Moving About During COVID-19: Observations of a Traveler


By Robbin Laird

During 2020, with the pandemic descending upon the world, my usual year of global travel obviously was not to be.

But except for April and May 2020, I travelled at least once a month within the United States from June to December and globally from January to March as the pandemic descended on the world.

My year of pandemic travel began with my return flight from Sydney to Houston and then Houston to Washington.

The Australian government waffled for several days before throwing us foreign threat folks out.

So when I went to fly towards the last days I could do it, flights were cancelled all across the board.

Then in the flight back to the United States, no one had a clue what the regulations would be when we landed.

Notably, did we global entry folks have to fill out forms or would we do the death-defying act of using touch screens?

No one knew so we filled out forms, only to discover that we could use the touch screens.

Fortunately, these screens were cleaned after each use by some woman with a spray and a cloth towel which never changed during the ritualistic cleaning.

As a high-risk person, I travelled with care, but frankly without excessive fear.

And what I have seen during this year has been truly amazing, on many levels.

Observing human behavior is a constant pastime, but this year has provided some new manifestations of behavior, the kind of stuff one would have read in history books but not have seen first-hand in recent times.

I would note that I have travelled through many U.S. states over the past month, and it is clear that most people are cautious and risk managing.

That is why holding up masks in presidential debates is so amazing, as masks have been everywhere, I have gone, whether in transit or visiting the many cities I have visited.

If you think Americans are not using masks, frankly you have been spending too much time in your basement hiding out.

I have seen a number of types of behavior during the year.

First, there are the prudent and careful but those travelling without losing their sense of humanity.

This has been the largest group of folks, people you can chat with on the plane, or get a sandwich from in a store in the airport, or working in hotels, or walking down the street.

But there are exceptions which surprise you.

For example, after flying three hours sitting next to a chap, when he got up and crowded in the aisle, yelled at me that I was too close to him as I stood up at my seat, but not yet entering the aisle.

Apparently, where social distancing occured was a determination in this guy’s mind.

Second, there are the totally panicked folks, who frankly are people who generate uneasiness wherever they are in the travel chain.

For example, look at these folks in Dulles airport and ask yourself, why are they travelling at all.

Third, there are those who have read a Brothers Grimm fairy tale and believe in the magic mask.

These folks wear their mask everywhere.

Folks in cars are the most amusing.

I have seen in LA a chap driving down the freeway with his top down on his Mercedes and wearing a mask.

I saw a Harley-Davidson driver with a mask on in Jacksonville Florida, who yelled at me for not having my mask on in my rental car and I was at least 20 feet from this mask vigilante

Fourth, there are the totally paranoid.

You see these folks on planes, cautiously approaching the bathrooms and fearful of entering such a dangerous place.

You would think they are about to be threatened by an IED if they opened the door.

I even saw a chap crawling on the flight back from Sydney in March and open the door of the bathroom with his head as he somehow thought that was safer than opening the door with his hands.

Fifth, I have seen animals on flights which look saner the people they are with.

Take a look at this Great Dane looking at the masked folks and clearly puzzling over his place in the world.

Sixth, there are the Stasi mask folks wondering around who love to come up to you and threaten you if you might have done something which they think is threatening the world.

These are the folks building apps to trace your every movement to determine if you are a risky mobile contact. I am sure the Chinese government is finding these folks to be good future customers or perhaps members of future Cabinets in Washington DC.

I would observe that if you saw the masked folks coming onto the planes as they do now, you would fear another 9/11 but now these are friendlier folks.

Hopefully, we can end this nonsense sooner rather than later.

But the behaviors evident in travelling this year certainly will persist.

Clearly, we will all need the Stasi personalities to get more power because we are so unable to manage our lives without them.

Well back to my basement.

Sorry really don’t have one in the Outer Banks so I guess I will have to travel again.