I did it. I left the country.
We were invited to visit an old friend of Mr. Parker’s in Mexico. The two hadn’t seen each other in about 25 years, and I’d never met the man. But, they both seemed to think it was a swell idea. Also, this old friend had told my husband that we should come for at least two weeks. “So much to see.” So, a plan was made. Plane tickets were purchased. Careful-ish-ness cast to the wind!
With travel being open-ish, then closing again somewhat, then kind of relaxing again, we had no idea if we’d actually be able to travel when the time came. But, as luck would have it, Mexico had no travel requirements for Americans to enter the country other than a vaccination card. We had those. Plus, we’d both caeful-ishly gotten boosters. The only catch: the U.S. would require us to show proof of a negative COVID test 72 hours or less before returning home, and that was easily attainable.
But, what to expect when we got there? Who knew? We weren’t going to one of those places that Americans typically go to for long sessions of lounging on a beach with umbrella drinks. We were headed to Cholula Puebla. This is where Mr. Parker’s friend, John and his wife own and operate a craft brewery. Oooooh. The friend has a brewery! It’s called Cerveceria Crazy Moon. Ulterior motive? We can stay home and drink beer, ya know. No passport required.
The flight to Mexico City was on one of our favorite carrier’s older planes. That was bummer number one. (Not that I’m counting.) We tried to not let it get us down. We whipped through immigration and dashed for the motor coach (see: nice bus) for the two-hour ride to Puebla. While we got to the counter in time, sweaty and panting, the bus was sold out. We had to wait another 90 minutes. Bummer number two. Once aboard our bus, it turned out they had a movie. A movie! Yay! Except—loud audio throughout the coach. We got to hear Peter Rabbit starring Rose Byrne and Sam Neill dubbed in Spanish. Loud. Bummer number three. And that, my friends, was the end of the bummers. These are first-world problems.
Arriving in Puebla, John greeted us with open arms. And his wife, who neither of us had ever even spoken to, treated us like old friends. We brought a bottle of craft bourbon as a gift, shared it alongside some craft beer, then promptly passed out.
The rest of the two weeks featured tours of beautiful old towns, a visit to the largest pyramid in Mexico, enjoying various kinds of street food, learning much about Day of The Dead, and enjoying the company of our friend’s friends. Truly, that latter part was the best. Everywhere we went, we felt like we were upping the U.S. population by 100%. It was a rich dive into someone else’s culture. Warm and fascinating. I could go on too long.
But what of COVID? The Mexicans have a much different approach to COVID than we do in the U.S. Everyone was wearing a mask, even while walking down the street. All public places, restaurants, churches, museums, all of them take your temperature before you can enter. There are hand sanitizer pumps everywhere. And no one had a problem with it. No one. When we asked about their mindset, our friends told us that everyone was determined to do everything possible to keep businesses open.
Speaking of business, we visited our friend’s tasting room and brewery. And I’m not just blowing beer foam when I say: the product is exceptional. The Munich-style Helles lager reminded me of Oktoberfest in Munich. The IPA was easy drinking without being overtly bitter. And the stout was rich without being heavy. It’s a bourgeoning craft brewery, and I can’t wait until they export to the U.S.
It was a magical time in Mexico. We’d been there long enough that we acclimated. It all just began to feel like home. That is, until it was time to leave. We’d gotten our swab-to-the back-of the-brain COVID test, which was comical. My Spanish left me as the very nice nurse with the foot-long swab up my nose kept laughing and saying, “¡Gracias!” And, of course, we were COVID-negative. All good.
Our flight out of Mexico City was very early, so we’d decided to spend the night at the Airport Hilton. Smart, right?
Wrong. Good luck finding the Airport Hilton at Mexico City Terminal One. Mr. Parker had seen online that it wasn’t easy to locate, but it’s literally in the airport. So come on. How bad can it be?
We walked the length of the terminal four times, getting wrong directions from multiple airport employees. Yet, find it we did. Next, our very fine dinner in an airport steakhouse cost us more money than any other meal during our trip (yet half the price of a comparable meal at home). After that, we returned to the hotel bar for an adult beverage. That’s where we heard all the stories of people whose flights had been cancelled the previous day due to bad weather in Atlanta.
