picked up the phone and asked. Or you know, been nice or done an Oliver Twist and begged for more but when you’re stressed and working and trying to hold it together and still trying to put in a week of studies, you don’t really notice these things and it’s not until your head is aching that you realize, Hey, I haven’t had anything to eat since this time yesterday. By now I’m slightly pissed (off, not drunk) at being overlooked and forgotten. I call Travel Time or Travel Friends or whatever the hell they’ve rebranded themselves now (like when Lime made that unfortunate rebrand transition to Flow, which to the consumer’s advantage rhymes with slow), and I declare an emergency. I want to get out of here. I want to go home. I want to see my dog and my father and frankly, I’ve now been here for exactly a week. I haven’t been offered so much as a coronavirus test, and I’m feeling slighted at being so spurned that I welcome the intimacy.
I guess Miss Ebanks is their secret weapon. She suggests that I remain patient and says I probably shouldn’t have sent her boss the deputy government governor that email suggesting that his staff is as useful and helpful as a marzipan dildo. Or was it an ice-cream dildo? Cookie-dough dildo? Play-doh dildo? But hey, I was hungry and you haven’t fed me.
“You should have called.”
“You should have done this.”
“You should have filled out the requisite food form and asked for it to be picked up and sent to the front desk.”
Of course, now I feel like I’m just getting victim-blamed and I say so much but Miss Ebanks has never heard of victim-blaming and tells me so. I decide to be silent and bide my time. Just shut up, behave yourself like a good student until you can get the hell out of here. These people are just inept. One friend keeps dropping off milk, tea, sugar and chocolate, Lord bless her. Another friend keeps offering to send martinis. It’s probably not a good idea to accept the martinis, and I do need to keep working so. I just drink tea and keep going on. Status quo, as they say.
Miss Ebanks, I guess, thinks that the best thing to do is to try to make friends with me and says when this is all over, we’re going down to the Mango Tree together. I agree until I Google the Mango Tree, which I’ve mistaken for the new bar at the Ritz. What the hell would I be doing in a place like Mango Tree?! Miss Ebanks sending me to the Mango Tree is like sending me subtly to hell. Or IHOP. Why else would she be telling me to go to the Mango Tree when this is over? Standing me up at the Mango Tree I realise, is her way of sticking it to me for complaining to Franz Manderson and comparing her to a flaccid, melting dildo. She also tells me that I should “Wash yuh draws in the sink,” with the soap provided. The soap is what they call dish soap if you’re reading this in America, washing-up liquid in Britain.
“Otherwise, try-so get somebody go cost-you-less and buy you some draws and marinas (Caymanian for white tank-top wife-beaters)”. For a split second, I make a mental list of all the people I feel comfortable enough to ask to go to Cost-u-Less and buy me a few pairs of emergency draws. I resign myself to the fact that when they find me here starved to death it will be in the lucky Versace underpants that I wore across the Atlantic. The superstition underwear I have on, to keep the plane from nosediving out of the sky. I don’t care how dirty they are. Miss Ebanks will have won otherwise.
“Smells like shit!”
Those were my exact words on the occasion of my first sampling of Jicky by Guerlain. I can still remember the day, twenty years ago when the client wafted the wand under my nose and asked for my off-the-cuff response. If you’ve never smelled Jicky, you’ll know that I’m not exaggerating. The stuff has a base-note of post-game jockstrap and flatulence and I dare you to sample the stuff and tell me you don’t smell it too. Furthermore, I must have had a point because the client kept me on for a whole year. So, if anyone comments that I’m beginning to smell a little ripe, my excuse is going to be that I’ve taken up wearing the trademark scent. Who cares if the stuff has been discontinued (due to its lack of popularity, no doubt)?
it’s been eight days and I am out of thinking. Erm, I mean out of ideas. I don’t know how to wash draws, much less anything else other than my dog in the sink so I’m sitting here, spraying myself in eau de toilette like a Havanan gigolo, or something out of the court of Louis XIV, hoping that by the time I am able to get downstairs for a COVID test I can still occupy a room without others’ vacating it, but the situation is fast degrading. I’m wondering how anybody else could do this for so many days. I mean, it’s not really the food or the lack of comfort (although they are not really generous with either, or bottled water and I am tempted to call H.M.P. Northward as I write this to find out how much drinking water an inmate gets in a day (for the record it’s 1500 millilitres here in quarantine). it is the absolute silence and lack of liaison that you’re denied and I frankly made some unfortunate comparisons between quarantine and Buchenwald during my little intermittent fasting that I really hope doesn’t get back to some friends in Montreal who are always inviting me to Hempstead for Passover. Hopefully, that will all be forgiven because, well, I was hungry. No, I was more hangry.
I’m really happy that this coronavirus business is coming to an end, and I pray that everyone will get vaccinated. Where you get vaccinated? It’s hopefully not going to be some defining factor in your quarantine time or how you’re treated. And I can’t help but wonder how tourism travel are going to recover from this. I mean, travel is just kind of losing its spark when the person taking your passport at customs is wearing a hazmat suit and when your bags are dropped off at quarantine, they get sprayed with some sort of solution. Disinfectant, I assume. It’s just not as…for want of a better word… It’s just not as…Romantic is it used to be. And that’s okay unless you’re holding stock in Cunard or that company that’s about to bring the Concorde back. And I know that things like the Norwalk virus used to break out on Cunard cruises all the time, so you have to, yeah. Be practical when travelling. I’m not a sensible person. I clearly am not a nice person either. When creature comforts are taken away from me, especially. But that’s why I don’t work in hospitality. I certainly won’t ever get a job in the civil service after that email “to all” about the pudding pop dildo, either.
Antonio Arch is a Public Relations professional based in Manchester and Grand Cayman. Over a two-decade career, he has built a reputation for dependable content strategy, timely and efficient editorial services, persuasive copywriting, and methodical research. He is a graduate of Bishop's and McGill Universities and completed his MFA (distinction) at the Manchester Writing School in 2019. Content workshopped during his MFA were published by the University of the Virgin Islands in ‘The Caribbean Writer' volume 34. He is currently pursuing a PhD. at the University of Huddersfield.