I had a big day last Sunday. My wife, Trish, got back from the UK for the holidays the night before and we were settling in to figure out all of the gifts I hadn’t yet purchased because I was expecting her on Thursday. In the middle of me feeling I should have done more; we received a call from my best friend saying he was coming to pick up his daughter. He had just read an email from the school saying she had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive and had to get a PCR test. So, I looked at my email, and sure enough I had the same email from the school – not surprising given that Keldon and Patch share a few classes and many friends.
When at all possible, I like to get out ahead of things that have the potential to adversely affect me and my family. I have to add the “adversely affect” caveat there because the staff know that procrastination runs deep with me, and they would have edited this whole section had I not. Anyway, I told Peter that I would “pop out” with Patch and Keldon to get them a PCR test so that we could all rest easy. We headed to our local Shoppers Drug Mart where we were informed that they only did antigen tests, not PCR, but that another location about 20 minutes away did. We got back in the car and blared Christmas carols as we headed over. The line wasn’t too bad, and we only waited 15 minutes to get to the front of the line where we were asked if we had an appointment. Appointment? The pharmacist from Georgetown didn’t tell us we needed an appointment.
I used every ounce of my charm to try to get them to make an exception, but the check-in person was having none of it. It was as if the Grinch’s heart was still two sizes too small and even with my very best Mary-Lou Who face, I couldn’t get it to grow. We were now an hour into our quest for a PCR test on a Sunday afternoon. Well, as the saying goes, “In for a penny, in for a pound” (which I only realized this year was in reference to UK currency – which makes way more sense. I always wondered, “a pound of what?”), so our next course of action was to get hot chocolate at the drive-through and sit in the parking lot to find a place that had open availability.
With three of us on our phones, we quickly came to the realization that every booking site – from the pharmacies to the hospitals – was a complicated disaster, especially when trying to navigate them from mobile technology. We then switched to making calls to see if any of the places could squeeze us in. “First person to get a live person wins ice cream after the test”, I announced. After 30 minutes of listening to endless menu options, horrible Muzak and being told that “our call is important to them”, we gave up on that dream. But we weren’t ready to give up on the quest. We had invested too much of our time already and dammit, we were going to win! We expanded our search to include anywhere 45 minutes from our current location and used “walk-in” as part of our search string. Keldon found one another 30 minutes (using the 407) further from the house. I called and quickly got sucked into the same menus, Muzak, and hollow promises that someone would be with me shortly. Luckily, the kids were as determined as I was that we were going to get these PCR tests over with and told me to gun it.
We arrived at a community hall which had been converted from a beautiful old church. There were two white event tents outside of the doors to protect people from the wind and other elements as they queued up to get inside. In their haste to get the tests, neither kid grabbed a jacket, so this was a welcome sight. We queued up for 20 minutes before making it to the steps leading into the test centre. We could see victory through the doors as the administrator came out to greet us. “Do you have an appointment?”, she asked.
The kids visibly shrank in defeat, while I meekly said that we had read that they did walk-in testing. “Oh, we do”, she said. “It’s just that we are a bit busy, and you will have to wait a while to get in.” Bracing for the worst, I asked how long “a while” was. “About 15 minutes,” she responded and then a look of confusion came over her when the kids started laughing and getting excited. “Another 15 minutes to bring this adventure to its conclusion is a walk in the park,” we told her. Once inside, the process was fairly quick and, with the exception that according to the records they just created, Keldon lives at our house, the testing went off without a hitch. After a brief stop for a well-deserved ice cream, the battle-weary trio arrived home three and a half hours after setting out.
The thing is, curve balls like this that throw off your plans continue to be the new normal. But, like me, I feel that most people are learning to roll with the punches, inconveniences, and challenges that make up a COVID-19 world. Last year, Trish and I decided to cancel our annual Christmas Open House, a tradition we had carried for more than 20 years. But between restrictions and no vaccinations, it was the right call. This year, we had to change it drastically by limiting the invites to a few close friends and hosting the entire thing outside. Was it ideal? No. Was it the right call? Yes. We are hoping that next year we can go back to our normal traditions.
Here’s to a better holiday season than 2020 and a worse one than 2022. Find joy in the challenges the “new normal” is bringing to your traditions and the workarounds you have to invent to keep them alive in some way, shape or form. In the wise words of my 102-year-old Nanny, “This too shall pass.”
Have a safe and happy holiday,