The Honeymooners: Newark or Bust

First there’s love. Then there’s marriage. Then there’s the honeymoon — a delightful dessert treat, a bastardized creation inspired by the individually packaged vending machine snack and infamous bakery cookie.

Jamaica or bust! Katey and I were amped — sunrises and sunsets, beaches, rum cocktails, and all-inclusive relaxation. The salty ocean water could be tasted already. Considering our lucks, I was prepared to get stung by jellyfish and Katey eaten by a shark. Who knew the initial bite and stinging sensations would be experienced in our Newark Airbnb and defined by frustration, uncertainty, and Katey’s eventual storming out of the bedroom with a book in her hand.

Last year, 2020, which feels great to say/write although life is pretty much the same, feels almost fictitious. Cue the nervous laughter and awkward silence. However, there were plenty of silver linings to the year. One of these being my wife and I pulling off a Covid-case-free wedding and a honeymoon for the books.

Of course, due to the times we’re all living in, things didn’t go as planned. What played out also felt almost fictitious, an adventure that Joseph Campbell would consider to be a wet dream and a real-life epic poem that would inspire Homer. Immediately after getting engaged, we secured the venue, church, photographer, desserts, and had the caterer’s narrowed down. We also decided on Jamaica as our destination of choice — a place neither of us had been before, a place that balances beach with excursions. After a couple clicks and deposit, our destination was set.

When traveling during a pandemic — it’s absolutely possible to successfully do so — being overly prepared is not a bad thing. Frankly, it’s recommended. Here’s our story, filled with the gritty details because it wouldn’t be as effective without them.

[Insert a fast-moving rewind, complete with squealing VHS tape sound effect]

When traveling to Jamaica, we were required to be tested within 10 days of travel. Yet going to any testing site wasn’t allowed; we were required to go to an official, government-approved testing site. There were none in Syracuse, Oswego, or Auburn; however, there were sites in Rochester or Vestal.

Vestal? Not even the heart of Binghamton. This was the first head scratching hurdle.

The trip down I-81 on a pleasant late summer morning was a beautiful one and the big, green Front Street sign waving on the side of the street allowed me to mentally reminisce about one of the greatest parties in history a friend of mine threw over a decade ago. Yet the party we were headed to that day involved a giant Q-tip getting rammed up my left nostril until it exited my right ear.

In order for this test to happen, leading up to our having to go to UHS Vestal, we needed approval from our primary care physicians. Although we see different doctors, they’re (thankfully) in the same Crouse Medical Practice building at the Brittonfield Campus.

Why not come here? — the staff member asked. We couldn’t because our tests would be deemed null and void. Our permission slip paperwork from Crouse was faxed to the number listed on the official testing site’s website. With our appointments made, we were ready to get swabbed.

We entered the UHS Vestal lobby and checked in. This isn’t where you get tested, the nurse said. The website was re-checked and shown to her. Still, the answer was nope and we were given some blowback.

To make matters murkier, my information was successfully faxed through and Katey’s was somehow moved and misplaced by the UHS staff. An annoyed (and rightfully so) Katey called the incredibly patient and diligent Crouse Medical office, who then re-faxed the information to UHS.

The next step was to schedule another time for our Covid-19 tests at the Binghamton University campus across the street. The setup was definitely government-run and complete with soldiers wearing sunglasses and holding rifles, white tents, checkpoints, stretchy latex condom-like gloves, and hazmat suited-up staff. Think of the scene from E.T.: the Extra Terrestrial with extra gloomy uncertainty.

We had to wait an additional two hours for scheduling conflicts, and Katey had to move her work sessions around. She accomplished one appointment while we enjoyed lunch at Food & Fire BBQ of Johnson City. The food was very tasty; it’s a definite recommendation if you’re passing through and in need of a bite. We enjoyed some cornbread, bacon-wrapped cream cheese-stuffed jalepeño peppers (smoke bombs), the pressed BBQ pork Cuban, and the spicy bonfire burger.

After receiving the test results a few days later, it was required of us to submit the results to Jamaica in order to be authorized to enter the country. There was an issue with mine being uploaded but I quickly replied with the document. Katey received her green light, and mine was still pending.

That Friday, when traveling to Newark, I was still waiting to hear about my authorization and we were set to fly out the following morning, Saturday, Aug. 22. Doing the math correctly, my authorization should have come through the previous night or this day. Without the authorization, there would have been no way to travel, no possibility to even board the plane.

The rented car we drove wailed down the highway to get to Newark Liberty International Airport. Time was of the essence and we needed to get there. Being on hold and inability to reach Jamaica to check on my travel authorization was beyond frustrating. Although the trip was in limbo, we were in hell. We arrived at the airport, headed to check in with the airlines, and there was nothing they could do. The next step was to keep trying to reach the country or try the United States embassy the following morning. Being a Saturday, chances of us talking to someone was unlikely.

