Both Charles and I were settled in for a long winter in Toronto with our parkas and snow boots, new snow blower, wonderful fireplace and great food delivery from our favourite restaurants. I kept bringing up the subject of sheltering in place in our home in Florida, as it was definitely warmer there, and we were paying lots of expenses whether we were there or not for our condo fees, membership in the resort, insurance, and taxes that were about the same for our pied-a-terre there as our larger home in Toronto. Charles was adamant that we were not going because what if we got sick in Florida, and the hospitals were filled with Floridians with Covid, and according to the papers there was lots of disease. So that was that.
Well almost. Governor de Santis of Florida, announced that all residents 65 and older, whether full or part time were welcome to get vaccinated there and he was already rolling out the vaccines, this in early January. We both knew that for our age group, over 70, but under 80 we were far down the list in Toronto, if indeed anyone was really organizing shots yet, that we might see vaccinations for us April/May. Who knew. He turned to me and said, ‘we are going, get ready now’. The glider was in the garage, the dog always packs his own bag, I wish, and I could easily throw our clothes together in a couple of suitcases, and book some motels along the route, a different route than we usually take due to the winter weather. The ‘how’ we would cross a closed border in a vehicle problem was resolved when we saw an article in the paper about Great Lakes Helicopters mini flights from Niagara Ontario to Niagara New York, with a transport ready to take cars, and in our instance a car and glider trailer. I should mention that although you couldn’t cross in a car you could fly to Florida with an airline, but of course no room for the glider.
From what we understood, Great Lakes started this service for one of the pilot’s parents who are snowbirds like us. This trip wasn’t inexpensive, but they arranged everything and they had a long list of bookings for their three or four helicopters. So we booked a trip with them for the end of January, then it was announced that Ontario was about to issue a ‘stay at home’ order. We were able to move it up, and then really move it up to the next day as we didn’t want to be travelling on the highway from Toronto to Niagara with our very visible glider in tow. I organized food from Azarias for our night in the Holiday Inn, and we were told that no food or wine in the car could be carried over the border, just dog food in the copter.
I was very anxious as Charles had always told me that helicopters were particularly dangerous, but I put all that aside, along with my appetite, and we headed to a very nice Holiday Inn Express in Niagara on the Lake a day early. Dinner from Azarias was delicious, but I just couldn’t manage all mine, and we had some wine. The next day we had to be at the airport early so that our vehicles could be taken by an experienced driver. You should have seen the stack of paper work. We were on the last flight out so we spent most of the day in the waiting room. I had our lunch, which I was too nervous to eat. This is a good way to loose weight. We got to know the truck driver, Peter, and Oscar wandered around the waiting room, all of us fully masked of course. However, the weather changed and they cancelled our flight. Sigh.
We headed back to The Holiday Inn, but first stopped to get some wine and to order dinner from Swiss Chalet, a very Canadian take out that also delivers, and regrouped in another room, this one with a working heater. We got a call that we would be on a 9:00 am flight. I had to convince the dispatcher that they should put us out early as we were just cancelled. They did have a full group of passengers for the next day, a Friday, but I managed to charm/cajole/not threaten him, although Charles said my eyes were flaming above my mask, and I accomplished that mission. Back to the airport the next morning and this time the waiting room was filled with people and dogs, and this time they took our temperatures. We saw Peter, the driver, and I felt re-assured, and our pilot was the one who had initiated the program so I began to calm down. I have flown in many small aircraft, but this was definitely different. And the news channel that was running continuously on the waiting room television was showing a rerun of the copter crash of Kobe Bryant. That was really reassuring.
Our flight was called. It was a beautiful morning and we trotted out to the copter. Oscar loved his seat beside Charles, I got the front one beside the pilot, and we took off with another copter in tandem with us. This was for the border control customs officers who preferred to examine more than one flight at a time. The view was pretty terrific and the flight about 10 minutes long. After we showed our passports while still in the copter, we got out and there was Peter, the driver, with a big smile on his face. Our glider and car were very neatly parked outside the door. Whew! He regularly drives huge, heavy duty trucks to deliver all sorts of big machinery, so our vehicles were nothing to him. Then we headed to Columbus, Ohio for our first night’s stay. As it turned out this was much better than leaving late the day before, as we would have been driving in the dark a long way. Morning with sun, then rain, then sleet was much better.
