Chop Chop

What a day yesterday was. Filled with every emotion and the physical reactions to go with. And it ended with a dream that summed everything up. I’m going to start from the beginning….

One of our retirement dreams was to become snowbirds. This is our third year and covid has thrown a major monkey wrench into the mix. We drive. With both cars. And a pile of stuff. And our dog Molly. But the driving borders are closed; which in our mind makes zero sense since a plane load of people seems far more risky than a private vehicle. Anyway, a month or so ago a friend shared an article about a helicopter pilot who was determined to get his parents and their dog across the border. The article explained how he arranged their car to be shipped to Buffalo NY and he flew them on his chopper to Buffalo airport where they met their car and drove off to Florida. We were working on a bunch of schemes but this one seemed foolproof. So Rudy made the arrangements.

Our winter home rental (yes, we will be living in a private home … not a commune with hundreds of others!!) starts on Dec 15 so we wanted to leave a few days beforehand to allow for the drive. We take a bit longer so we don’t have to drive at night and accommodate Molly’s walking schedule. As it happens, the chopper people were booking up fast. All of November and the first week of December was booked solid. We managed a spot for December 10. Yesterday. Unfortunately the chopper has a strict weight restriction and we were over the limit (Molly is 55.5 kg) so Rudy reserved two flights on Dec 10 (they have a bigger chopper but it was not available).

We breathed a small sigh of relief knowing we were booked. But the stress around travelling during these times is a bit daunting. Even though we know people who have travelled by air internationally without incident it’s still a concern with all the hype. So much that most of our snowbird friends are staying put in the snow. We rent our home out to skiers and they were panicking that we couldn’t leave. So many folks are staying home there’s very few winter chalet rentals available. We have the same family as last year. They were contacting the rental agency weekly to see if we were changing our minds. They even went so far as to offer to drive our car and Molly across (the husband is American) and we could fly to meet them. The hoops were aplenty.

A new development: Rudy’s golf partner (who’s brother lives in Alabama) was turned away from the land border when he attempted to cross by car. So he would chopper with Rudy and ship his car too. The more the merrier.

So we had a month to get organized. Sort. Pack. Leave. It sounds easy enough. We’ve done it a few times and each time we do we marvel at how much s**t we have. Seriously. The stuff is crazy. But there’s also the other tidbits: wrapping and getting pjs to my folks (I ordered pjs for the family so we could take a cute photo … everyone can deliver on time except Canada Post! But that’s another story), parcel for Rudy’s daughter, small gift for our neighbour, gift for friends in Alabama who we are visiting en route (another story), vaccination for Molly (hers expire while we are away), car license stickers (also expire while we are away), mail hold … the list is literally huge.

I made a bunch of medical appointments for my dad for Dec 9 so he was up to date on everything before we left. All he wants to do when we visit is play cards and gab so we have to work the schedule perfectly in order to tick all the boxes.

A week before leaving we get the cars tuned up and checked out. We organize our documents. We pare down our food supplies. Arrange the cleaners to do a full sanitization for the winter renters. Rudy organizes the finances. It’s starting to come together.

Dec 8. We are in full on packing mode. The personal things we are leaving at home get locked into two closets which are off limits to the renters. When we get back in the spring it’s going to be scene from a cartoon when I open the closet… bam! Avalanche of pillows and towels.

Dec 9. It’s happening. Rudy loads the cars (and our bikes on his car) while I pack the remnants and get our travelling provisions in order: coffee to go, waters, granola bars. Plus documentation (there’s tons to export a vehicle) and travel ID. All this before 8 am since we have to be in Stratford by 10:30 for my dads first appointment and Molly also needs a walk (and poop). As we drive away from our house it sinks in that we won’t be back for some time. I will miss the cozy hangout and the endless waters. When we hit the Beaver Valley, the snow increases and on top of the escarpment it’s really snowy and icy. It’s a slow drive which adds to the stress. Timing is everything.

