Editor’s Note: Here is the latest dispatch from Vicki Shurly, Director of Peninsula Community Library, who has been on the Norwegian Jewel cruise ship in the Pacific Ocean with her husband Bob – a dream trip on which they embarked in February before the COVID-19 virus pandemic spread across the globe. The ship was turned away from several ports across the ocean, but the tide has finally turned and the OMPers are HOME!
Previous Installments: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8. Read on for Part 9 of their story, and feel free to leave encouraging thoughts and comments for Bob and Vicki in the comments section at the bottom of this story. Vicki wanted to be sure and thank everyone for all their prayers and well wishes as they navigated their way home from the other side of the planet during this tumultuous time.
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We are HOME! We arrived at O’Hare International Airport to see that most flights had been cancelled. We were very lucky to get the flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. There were only about 35 people aboard a plane that holds 200 passengers. What was a little surprising was that most had booked economy class. The idea was simply to get home. Just before take off, someone asked if we could spread out. The answer was only if we had our credit cards ready to pay for another section. No one chose to move. Out of astonishment in this time of crisis or something else, all but a few people sat in rows 22 and back.
Oreo Cookies and ‘Ford vs. Ferrari’
The stewardesses were very nice, however. It was a red eye flight. They expected, I am sure, that most people would sleep. While there was the customary beverage and snack you are always offered on such a flight, the stewardesses came through many times and handed out as much as you wanted. Having not risked the very few takeout outlets open at the Los Angeles airport, we feasted on packages of Oreo cookies, juice and pop.
It didn’t look like many people slept. Bob and I could not. There were movies to watch that took our minds off the uncertainty of what we were going home to. It seemed to help. If you haven’t seen it, “Ford v Ferrari” is a great film! This was a commercial flight, not the chartered flight we had taken from Honolulu to Los Angeles. Many people – including us – wore masks. Surprisingly, the crew did not. And they looked extremely tired.
Had the Car Been Towed in Chicago?
We arrived almost an hour early to Chicago. It was funny, because we could feel the plane accelerate quickly several times – enough so that you were pushed back a bit into your seat. It is generally a four-hour flight. On the ground, the pilot told us we would have to wait for a gate, but the plane was there in minutes. We soon found out why. As we were waiting for our one checked bag, the board displaying departures and arrivals showed most flights cancelled. We were lucky!
Bob called the taxi service we use. The driver was there almost immediately to take us to our car. We were a little anxious. The management of a hotel we always stay at allows us to leave our car when we fly out of Chicago. We were a week overdue and feared the car might have been towed. I almost cried when I saw it was there. We usually spend a night on the backside of an international trip at the hotel to recoup. This time, we opted to get right in and drive home.
The freeways were eerie. When we flew over L.A., we could see that cars were far and few between. If you have ever been on a Los Angeles freeway, you know that they are always bumper to bumper, any time of the day. Chicago was a bit busier, but nothing like a normal urban rush hour. A plus in Los Angeles? We could see the cityscape – no smog!
State Troopers at the Michigan Border
When we left the parking lot in Chicago, we were in the dark about what the term “essential services” actually meant. Could we get gas? Would we be allowed to cross state borders? We breezed easily from Illinois into Indiana, but Michigan was another story. As we saw the “Welcome to Pure Michigan” sign, we also saw a line of state troopers on the berm. One quickly went after a car that crossed next to us. The car had out-of-state plates. With our Michigan plate, they would allow us to go home!
And we did find gas. Bob used gloves to pump, and we had a lovely take-out lunch in the parking lot of a Burger King outside of Big Rapids – we haven’t done that since we were young. As jet lag kicked in, we even managed to catch a little bit of a nap at the Michigan Welcome Center rest area. It was open despite reports we had heard it was closed. Thank goodness! It was filled with truckers bringing much-needed goods to the people of Michigan.
We are now at home. Our Old Mission Peninsula, always a special place, has never felt so good! We have food, Netflix, and our personal library of books. Oh, and I have a long honey-do list of home improvements that Bob now has time to work on. Many thanks to Cathy Adams and Walter Lee for suggesting that on Facebook! LOL – Bob would like to have a word with you! In all reality, we are glad to be home.
Bob and I are so very grateful to all of you – you have prayed and wished us home. My deepest apologies for not answering all the heartwarming texts and emails. I read each and every one of them. Internet access was limited and extremely slow, as everyone on the ship was anxious to connect with loved ones and travel agents. Thankfully, Norwegian set up a free internet and call center. At first, we were allowed 20 minutes of internet and 15 minutes of phone use per day. Later, it was unlimited. Passengers sat for hours waiting to connect. We were able to talk to our children several times, which was comforting.
I would like to especially thank Jane Boursaw and the Old Mission Gazette for giving me a voice. Many of you commented how calm we were and that we still managed to have a sense of humor. That very first night I sat down to put my thoughts into words, it was out of no small amount of fear. It helped so much that the people at home who are my friends and relatives were connected to me across the miles via an amazing virtual world. You kept me going. You gave me purpose. I do not want to give the impression that my experience was that of everyone on the ship. There was angst and there was some dissatisfaction here and there. However, overall, people were amazingly calm as port after port closed and even after the propulsion system malfunctioned and we were moving along, at times, at a speed of 23 miles per hour.
The crew and staff of Norwegian Cruise Lines took wonderful care of us. If there was any issue, it was mainly that it seemed the outside world knew more of our plight than did we. Bits and pieces came from passengers as we accessed different news agencies around the world. I get that, too. I am sure there was concern among corporate heads of unduly causing tension when there were fewer and fewer options for the ship. Nothing was certain. And the band played on, literally and figuratively, while those corporate heads, as well as government, put their heads together. I think most of us will be eternally grateful to the governor of Hawaii who allowed us safe harbor against the fears of his citizens. He helped us get home, while at the same time assuring his promise to his citizens to keep them safe.
Will We Take Another Trip?
Will we take another trip? Of course we will. And we will travel abroad again someday when the madness is over. My 91-year-old mother was extremely afraid for us. I called her when I could. She does not do “computer.” Last night when I let her know we were home, she wanted me to promise that we would never leave the United States again. Ironically, we were safer on the ship from the virus than anyone at home.
I want to thank Cathy Adams, administrative assistant at Peninsula Community Library, who acted as Director and did all the right things while I was gone. I thank my staff, who are amazing. And in case you are wondering, Peter and Vali, the dear Australian friends we made on the ship, also made it to their own country. Their daughter emailed me to let me know they are ensconced in a Sydney hotel. Each state border is absolutely closed in Australia, and they still have to get the 2000 kilometers to their rainforest home in Queensland. But they are safe, healthy and, in a sense, home.
A Final Postscript: To the man who came up to me on the shuttle bus when we got off the chartered plane at LAX – I was so surprised that you, from a different state, recognized me from the Old Mission Gazette, which you had been following! I was a bit at a loss for words. Please share your contact info with me via either Jane at the Old Mission Gazette (Editor’s Note: [email protected]) or the library’s website at PeninsulaCommunityLibrary.org. I want to stay in touch!
And once again, from the bottom of my heart, I love you, Jane Boursaw and the Old Mission Gazette!
Editor’s Note: I love you, too, Vicki! Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, for putting a face to all the travelers just trying to get home during the pandemic, and for writing so beautifully and compassionately during what I’m sure were some very dark times. We – the OMP community – so appreciate you, and we’re so glad you and Bob are home! – jb