So much for normal

It seems odd to look back at my previous post, uploaded on March 8th, and think how different things were. Content warning: if you don’t want to read about the pandemic, this is where you move on.

I want to put down some of the things that have happened, in a kind of timeline, before I forget all the details.

Thursday, March 12th, was our last ordinary day at work. I don’t usually write much about my day job, so just to fill you in, I’m an air taxi pilot in Northwestern Ontario. I fly these. Mostly I take people from Kenora to remote northern communities, spend some hours there while they do their jobs, and then fly home again. On Thursday, the weather was poor, with fog and freezing drizzle. We cancelled all our trips.

Friday, March 13th, was nice and sunny, and I flew some people to Cat Lake, Ontario. On the way up, I was speculating with my co-pilot about how vulnerable these northern communities would be. Cat Lake has had a housing shortage for some time, made worse by widespread mould in buildings there. Houses are crowded. Self-isolation would be impossible. If Covid-19 were to get into Cat Lake, it would spread like wildfire. Diabetes is common, so many people would get very ill. At lunchtime, we chatted to some construction contractors who were assembling prefab homes to ease the shortage. As we talked, the foreman got word that the Cat Lake Band Council was thinking of putting the whole community into quarantine. No unnecessary visitors from outside.

By the time we got home to Kenora, things had changed. Schools were closing for Spring Break, and it was announced that they would not reopen until two weeks after the break was over, in order to protect the school population from anyone who might get infected during vacation travels. The city of Kenora announced the closure of the Museum, Libraries and Recreation Centre.

Over the weekend, things got tighter. Large gatherings were banned. The hospital and seniors homes imposed restrictions on visitors. People were advised to stay home if possible. Toilet paper got scarce, but we didn’t need any.

On Monday, March 16th, I went to work. Although we had no revenue trips, we had hired a new co-pilot, and I was to train her. When I got there, the administrative staff were gathering up their things to work from home. I was permitted to commence the training, but we tried to stay a meter apart for groundschool. Our mechanics were working, and at lunchtime, we all sat apart.

There was talk of restaurants removing half their seating to separate their customers.

On Tuesday, March 17th, it was announced that all restaurants would close, except for take-out and delivery. Caroline’s restaurant was already closed for Spring Break, but this meant she would not be going back to work the following week. I should clarify. She worked for many years at the Clarion, but the fire there in January led to her getting laid off and filing for Employment Insurance. She was picking up some lunch shifts at an Italian restaurant, and that’s the place that was not going to re-open.

Flight training continued for the week. An hour or two in the plane, plus debriefing, paperwork and groundschool. Further restrictions took place. I’m not sure of the exact days, but the Vet Clinic said we couldn’t bring our cat in for his annual rabies shot. They were only open for sick animals. Hair salons closed. A fire downtown led to flooding of basements along nearly a block of Main Street. It was eerie to see all the businesses closed when the street re-opened. Then the province declared a state of emergency, and non-essential businesses were ordered closed.

Toilet paper still scarce, but not unobtainable. Limit two packs per customer. We bought one.

Many of my pilot friends, especially those just newly hired at airlines, were laid off as routes were cancelled. Vacationers were being brought home, but you couldn’t fly south anymore. I think this was the week that a million Canadians filed for EI.

On Monday, March 23rd, I went to the hangar. We got as far as pulling the plane out of the hangar to go training, before the Chief Pilot asked us not to. Training flights are expensive. Another plane went out to pull some staff out of a northern worksite, ending a contract. We did some groundschool.

On Tuesday, March 24th, I got a heads-up from the Chief Pilot that an email from headquarters was announcing layoffs. The company should survive because our sister division does essential work with forest fire management, but our base was doing zero flying, and would close. Two or three of our people were offered transfers. Our new copilot was offered work, but not a flying position. She took it.

On Wednesday, March 25th, the expected layoff was announced. We got two weeks notice. Many people at other companies weren’t so lucky.

In over thirty years of marriage, we’ve never both been unemployed at the same time. The worst was when I had to go on long-term disability for about a year. We cancelled a bunch of things like satellite TV and our landline. They’ve stayed cancelled, and it took years to recover. The lesson I learned was to start economizing early. Don’t wait until the money runs out. We’re fortunate that our mortgage is paid off.

I went to the bank, to scale back some payments. I don’t visit in person very often, but I had been in a few days earlier to replace a cracked debit card. What a transformation. The door was locked. They were letting in only one or two customers at a time. Before entering, you were asked if you had been out of the country. The tellers wore masks and gloves, and were separated from the customers by a sheet of polythene plastic. I have to say, it felt very foreboding. Pre-apocalyptic.

I also called another bank to see if we can defer payments on our car loan. I got through after half an hour, and the guy said I was wise to call in the morning. The previous afternoon, he had over a thousand people in his queue. He forwarded me to the right department for my situation. I spent another hour and a half on hold, with some soothing but rather tinkly muzak. I will never open a music box again. They put me on a call-back list. It’s going to take days to hear back. It’s a zero-percent loan, so I’m optimistic we can get some relief, but a deferral will almost certainly run out before I return to work.

Worked up the nerve to post on Ice Patrol (my other blog, much more popular) that there will be no flights this spring.

The bottled water company is operating, but you cannot go in. You can pre-pay and pick up, apparently. No cash. The rest of that strip mall looked closed. The doughnut store next door is closed, even the drive-through. One supermarket has plexiglass barriers, the other has them coming. No cash. Both have markings on the floor to indicate physical distancing. So does our drugstore, and they’re restricting the number of customers in the store to fifty. Our favourite pet store is open, but the owners are distressed. One was close to tears when we said we’d support them as best we can.

I think we’ll be okay. I did get paid for a magazine article, and another was accepted, so I can invoice for that. But I guess I better fill out my tax return.

I hope you’re all doing okay.





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