A Covid Florida Vacation – August 2021

In August our whole family decided to join my brother John and his family at his timeshare condos on Long Boat Key in Florida for a week.  It’s a vacation we’ve been privileged to enjoy and number of times over the years.  The weather is hot as stink and we are always keeping an eye out for hurricanes sweeping in from the Caribbean.  For me, it’s often been a fantastic time of rest, long chats, running, food, drink, clothes shopping and time on the beach.

Well, this year’s vacation was all that.  However, we had the bonus of having to get Covid tests both going and coming in order to cross our borders.  Going was easy enough but coming proved to be more of a challenge.

While in Florida we found a pharmacy where the whole family could go and get tested.  We could do this by going through the drive-through!!  It was quite the shared experience of everyone sticking swabs up each of our nostrils together, some sneezing and returning the packages.  The nice lady there mentioned we could get our test results shortly on their website as we drove away with big smiles on our faces.  This was Thursday morning.  We flew out Saturday at noon.  Tests had to be within 72 hours of arriving back in Canada.  All was good.

On Friday Tracy and I started the process of setting up our portal to receive the tests when they completed.  The pharmacy site had indicated times of less than 24 hours for test results.  Let’s just say setting up the portal was a nightmare.  Countless calls to their helpdesk, online websites, scanning and sending documents to them.  Finally, by the evening we had it set up – we thought.  But no test results.  We managed to get a person on the phone who was part of the lab test facilities.  We discovered a couple of things.  First, our tests had been sent out of state and had not arrived until midnight on Thursday and probably hadn’t entered the queue until early Friday.  Second, that their turnaround times were in the range of 2-4 days from when they received them.  2-4 days!! That was not going to work.  

We were stressed.  Our kids were concerned and worried as well.  We gathered to talk about how they were feeling about it and we prayed to ask the Lord to help us.  I believed that Lord was watching over us and had it in control.

Later on Friday, we got the news that our flight out on Saturday had been delayed by 4 hours.  I mentioned to Tracy that wouldn’t it be crazy if that delay would now allow us to get our tests back in time?!

Saturday morning – no test results in our portal.  A call to Air Canada confirmed that if we didn’t have a negative test result we were NOT going to be allowed on a plane.  What were we to do?  We gathered with John and Vicki and prepared for plan B.  Plan B was a flight to Philadelphia where John and Vicki live and there we would retest at a reliable lab and then take one of their cars and drive to the border and cross back to Canada.  I felt so good to have a way back home.  Our spirits were lifted as we headed for the airport with our new travel plans.

In the car, on the way to the airport, Tracy decided to call our Florida testing lab one more time.  Just in case some results came in that we could not see in the web portal.  In talking to the customer service rep, two results had come back – Tracy and Stephen had negative tests.  Our portal was not working!!  Could this be?  Would we get all of our results just in time?  Was the Lord watching over us?  Had he delayed our departure so we could make it home?  Just before arriving at the airport, one more result.  Meghan’s negative test.  Come on Lord!  Gathering around the Air Canada check-in, one more result – Ben’s.  Yes!  Ben’s result was……. was….. inconclusive.  WHAT?  It took a moment to sink in.  Some of us were not going home on the flight.  Lord, what happened?  This could have ended so well for you?

It’s a strange feeling kissing your wife goodbye through a mask as three of my family head home while Ben and I have to make a new plan to get home.  My result didn’t get back to me in time either.

John and Vicki were staying an extra week in Florida.  So they came back and picked us up.  Back to the condo.  Plan C hatched.  Plan C was Ben and I would fly to Philly and get retested and then drive up to Canada.

And so we did.  This time the testing and results came back within a day.  But in doing some research, it wasn’t clear that a Canadian can drive a US plated private car into Canada without problems.  So we decided to fly to Watertown and from there to grab a cab to the border where Tracy could pick us up.  What’s that?  Plan D?

Tuesday night we fly up from Philly to Watertown.  Now Watertown airport is a tiny little thing.  I didn’t see a security area for passengers getting on flights.  At best it was two decent sized rooms.  My checked bag arrived through a pass-through door from the tarmac and rolled down some rollers.  As we stepped outside to find a cab everyone soon disappeared and I think they turned the lights off in the airport.  There we no cabs around.  It was about 10:30 pm.

What to do?  Let’s use the Uber app and get a drive up to the border.  Using the app you have to indicate where you intend to go.  The “Canadian Border” is not a recognized location.  I ended up dropping a pin on the map as close as I could get to the border.  Shortly, Uber driver #1 picks up the ride and texts me.  Driver: Where are you going?   Me:  The Canadian border.  Driver:  I cannot drive you there.  Me:  Why?  Driver: I cannot turn around.  Me:  How close can you get us?  Driver: The Bridge.  Me thinking: “the bridge is at least 10 kms from the border.”  That’s not going to work.  I look on my map and find a park much closer – Dewolf State Park.  Me: Can you get us to Dewolf State Park?  Drive:  Where’s that?

