Last Monday, the day before the Tuesday I was supposed to get the Italian plates for my car, the agency called and said that the “engineer” who was working on my case called in sick. “Maybe he will back tomorrow”. Given the relentless march of Covid-19, I was sure he either had contracted it or was afraid to. Either way I was not going to get my plates. I had asked before if I could delegate somebody to sell my car before I get the plates and was told no. However I didn’t ask the right question and the correct answer was not volunteered. The right question was, what can I do? What I could do and didn’t know I could do it, otherwise I would have done it long ago and would have been gone, was to sell the car contingent on the plates arriving eventually. What that means is that I could sign the car over to somebody and then they wait for the plates. That someone is a local mechanic that was willing to take the car so he could sell it when it is finally registered. So That’s what did. I essentially gave him my 9000 euro car (used price) with the hope that he will be able to sell it and give me the money. That is based on many assumptions including that he is honest (seems to be) and, more importantly, that the 70 year old man survives the coronavirus. So it goes.
Given the less than satisfactory solution we decided to take the Thursday flight out of Rome. On tuesday the government of Italy shut down the entire country. The quarantine that was imposed required that all residents stay within their communities (like Townships in the USA). People could travel beyond those boundaries but only with good reason. And to do so you have to have an auto-authorization form. That is form that identifies you and where you live, the place you need to go and the reasons why. The form was to be provided to the police if stopped.
I still had to go into Florence to get a rental car, and to sign the property transfer for the car, and to go to the vet to get Ringo’s passport (yes he has a passport) stamped. I spent hours composing these documents being careful to properly word them. Each leg of each journey needed a seperate sheet with attached documentation such as the car rental contract. On Wednesday morning, the day before we were to drive to Rome, I called a cab to take me to the car rental agency at the Airport. No police. I then drove the rental car into Florence to sign the transfer and pay 500 euros tax. No police. Then I drove home stopping at the supermarket for food. No police. Then trump announced the travel ban for Friday. Shit.
Thursday morning, the car packed with our luggage, we drove to the vet in Florence to get Ringo’s passport stamped. No police. From there we drove to the A road entrance in Florence and went through the police free toll plaza and got on the highway. The entire route was free of police and cars. There were trucks but very few cars. It remained that way all the way to the Rome airport. I was concerned that I would be stopped many times and perhaps be made to turn around but that was not the case. The Italian population was complying voluntarily and effectively. I was amazed.
The airport was empty. The parking lot where we returned the rental car was empty. The terminal however was not. It was not crowded the way it normally is but there were people. Mostly argentines escaping back to Buenos Aires. The check-in desks for our flight on Norwegian air was not crowded. There were only about 30 people waiting for the desk to open. Mostly Americans.
What struck me at the airport, just like it did in Florence and the Town where we lived was how careful people were being. They maintained a respectable distance from each other. They did touch each other or things around them. When we went shopping for food in the days before the nationwide quarantine stores were already controlling access by either giving out numbers so that people could stay outside until they are called, or people just lined up outside the store and waited to enter when the previous customer was finished and left. There was no handshaking, no cheek kissing, no hugging. People were being careful.
The Norwegian Air flight we were on, I was told by the agent on the phone when I asked if the flight was going to be full, that the flight was fully booked. I had reserved the two aisle seats in the front center rows knowing that that center seat was unlikely to be filled. Based on what the agent told me I expected that that was no longer the case. That is why I fashioned facemasks out of tee shirt sleeves. Turns out we didn’t need them. Fully booked turned out to be 50 passengers on a 296 seat plane. They had purposely kept the numbers low to limit infection.
After the 9 hour flight I expected to be subjected to scrutiny and examination and testing given that we had come in from Rome. We got off the plane and walked to the passport control. After using the electronic passport scanner we were allowed to cut the line because of Ringo (10 hours without peeing) and went directly to a customs officer who asked us if we were sick or had been with anybody that was sick. We were not and did not so he said welcome home. After getting the luggage we simply walked out of the airport.
We walked across to the airtrain, this is 11PM, and walked into an empty car. At the next stopped a mass of airport employees walked in and completely surrounded us as if we wanted to be close to them. I moved away and tried to keep my distance but they would not allow it. Looking around it was clear that these people were not in anyway thinking about contagion. The information about the danger of covid-19 was obviously not on their minds. What was funny was that the advertisements along the inside of the train were all about Measles resurgence in Europe and that travelers had to be careful. This kind of attitude is going to cause major infections in the USA. Lots of people are going to die. I saw that younger generations are calling this the Boomer Remover. I think they are right.
We are self Quarantining in Jersey City. That does not mean we don’t go out but we keep our distance from people. There is panic here. Try to find sanitizer or toilet paper. It is not possible. The supermarkets are crowded with mobs trying to get the critical supplies before the epidemic hits. They have no clue that it’s already here they are spreading the virus during this panic. And then there is trump.