Fun fact: We eventually found out that the Jamaican Travel Authority office was closed for cleaning. Everyone was/was not working from home that day. This explained our inability to connect. My authorization to travel to Jamaica was emailed to me on Sunday.

Katey and I were on the phone the rest of that Friday evening, from and during the Lyft ride to the Airbnb and into the wee hours of Saturday morning. When my better half contacted Sandals for the umpteenth time, it was revealed to us our excursions, the $700-plus we invested, were all cancelled. This is a great time to let it be known that Sandals was amazing to work with from the beginning, the periodical checking in, and during my call after midnight to reschedule our trip to 2021.

After the hubbub, Katey was occasionally pacing. I was sitting on the bed. We begrudgingly came to terms with the situation and not having a honeymoon to celebrate our marriage. It wasn’t the end of the world, albeit deflating. I’ve claimed my life to be a black comedy — this instance, like many others, proved my being correct. It didn’t seem to be at the present time, of course. This whole honeymoon adventure, which will be revealed in upcoming posts, did justify personal beliefs that things do happen for a reason and such circumstances are more than coincidental. At times this reality feels fictitious. There are things beyond our control and truth is stranger than fiction.

We have to go somewhere, Katey said. We made it to Newark and a stone’s throw away from the airport. To be safe than sorry, a rental car was secured for the following morning if we had to drive back to home or go elsewhere. There was a rundown of potential destinations we eventually nixed: Lake Placid, Outer Banks, Disney World. There were so many places on High Priest Emperor Governor Andrew Cuomo’s travel list, so quarantining after such a vacation was inevitable.

Why not the Florida Keys? I really want to go to an island of some sort. No offense, but I could really use time relaxing on a beach, Katey said. She knew my thoughts of a beach holiday without excursions was less than enticing but it was deserved. When planning a vacation that involves beaches, for us, the process is akin to the Green Acres theme song. This time Katey cut to the bridge, contacted United Airlines to redirect our flight, and we were anticipating a couple days in The Keys.

At that moment an uneasy feeling draped over me and I felt compelled to do a quick Google search. What popped up was very apropos of this current ordeal, and Katey had to call United Airlines back:

“Hi, I called a couple minutes ago and changed a flight to Florida. We just realized the area is in the midst of a hurricane… Yea… You were still going to fly us into the middle of a tropical storm?Why didn’t your airline mention that?… We’re going to need you to credit our flights…”

And this was a quite a year of tropical storms. It was a year of Nature’s fury.

The dominos kept falling over as we sat in a practically bare Newark Airbnb room: scuff marks on white walls, a television that barely worked, water glasses on a cheap but stable table, a bed, and a wall decal of a message I cannot remember — it wasn’t as bad as the nauseating Live, Laugh, Love. The place was incredibly clean, especially the well-equipped common area and kitchen. And the hosts, although we never met them face-to-face, were conversational and receptive.

Toward the end of our night, the frustration came to a head as a result of feeling defeated and having no place to go except home. Then, in the middle of this uncertainty and to-be-continued conversation, we went to bed. As we settled down for slumber, I turned over in bed and put my arm around Katey, who, without missing a split-second, said, Don’t fucking touch me. She got up, grabbed a book to read, and walked into the common area for a while I rolled my eyes, muttered “Shit,” and drifted off to restless sleep.

Live. Laugh. Love. We were living. We loved each other, don’t get us wrong. We were going to laugh once this thing was all figured out. In fact, did share a great laugh the next morning while waiting for our flight to Detroit, as we enjoyed an Appleton Estate cocktail with lunch.

We heard from Katey’s aunt, who hosted Isaac and I at her son’s house in Wyoming, that we should hit up Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If it wasn’t for the road trip with Isaac and stopping in St. Ignace, I’d never been remotely close to what’s commonly known as the U.P. prior to this moment. However, if we were to spend our holiday there, we’d have to stay at the notable Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

In what felt faster than a cut scene in the movie Snatch, our flights were booked, the bed and breakfast was booked, the Grant Hotel room was booked, our trip to the Traverse City was very loosely planned, and our stay at another bed and breakfast was booked soon after. As we ventured back to Newark Liberty International Airport to board a flight to Detroit, this is where the pace picks up on this modern day Odyssey.

After a quick internet search, it seemed like a worthy trip. As I learned and experienced more of this destination as time went on, it was actually meant to be. It was perfect. This trip was in the cards my whole damn life, even before I was even born.

Spoiler alert: If it wasn’t for the movie Somewhere In Time, I may have never been given the name Christopher.

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