The week of March 8, 2020, still feels surreal to me. Even a year later.
My youngest turned 13 that day. A teenager! Naturally, we celebrated. It was a Sunday night, but off we went to a restaurant for cake and calories. So good. So normal.
The next day was Monday the 9th. After several conference calls in the morning from my Victoria home office—no one had even heard of Zoom at that point—I was then off to Toronto on an afternoon flight.
After the Sunday birthday celebrations, I spent the rest of the evening deliberating with my better half whether I should be taking the five-hour flight on the Monday to Toronto. Should I really be speaking in front of three separate audiences on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning that coming week?
Wasn’t this coronavirus thing getting bad?
I got on the first of two planes. There were no masks. There wasn’t even sanitizer. Someone I knew boarded, recognized me, and we shook hands as they passed by. “They shook my hand!” I shrieked to myself. OMG.
This was going to be a long week.
I land in Toronto and get into a car that shuttles me to the hotel. The driver had a raging cough. It was minus a million degrees. I couldn’t open the window for fear of frostbite. Well, not really, but I’m a weather weakling, so I tried to hold my breath for 30 minutes. I was unsuccessful. I was breathing coughing air. OMG again.
The Tuesday keynote is at a hotel in Toronto. It’s walkable, even for a weather weakling. The room is set up for about five hundred people, all of them at tables of 10 or so. They’re from the same organization. As the employees arrive, I can’t help but cringe when I witness an outpouring of hugs. OMFG.
Do I keep my dinner plans? I muster up the courage to leave my hotel room while simultaneously convincing myself that the World Health Organization will not call this coronavirus thing a pandemic. It’s just a blip. I go to dinner. We hugged. WTH?!?
The Wednesday morning keynote is full of corporate educators. Ahhh, smart people. This will be different, right? When I arrive at this venue, I’m greeted by a sanitizer table. Hallelujah, I’m not going to die. There is sanitizer!
However, in what was supposed to be an intimate 50 or so people event swells to over 100, and it’s literally wall-to-wall people. They’re climbing over one another. Imagine the Death Star trash compactor when the walls started moving in on Luke, Han and Leia. Ya, like that.
Should I now go to my Wednesday lunch? Same dilemma as the night before. Has the WHO called this a pandemic yet? Checks Google. Nope. Good to go.
We hug. FFS.
It’s now 2 pm, and I head back to my hotel room. Big mistake as now I’ve got two hours to surf the web and find out just how insane this coronavirus thing is getting. 4 pm arrives, and I’m heading out the door to attend a concert in Oakville. Oakville?!? Isn’t that a 45-minute Go Train ride between downtown Toronto and the venue with hordes of people coughing, sneezing, and, let’s admit, hugging each other?
I get to the train station in downtown Toronto. I look at the entry doors. I stop in my tracks. Do I really need to see a live concert in Oakville? I mean, it is Gord Sinclair of the Tragically Hip playing a solo show, so I really should go, shouldn’t I?
I phone my brother, who lives in Hamilton, Ontario, about 20 minutes away from the venue. “Hey Adam, it’s Dan. Ummm, I think the world is about to explode, so I’m going to bail on the concert tonight with you. Is that okay?”
Without missing a beat, Adam says, “Maybe someone will stream it on Periscope.” Touché. What foreshadowing.
I’m now in full-blown panic mode. I arrive back at my hotel room and find myself on Amazon. “The world isn’t prepared. Geez, I’m not prepared.” What do I do? While on Amazon, I buy:
- 10 N95 masks (two for each member of my family – and yes, I know, bad me, but I’m giving you insights into my psyche that week)
- 4 litres of hand sanitizer (litres people, litres!)
- 200 hand sanitizer napkins (like what you get when you eat ribs at a restaurant but smellier)
Then I started thinking about groceries. “What if we’re locked down? What if we can’t shop?”
So, I ventured online to a local grocery store and bought four four-litre jugs of milk, among other items not called toilet paper. “I’ll freeze them,” I said to myself. “That will help.”
I may have bought too many bottles of syrup, too.
It’s now 8 pm in the eastern time zone, and my in-room dining arrives. “Leave it on the floor,” I said through the door to the attendant. “Umm, okay, sir.” Did I mention I’m now on “Dan’s Personal Defcon 1 Rating Level?”
As I start to mow down on some ribs—where the hell are those sanitizer napkins?—I’m watching the news, and within the span of 11 minutes, four things happen:
- The WHO declares this coronavirus thing a pandemic
- Trump suspends all travel from Europe
- The NBA shuts down (oh Rudy Gobert, yer amazing)
- Tom Hanks contracts the virus in Australia
It’s still only Wednesday!
Knowing I have another engagement to deliver on Thursday morning, I phone the organizers at 9 pm. “Hey there, it’s Dan. Ummm, do you think it’s a good idea to be going through with this event tomorrow morning? I mean, if Woody from Toy Story can get it…”
I don’t sleep much that night. I keep thinking about ventilation, who I’ve hugged, if I pressed the buttons on the elevator or not, and what the hell happened to my hand sanitizer napkins.
It’s now Thursday morning, and I’m off to my third event of the week in Toronto. It’s also my firstborn’s 17th birthday, so I’m desperate to finish the engagement, not die, and make it back to Victoria to celebrate dinner with her and the family.
I mosey on up to one of the attendees at the break, who I know is a healthcare leader.
“Strange that we’re here today face-to-face, don’t you think?” I ask while remaining less than two meters apart. (Yes, less.)
She looks at me with a face of infinite worry. “You have no idea what’s about to happen,” she said. “You should buy a mask.”
The event ends at noon, and now I’m in a car on the way to the airport. How could I get the brother of the driver that brought me from the airport on Monday? This coughing thing is getting out of control.
I get him to stop at an accessory shop. “Run the meter, and I’ll be right back.” I sprinted into the store and bought a bandana. They were out of balaclavas, but I digress.
I get to the airport, speed through security, run to the gate and remark to myself, “I’ll likely never be here for a long, long time.”
I have a habit of always getting on the plane first. That streak continues on Thursday, and I take my seat wearing my blue bandana. Flight attendants indeed think I’m a bank robber.
Five minutes pass and my seatmate arrives. He’s wearing an N95 mask! I get up, allow him to sit, and then retake my spot.
“Here, take this and run it around your entire tray and table,” he suggests. It’s some magic potion of sanitizer. I do as instructed. He seems infinitely more qualified than me on pandemics. He continues, “Nice mask. Clever. I’m making my way back from Italy to North Vancouver. It’s bonkers over there, and it’s coming for us here. Whatever you do, try not to breathe in.”
I make it back to Victoria in time for the birthday celebrations. My Amazon order has arrived. Masks for everyone! Four jugs of milk are sitting in the fridge. Lattes for everyone!
I haven’t had a flight or face-to-face engagement since.
But I miss you.
PS. If you’d be so kind, could you review my latest book, Lead. Care. Win. on Amazon? I’d be very grateful.