We arrived at our Hyatt on the highway in the late afternoon. We grabbed some sandwiches along the route at a Subway, and ate them in the car. Subway half sandwiches with tuna became my new happy meal. Unvaccinated we were very careful with masks, and hand sanitizer at the rest stops. The hotel was fine, a strange room with no cupboards to hang coats or places to put anything. After dog walking, and feeding, we ordered dinner from a local restaurant through Uber and it was just fine. My appetite had returned! The next day of travel, after dog walking etc., was to Atlanta to yet another Hyatt, however this one was challenging as it was very full and the parking was impossible for the glider and the car, and some idiots parked so that it was a challenge to get out. Not only that. Someone had parked on the hilly side exit, again a real feat for my driver (Charles) to extricate our vehicles. The front desk person was snippy to Charles and wondered why we were staying on a top floor with a dog. Because your colleague gave it to us. And I should mention that the charge for the dog was more than the charge for the two of us. Quite a rip off. The food services were curtailed, but we managed to get some chicken wings from the bar and some wine, which seemed to help the situation. The room was attractive and heated as it was very snowy in Atlanta, in fact Marietta Georgia, just outside of Atlanta, was the name of the town where we stayed.
After we got out of the parking lot, with Charles having to detach the trailer from the car, we headed south. It was a Sunday and probably the best day to travel anywhere in the vicinity of Atlanta. Our excitement was palpable when we crossed over into Florida, and Oscar was already sniffing the air with a knowing look on his face. Smartly, we ordered ribs at our fave place, The Oakwood Smokehouse, which was on the way to our place. I had invited my dear friend, Lynne for dinner to greet her on our arrival. Jerry, Lynne’s husband, had died during the summer, I mentioned him in a previous blog, and I was anxious to see her. No hugs would be forthcoming of course, and we would eat on the lanai with the fan whirring, our Covid alert always on.
What a wonderful sight to see our place after the long haul from Toronto. We hadn’t brought much so unloading the car was fairly efficient. I already noted that my garden needed some flowers and had texted Jesus, the gardener, to get some some bright red geraniums. The bird feeders were full, the place was impeccably clean thanks to Reitha, our long term cleaner and Oscar’s beloved friend. We were home and it felt good. The hills outside the windows were green and golfers were playing. I opened all the doors to get some fresh Florida air, and we soon welcomed Lynne and got caught up.
Our first plan was to get the vaccine. We arrived on a Sunday and the next day was Martin Luther King Day, so no vaccines distributed. Tuesday, Oscar was booked at the very busy Puppy Palace, his hair salon. Chrissie is so popular that I had to book her from Toronto. My hair was a mess, but he would be splendid. So we thought we would take him at 7:30am, then drive over to the vaccination site in Mt. Dora after we dropped him. Fortunately, Charles was set up with Lake County ( where we live) twitter alerts about the vaccine, and by 8:00am the site was already full and closed. We decided to get up very early the next day and get in line and be sure to get our shots.
No shower for me, just clean up my face a bit and we would head out. I could hear the sound of the shower at 4:45 am and Charles was getting alive and making himself a coffee. Lynne had filled the frig with breakfast stuff, so I grabbed a juice, and with our Kindles, and water, we left for Mt. Dora’s St.Patrick site. It was still dark, but there were already cars in line. This was before 6:00 am. Now this site wasn’t officially open to give shots until 11:00, but everyone like us was there, and waiting and we made it in. If you got parked you would get the shot. We filled out the papers brought to us by volunteers who wanted our ages, and address, in Lake County. I had our home insurance statement in case they needed proof we had a residence, but it was not requested.
We settled in with our books as the sun rose on a splendid day. It was all very organized. Charles went to find one of the many Porta potties and discovered a police food truck near us and he came back with a coffee and cheetos. I then left the car to explore and found the truck with an officer serving coffee. I only drink decaf and asked if he had any. He said, ‘I will make a pot for you’. Then he asked if I wanted some fresh bananas and apples and to help myself. There he was in his uniform with his gun on his holster being just the sweetest man. The coffee turned out to be delicious, and soon the morning hours just vanished and it was 10:00am and they were readying us for the shots. We were not too far back in line. I think the whole parking area handled 600 cars. We were about 200th. One family came from Ocala and arrived midnight the night before to be sure they got their shots. They were first in line of course.