I’m getting frustrated and decided to call Uber Drive #1, it’s easy to do on the Uber app.  Calling……. no answer?!  Text back from Driver #1:  No calling, just text.  I’m thinking, “forget this” and ask Ben to find us a cab company on his phone.  Ben finds some, but notices and comments that none of them has a rating over 2 stars on google.  I call the first one anyway and get an answer.  It sounds like the company and the taxi are the same guy, the same car.  Me:  I’m at the airport, can you get me to the Canadian border?  Taxi:  You’re going to walk across the border?  Me:  Yes, yes that’s the plan.  Taxi: Have you filled in the Arrive Can App?  Me: Yes.  Taxi:  Are you vaccinated?  Me:  Yes!  Taxi:  Do you have your documents?  Me:  (Getting more frustrated now) Yes!!  I’ve got all I need to get across the border.  Taxi:  Sure I can drive you.  Me:  Wonderful!!  Oh by the way, how much will you charge?  Taxi:  $160  Me:  What?  Uber was going to charge $60??  Taxi: Uber……???  WELL THEN FINE, TAKE UBER!!  And hangs up.

Ben’s looking at me with that “now what are we going to do?” look.  It’s dark.  No one’s around.  I look back at my phone and the Uber app and I get a notification – Uber Driver #1 has just cancelled the drive.  I’ve struck out.  

But then….. my Uber app comes to life again and Uber driver #2 picks up the drive.  Brian is Uber driver #2.  Brian is 4 minutes away and driving to us.  I say to Ben, let’s wait till he gets here and try to convince him to drive us.

Brian arrives grabs our bags and throws them in the back of his Toyota Puris.  Before we get in I ask Brian: Do you know where we are going?  Brian: No I don’t know that until we start driving.  

Me:  We trying to get to the border (which is about a 25-minute drive).  Is that ok with you?  Brian: (thinks for a second) I guess so.  

And we are off.  Brian is a chatty guy.  We soon learn that he’s a believer in Jesus and has served on short term mission trips to Haiti.  I’m concerned that Brian won’t be able to turn around on the interstate 81 and will get caught between the US and Canadian borders.  At the bridge we ask the lady there how far can we go and still turn around?  The answer – Exit 52.

Brian leaves the freeway at Exit 52 which ends up taking us to a lower-level underpass of the exit.  We get out of his car thank him and grab our bags and start walking around trying to figure out how we get back to I-82 so that we can walk to Canadian customs.   After going one way and then another Ben and I realize we have walls and fences that hinder us from rejoining the interstate.  Brian has not abandoned us yet.  He invites us back into his car to try another area.  This time we get out just behind the US customs area.  Cars entering the US would be driving right by us as they enter I-81 going south.  Once again we walk around a bit pulling our bags behind us.  It’s now close to midnight.

Suddenly a couple of US customs agents step out of their building and see us.  They run into their cars and with lights flashing they rapidly approach us.  They get out and start asking us all kinds of questions.  One male and one female.  What are you doing?  Where are you going?  Who’s this guy?  (pointing at Brian and his car)  Show me your passport?  You cannot be walking around here!  After a few minutes, they settle down and realize we are just a couple of Canadians who are trying to return home.  Harmless really.  Maybe they were hoping for more?  Ben asks, can you give us a ride to the Canadian border control?  Their answer is, “only if we put you in handcuffs.”  Ben and I look at each other, wouldn’t have bothered me at that moment.  They suggest that they can escort Brian and his car over and they’ll make sure he can get back into the US.  Which they do.  It’s now midnight and there has been no traffic.  The last advice they give to Ben and me as we started towards Canada was,  “Make sure those Canadian guys can see your hands.  They can be a bit antsy!!”  I look at Ben.  A bit “antsy??”.

We thank our faithful Uber guy – Brian.  We start walking and dragging our suitcases towards the one open lane.  Two big semi-trucks are waiting inline to cross into Canada.  Shortly the Canadian border guard steps out of his hut and stares us down.  Then another guard appears between the two trucks and calls to us.  “You guys!  Follow me.”  And he disappears into the building.  I look at Ben.  “Not very antsy.”

We get out all our documents – Arrive App, vaccination records and our last Covid tests.  I ask the guard, “This happening much?”  He answers without even looking up from his screen, “Oh ya.”

With that, we headed out of the building and find Tracy waiting around the corner ready to drive us home.  It was so good to be home.

6 Replies to “A Covid Florida Vacation – August 2021”

  1. Mark,
    I was laughing out loud reading about your admirable efforts to get home!
    Thanks for sharing. Laughter is good medicine. I have had more than my share for the rest of the week!

    I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time, but I bet you will reminisce about this hilarious situation with lots of laughter.

    God bless you & Tracy
    Mary Haskett

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