By Mark Gauert
City & Shore Magazine
Someday we may look back on the troubles we had traveling in a time of COVID, and smile.
But not today.
“I’m sorry,” the counter agent at Lynden Pindling International in Nassau said, “but your COVID test is 36 hours old.”
“The CDC said I had to get one 48 hours before flying to the United States,” I said. “Isn’t it valid for another 12 hours?”
“But we’re in the Bahamas,” she said. “And the rule here is you have to get a COVID test 24 hours before flying.”
“But I’m going to Florida,” I said. “Not the Bahamas.”
“But you’re flying from the Bahamas,” she said. “And that’s the rule here.”
I’d gotten up before dawn to catch my flight. I’d packed the night before, so everything would be ready in time for the shuttle. I’d tracked down a clinic near the hotel, so I’d have a CDC-valid COVID test 12 hours before I checked in. I was ready to go.
And getting nowhere.
“You’ll have to take another test,” she said. “You can’t get on the plane without one.”
“Another test?” I said, looking around the terminal. “Here?”
“No, not here,” she said. “You’ll have to go back into town.”
I did the math. It had taken me 45 minutes to get to the airport. It would take at least 45 minutes to get back. Add the time to walk to the clinic, add the time to wait for the results, add the time to get back to the airport …
It all added up to me missing my plane.
“I can’t miss my plane,” I said. “My family’s waiting for me.”
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“But my test is only 12 hours over the 24-hour rule,” I tried. “Couldn’t you make an exception to the rule this one time, please?”
“No,” she said. “A rule is a rule.”
I turned away from the counter with my bag, my 36-hour-old COVID test and no idea what I was going to do next. I’d need time to figure this out – and I only had an hour and a half to get to the gate.
With no place at the airport to sit down and think, I walked out on the sidewalk facing the pick-up lanes. It was too far to walk, there were no shuttles – so I hail Maryed the first taxi passing by.
“Where to?” said the driver, Rufus Swann.
“I only have an hour before my flight leaves, and I need a COVID test,” I blurted. “Do you know any place nearby?”
“Family Medicine Center,” he said after a moment. “It’s not far away.”
We drove slow out of the airport, then he hit the gas on John F. Kennedy Drive.
“This road is named in honor of your president,” he said. “He was here 50 years ago this year, the first U.S. president to visit the Bahamas. We remember him well.”
He took the roundabout onto Blake Road and pulled up to the clinic 10 minutes later. There was a line of people – some also with flights to catch – waiting to be tested out front.
“Can I get a rapid test here?” I asked a nurse. “I only have an hour to get to my flight.”
“We can do that!” she said.
“Great!” I said, turning to Swann. “But can you wait?”
“Waiting,” he smiled, “is all I do in my business.”
I wanted to name a road after him.
He waited 45 minutes – off the meter – for me to get my nose swabbed, the lab to process it, and the clinic to deliver a negative test. I just might make it!
“Have you visited the Bahamas before?” Swann asked, on the way back to the airport.
“Oh yes, I love it here,” I said. “I’ve been to Nassau, Freeport, South Andros Island …”
“South Andros!?” he said. “You know the Bahamas so well, you deserve a souvenir.”
He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a square 15-cent Bahamian coin.
“They don’t make these anymore,” he said. “They’re special.”
“Like you,” I said, offering him a sample of our currency in return.
I walked up to the counter at Lynden Pindling International in Nassau and presented everything I needed to get on board – including a COVID test less than 24 hours old – to the agent.
“I knew you could do it,” she said. “Your gate’s right over there.”
Someday we’ll look back on the kindnesses we had traveling in a time of COVID. And smile even more.