In March 2020, while we were working our way through Portugal and Morocco, a global pandemic was working its way through China, Korea, Europe, and even the United States. The coronavirus—or “COVID-19” as everyone calls it except Trump—was catchier than the Baby Shark song, and only slightly less destructive to humanity.
Staying one step ahead of the global pandemic.
By March 11th, hundreds of people had died, tens of thousands got sick, and millions more believed the virus was engineered in a “Build-A-Bioweapon” mall store by the DNC.
Unconvinced of the science behind COVID-19—or anything else, for that matter—America's morons and ignoramuses continued congregating in public spaces throughout the country, particularly in Florida where young people brushed off concerns of the global pandemic, already assuming they'd pick up a disease or two during Spring Break anyway.
America's leaders tried to get the word out about the disease, while Donald Trump tried to blame the rollback of our country's health security preparedness on P.F. Chang's.
Whoever leaves Europe last, turn out the lights.
Two days after we left Portugal and arrived in Morocco, the most affected countries by the global pandemic in Asia and Europe began locking down their borders. One by one, they closed schools, concert venues, restaurants, bars, and ultimately, airports. Morocco had thus far escaped the ravages of COVID-19, so we continued touring the country, seeing sights such as Chefchaouen, the Atlas Mountains, and drinking a lot.
In addition to killing people, the global pandemic killed our plans to visit Majorca and Barcelona as well. With Spain halting all flights, Morocco would be our final destination on this journey, and possibly our new “forever home” if the airport shut down before we could get out.
“Successful businessman” fails at his one job during the global pandemic.
Unfortunately, the man in charge of our surviving the global pandemic and getting out of Morocco was only appointed to the job because he donated US$250,000 to Trump's inauguration.
David T. Fischer—who “pulled himself up by his bootstraps” using nothing more than an already successful car dealership inherited from his father—had absolutely no plan in place to handle this pandemic, or any other crisis that didn't involve “talking to his manager” first. He was basically useless.
The prospect of getting stuck in Morocco for an extended period and having to learn Arabic wasn't the worst-case scenario for me. Getting stuck in Morocco and having to learn French, however, was.
Yet, without guidance about the global pandemic from either the US State Department or the Moroccan Embassy, we were left to our own devices to find a way home. Luckily, Morocco was still allowing flights out at this time, but the window for escape was closing fast.
Our race against unchecked human interaction.
Infections were steadily rising within Morocco, so the government finally decided to close their borders on March 14th—all flights to and from Europe were suspended immediately, stranding thousands of tourists.
As the global pandemic got progressively more serious, Twitter provided the only glimmer of hope. Someone tweeted that we should try British Airways, as they were repatriating UK citizens thanks to a government that had its shit together. If we could get on one of those flights, we could fly back to the U.S., assuming Heathrow didn't close in the meantime.
The only way out (of Morocco) is through (Heathrow).
While our frantic phone calls to British Airways went unanswered or just disconnected, their website turned up seats for a single UK repatriation flight on Thursday, March 19th—there were no other flights to Heathrow that entire week—not one. We immediately bought tickets for what turned out to be the final flight out of Morocco.*
Once we had return tickets secured all the way home, we killed our remaining time in Marrakech by driving around the city. Shaken by the global pandemic, the city's famous outdoor markets, normally bustling with bodies and astir with activity, emptied faster than a Trump rally in India. Trucks with loudspeakers rolled the streets telling Moroccans to stay home, wash your hands, and maybe lay off the damn hashish, Hamid! (It was in Arabic, so I'm just guessing here.)
Like “Leaving Las Vegas,” except it was Morocco.
The next day, we got to the airport in record time—no rush-hour traffic whatsoever. Once again, we breezed through freakishly short check-in and security lines populated by the country's last tourists, possibly for a long while.
The global pandemic was decimating the country's tourist industry. And, leaving under these conditions felt like I was abandoning Morocco; I was the father who went out for cigarettes and never came back. But I like to think Morocco understood—I mean, everybody smokes there. Even babies.
The mood onboard was the opposite of festive.
There was an uneasy tension on the plane—a feeling of camaraderie from being “in the same boat” on one hand, and a suspicious Terminator-like scanning for anyone who looked even remotely like they might cough on the other. Passengers pretended to be upbeat and optimistic, though if anyone was smiling, you couldn't tell through their surgical masks.
With anxiety registering on the Richter Scale, British Airways probably sold more alcohol on this flight than any other in their history.
The scary “global pandemic” part now over, the annoying part began.
We landed at Heathrow immediately, without circling. A smattering of golf-clap applause rose from the British passengers, relieved to have survived the global pandemic but too repressed to really show it.
Conversely, I took off my shirt and spun it over my head, singing “Whoomp! (There It Is)” until they turned off the seatbelt sign. We arrived two hours late, yet no one complained, other than that guy who didn't get to see the end of “Frozen 2.” (Spoiler: Elsa comes out as a Republican.)
For UK citizens, their ordeal was over, they were home. But ours was only half done. Surviving the global pandemic for us meant getting from Terminal 5 to Terminal 4, where our hotel was located. We assumed it wouldn't take very long, but we assumed wrong.
Our unexpected slog to slumber land.
Heathrow is not just the busiest airport in the world, it's one of the biggest, too. Though our hotel was “directly linked to Terminal 4,” the link required a 20-minute bus ride in the freezing cold followed by a 15-minute death march down a wind-blown outdoor walkway.
By the time we got to the hotel, even getting upgraded to a King Suite (the global pandemic really freed up some hotel rooms) didn't soothe our frozen extremities, frazzled nerves, or growing hypochondriac tendencies. Remembering that alcohol was a disinfectant, we shifted our consumption into high gear.
The last man (and woman) alive.
At the crack of dawn, we took a cab to Terminal 2 and, again, breezed eerily through check-in and security. The world's busiest airport was all but empty due to the global pandemic, like some low-budget horror movie by Roger Corman. We half-expected to round a corner and see a zombie businessman huddled over a businesswoman whose brains he was feasting upon. (Did you notice my subtle satire just then about “men who steal women's ideas and pass them off as their own?” Yeah, I'm that woke.)
“Security theater at its finest.” — Siskel & Ebert
Our BA flight arrived turbulently in Dulles, where we were told we had to undergo “extra security screening.” We'd heard of airports taking people's temperatures, isolating them, and even preventing further travel.
Instead, we got a multiple-choice quiz asking probing questions like, “Hey, do you feel okay?” followed by, “Really?” and finally, “No, seriously bro, you got the virus or what?” It wasn't confidence inspiring.
Once through that faux-security gauntlet, we continued home where if, after 14 days, we haven't developed symptoms, we intend to resume our normal life of avoiding social interaction with people and watching a ton of Netflix.
What I learned from this global pandemic experience.
This pandemic taught me lessons about the importance of being more selfless, caring about others more than ourselves, and working together for the good of society as a whole. But what this crisis taught me most is that global pandemics are the absolute best time to travel the world—hell, I'm already making plans for the next one.
* After both Morocco and the UK closed their airports, the US State Department finally got its ass in gear and arm-twisted European airlines into adding a few more flights (for $1000 more than we paid). So, yeah, ours wasn't technically the LAST flight out of Morocco, but it was the last regularly scheduled flight, so I'm sticking with my story—it's called “creative license,” bitches.