Realizing that we’d be getting home well before people scheduled to leave before us, I let it all go—until the next day, when the non-VIP treatment in the airline VIP lounge let us know that the best part of our trip was well over. It was filled with entitled passengers and surly staffers. But, two uneventful flights and we were home—home where no one was wearing a mask.
The bottom line? Traveling during COVID is just plain weird. The being-someplace-else part is fine. Allow yourself to adopt their rhythm of life and it all seems normal. Then, traveling back breaks the spell. It was the trip of a lifetime with people I hope to count as friends forever. Will I travel again in the near future? Mmmm…we’ll see.
Yes, laughing and spitting. It was a sunny day in beautiful Park City, Utah. And Mr. Parker and I found ourselves sitting in our car in a hospital parking lot, spitting into tubes and laughing.
What has brought us to this bizarre circumstance? Two words: COVID testing.
We’d made it almost a year into the pandemic without needing a test.
That’s saying something, considering we were actually in ground-zero Seattle on March 11 2020.
These days, we rarely leave home. We go almost nowhere…and the liquor store. Our COVID pod is small and select.
But people we like were about to enter that pod from out of town, and everyone was getting tested first. We were doing our part. Hello, testing!
Until now, I’d thought that a COVID test meant a long swab up your nose and into the back of your brain.
That thought alone was enough to keep me from going anywhere or engaging in mask-less mingling.
But there’s a new kid in town: the spit tube.
Sorry if this creeps you out , but…
All you have to do is juice up enough saliva that you can spit three milliliters of it into a plastic vial. Then, drive up to the spit take service entrance where you hand it to the nice lady in the hazmat suit.
Simple. Painless. No one touching your precious gray matter.
Let’s do this.
It was a bluebird day as we drove to the hospital and pulled up to a temporary office hut that looked like it might be possible to purchase coffee from the gentleman inside.
When that smiling gentleman leaned out the hut window, Mr. Parker placed his order.
“COVID tests for two, please.”
“Spit or swab?”
Not even a question. “Spit, please!”
The gentleman then informed us that this test is not acceptable for travel to Hawaii. Have you ever said to yourself, “Thank god I’m not going to Hawaii?” Yes, it was a first for us, too.
He handed us our plastic tubes, told us to where to park, and showed us how much spit we needed to produce.
“Get to the line marked 3. If there’s a head on the spit, then the bubbles need to reach the number 4.”
I’ve been spitting for longer than I can remember. I got this.
Surprise. It’s a long, involved exercise in purposeful hypersalivation.
(Mr. Parker found that word for us. He’s like that. I was happy to stick with “working up spit.”)
We pulled into a space, parked, and started spitting. How hard could this be? How long could it take?
Answers: hard and long. (Yes, I said hard…and long.) My spit dried up in a matter of minutes. Mr. Parker quickly gained quite a lead on me.
Should one put on music for such an exercise? What would be appropriate?
As it turned out, there was no need for a soundtrack. The longer it took to fill the vials, the more we laughed. And laughing lead to more laughing. The kind of laughing that takes over when you’re watching a good, bad movie.
My vial was all bubbles. Mr. Parker, overachiever that he is, had already made it to line five. Five! Damn. That’s when I gave us our new temporary rapper names: Juicy and Li’l Bubbles.
Finally, I crossed the finish line.
We called the phone number for spit retrieval, and as per instructions, we drove to the hospital side entrance.
A nice lady in a bizarrely enormous hazmat suit came out. Kinda like if the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man’s very happy wife showed up, dressed for surgery.
She bounced out the door and smiled big as she confirmed out birthdates.
We held out our juice and bubbles. She held out plastic bags. We dropped the vials inside. She smiled again from inside the big plastic fish bowl on her head. “Have a nice day! Stay safe!”
And, just like that, the adventure was over.
In truth, figuring out how to get the results from the website was another adventure. And no laugh track.
Drum roll…Negative and negative!
Oh, the adventures of pandemic-living. Here’s hoping you don’t have to go to Hawaii any time soon.
Juicy & Li’l Bubbles
Honey Parker has been writing, writing, writing for decades, decades, decades. In there, she has also been a standup comedian, a Hollywood screenwriter, a director, and a co-author of edgy business books. Careful-ish is her debut novel. It is the first in a trilogy. It is comedy-ish.