Five days before my departure, I find myself at a fundraiser for a New York City Council member who has been a brilliant advocate for cyclists. Already, faint rumors have been wafting to us from Europe about the approach of the Corona Virus, and many of us are beginning to wear latex gloves, elbow bump instead of shaking hands – and laugh about how often we touch our faces. As I arrive, I see the place is packed.
My trip is scheduled for March 14-26. Since these are the smartest people I know, I ask lots of them if it’s wise to take this trip. To a person the answer is, “Go! You’ll get in ‘just under the wire;’ you’ll have a great time! Who knows when you’ll be able to go again? Definitely go!”
Taking their counsel under advisement, I double check it the next morning, running it by two Italian friends over the internet. Their response is alarming. They talk of weeks of quarantine, police enforcement to prevent violation, stats of death that are unimaginable - and climbing. My friends do not know each other, but speak with the same voice: “Don’t go!” they plead. They tell me that even if I were to remain healthy (not a guarantee with a disease as contagious as this), if just one person on my flight, one person in my hotel tests positive (testing happens in Europe), I’ll be in quarantine for my entire trip, stuck in a hotel in Amsterdam but unable to ride. And I’ll be paying for it until I can get home - which may be awhile: flights from Europe will be canceled. How do they know this?
But that, it turns out, is the good news.
“This pandemic is coming to you,” they say. “Don’t be like us! Your government should close schools now, close bars and restaurants now, close businesses now. They’re going to have to do it in 5 days anyway and they will have lost that time.” I have never heard them so emphatic.
Here, nothing is closed. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know - that all of our lives are about to change irrevocably. But listening to them, I am quietly convinced; I let go my denial and cancel my trip. Two days later, all flights from Europe are canceled. Everything they told me is true.
Within the month, I will have lost two of my friends to COVID 19, and another twelve will be fighting for their lives. This pandemic is ripping through the soul of New York City, headed for the nation, and it doesn’t care about making a living, the economy, old or young people, or trips to Amsterdam. By the time I write this I -and virtually everyone else I know - will have been in quarantine for a month except for rare anxiety-provoking trips out for food or pharmaceuticals. Some of us have left New York; all of us work from home. FaceTime, Skype and Zoom are our new (if problematic) friends. This is our world now. We sometimes think of going somewhere else – but this is a world-wide pandemic: there is no place else.
Which makes me all the more nostalgic for Amsterdam and the simple world we all inhabited such a short time ago. It feels like years now.
And then I realize - I never finished recording that trip. I still have the footage. I still have the photos. And I did some great riding there. But there was something else.
There was someone else.
His name was Nigel.