It was soon our turn, we drove around a corner, lowered our windows and got jabbed. Then we parked in an area for 15 minutes to be certain we didn’t have any adverse reactions. They gave us a card from the CDC and a date for our second Pfizer shot three weeks away. We went home so very happy and relieved and opened a bottle of champagne. It was now about 11:45am. Charles made some fresh orange juice to accompany it, and then we napped. Our second shot was scheduled for Feb.10 and I was called with an appointment time of 1:00pm. Charles didn’t get a call, but we went together and got our shots. That took about 20 minutes. Again euphoria. I should mention that most of our friends have had their shots down here; some had appointments, some waited at other sites, and some were even approached recently in Publix and asked if they needed a vaccination. Everyone to whom we have spoken has found it very efficient, and my goodness what a nice sense of freedom. We ate indoors at our favourite restaurant in Mt. Dora, 1921, on my birthday, the 20th of February. This was the first time indoors at a restaurant in a year. All the wait staff at the restaurants wear masks, and they wear masks in the pro shop at the golf club, well mostly. I hadn’t been inside until after our immunization was supposed to have occurred. I still wear a mask indoors. in public places. Publix requests this as do most stores, but really Florida is pretty wide open.
Now, after the first shot all was going well. I played three games of golf, and Charles went to the glider port. Then one lovely morning I was walking Oscar on my usual route up the hill and I was not paying attention when we were in the grass and I tripped over a hidden root on a little hill and fell onto the roadway. Crash!! It was a long fall or so it seemed, and I knew I had done some damage, and I was bleeding from my palm. Oscar waited patiently while I tried to get myself up from the road, We finished his walk, and then returned home to declare that I was injured. And was I ever. My wrist was very sore as were my ribs. I took an anti-inflammatory, washed my wounds, but the next day my hand was swollen.
Charles announced that we should go to Emergency and he found one nearby that took appointments. Imagine! I washed my hair in anticipation of not being able to do a lot in the future, and we went to find the hospital, which was about 20 minutes away. They were waiting for me, and took me right in. Appointment! They also rolled in an X-ray machine into a private room where I was stashed, and the young doctor was super. The only real wait was for the results of the X-ray that were sent digitally to a radiologist, and it was a Sunday, so longer than usual. The assistant at the front door noticed Charles with Oscar waiting in his car in the parking lot, and went out and asked him if he wanted a coffee. Nothing like a small town hospital. Turns out a tiny bone was broken in my wrist and I got a cast put on and a referral to a hand doctor in another small town near us for an appointment. We stopped on the way home back to the Oakwood Smokehouse and this time got pulled pork sandwiches for lunch. Food always makes you feel better. Thank goodness for our out of country health insurance. I paid with a credit card which gave me lots of deductions from the hospital. It is called self pay. Then I opened a claim with TUGO in Canada and will be reimbursed.
I got an appointment for the next Wednesday and anxiously looked forward to seeing the hand specialist at the Sports Medecine Clinic. I was taken right away, and he was terrific. I got a small cast that could only come off in the shower. I needed to keep it on for 4 weeks. Actually my wrist hardly hurt. It was my ribs that were bruised. My entire chest was black and blue, purple, yellow and hurt like heck/hell. It was my right wrist, my left side, and my right leg was also bruised. Go figure. There goes my exotic dancing career! Now I love the water, but I was told, no swimming, but I could go in and use my exercise cuffs on my ankles and toodle around. I found a fabulous blue rubber protector for the cast and although it looked like I was a lobster with a blue fin, it worked marvellously in the pool and in the shower. Yes! It is called DryPro and it served me very well for the four weeks of waiting. And at last the four weeks came and I saw the doc again, got the cast off and had another X-ray, and I am healed. Best of all I could play golf in a few days in a fun tourney, a team event, and they needed me as they were short players. I spent an hour the day before I was to play, checking my wrist to see if it hurt, and all was good. Not only that, it did not hurt during the two days of play, and I played rather well. Of course that didn’t last. But that is golf.
I have joyfully continued to do my Zoom Pilates with my fine instructor Alisa in Toronto. Up until tomorrow we have just done 30 minutes, but back to an hour in the morning. Our weekly dinners with Liz and Wouter are always a joy. There have been some wonderful concerts on Stratfest at home produced by the innovative Richard Ouzounian, that I will tell you about in my next blog. French conversation continues, and I think Charles and I both are improving. The master class that I sponsor took place last week and it was wonderful with guest artist Joyce El-Khoury and five young aspiring opera singers at The Faculty of Music in Toronto. Again I will go into details about that and the final few Met opera concerts that I have enjoyed immensely, in my next writing.
At this point I want to pay tribute to friends I have lost over the last 6 months. This has saddened me immensely, and I feel blessed to be here. Their pictures follow below with their names.