It was a 60-hour whirlwind, with scenes that signalled nothing was normal.
Steve Cohen, who lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake, had plans to fly to Florida at the end of March to drive his mother back to her home in Ottawa, just as he has done for the past two or three years. But this year it was very different.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to urge all Canadians to come home, it became clear the timeline for returning had shifted.
“All of my mom’s friends in Florida were making plans to come back early and I knew it was time,” said Cohen.
He was suffering with a bad cold, so he kept putting off his departure a day at a time, but finally left on March 17, flying out of Buffalo.
“The airport was empty, the flight was almost empty. It was eerie,” he recalled.
Landing in Florida, though, was the opposite scenario. “The gates were crashed with crowds of people. Everyone was trying to leave early from their March break. Planes were arriving empty and leaving full.”
Cohen, 56, and his mother, Suzanne Kert-Cohen, 83, left Florida on Wednesday, and made the drive in just two days instead of the three they would usually take.
“We felt a sense of urgency to get home. We felt sort of nervous,” explained Cohen.
Keeping the drive to just two days also reduced the number of nights in hotels, though it meant 12-hour driving days.
As they drove north, they saw “lots of Ontario and Quebec licence plates going the same way. We even drove by two people we knew!” said Cohen.
When they arrived at the border crossing at 9 o’clock Thursday evening, “there was no one in front of us,” he said.
“We were given a sheet of paper, telling us to check for symptoms of COVID-19, and to isolate if symptoms did occur. I was surprised it didn’t tell us to self-isolate regardless.”
Cohen knew, however, that returning travellers are required to self-isolate, and that’s exactly what he and his mom, along with his partner Joe Carlino, are doing. “He’s one of us now.”
Self-isolation doesn’t pose much of a challenge for Cohen, in fact, for him, “it’s not that different from normal life,” he chuckled.
He sums up how it felt to get home Thursday night in one word: “Fabulous!”