I call my dad just as we enter town so he can meet me at the back entrance. He’s waiting at the door when I pull in. I bring in only Molly’s gear and my toiletries. It’s 10:30 am so we have a few minutes to settle and review the schedule (again). New wrinkle: mom has a wicked bruise, rash, welt on her forearm. When I ask about it I get a riddle. Dad says he tried to call the doctor but they changed their number and he couldn’t understand the message with the new number. Ugh. Moving on. I leave molly with mom knowing that Rudy will arrive any minute. His drive was slowed by the bikes. Dad and I get going in our mission. First stop the pharmacy to pick up his hormones. Then the eye doctor for a full check up. Dad has mentioned his vision is “slimy” on the “Good eye” where he had cataracts removed followed by laser surgery. As it turns out he has macular degeneration. Luckily his vision is still really good so he can drive. Unfortunately his vision isn’t perfect and for an old German, perfection is key. Next stop is the urologist where he gets a biannual hormone for prostate cancer. The doctor tells us that the hormone therapy is no longer effective and the psa levels are rising. He tells us next time we need to also go to the cancer clinic for more aggressive treatment options. When we get back in the car dad wants me translate everything. I realize how imperative it is for him to have an advocate. I explain everything until he understands and suggest he not share the cancer part with mom. She’s too confused and nervous to deal with it and her reaction (countless questions and worrying out loud) will frustrate and anger dad. Dad holds my hand and through tears says thank you. I feel like my heart is going to pop out of my chest as I bravely tell him everything will be fine.

Next stop KFC for lunch. One of dad’s favourites. I’ve texted Rudy to let him know our timing and to help mom set the table. When we get back they are ready and the two Rudys are ravenous. Dads hearing aids need a tuneup and due to covid he won’t be going in the office. We just have to drop them off for a few minutes. Dad is happy to relax at home and let me do the hearing aids since the eye drops from the first appointment of the day are still activated making his vision horrible. Rudy joins me so we can tick off a few more things. Mailing Sarah’s parcel. Getting better tie downs for the bikes.

When we return back, dad is ready for cards. And mom can wash the sheets we stripped from our bed at home that morning when we left. Everyone slips happily into routine. We have a snack and continue cards until well past sundown (at 5:30 ha ha). It’s been a long and busy day so we call it quits around 9:30 pm and hit the hay.

Dec 10. We are all up early (again). Rudy takes Molly for a morning trek while I fumble around with our stuff. We have breakfast with mom and dad and then get ready to go. Rudy leaves first so I can say bye to mom. She’s confused so it’s easier on everyone; she’s not comprehending that I’m going for a few months instead of a few days. Dad wants to walk us down and Rudy’s already in his car. I let molly jump in and turn to hug my dad. He’s crying. It’s gut wrenching to see him like this. I reassure him that we will be fine. I know his biggest fear is our safety (I silently curse CNN and the other evil media for scaring the daylights out of everyone!) I hug him tightly and say I love you. As I get into my car I hold back my tears and wave. I’m so grateful for my sister and that she will be there the next day. I drive away sobbing. Ugly cry. Which makes Molly whine.

The drive to St Catharines, where the helicopter is and we drop our cars for transport, is nice. Clear roads and the odd sunny break. We arrive at the tiny airport as the choppers are loading and taking off with passengers before us. All snowbirds with pets and vehicles. We enter the terminal building which is a neat and tidy 2 storey building with a back wall of all glass. A huge expansive view of the runway (singular) and tarmac for the choppers. We sit in the waiting area where there are groupings of seats and a coffee station. I’m impressed. And more so when I use the facilities. We meet Rudy’s golf partner there and the three of us sit in our grouping of seats. There are three other groupings there in their areas with their pets. After a few minutes some of the others start to wander around and we chat exchanging destination and other information. Everyone with similar stories of wanting to go south with their pets and their cars. Molly of course is the biggest dog by a mile. And then some!

The car transport guy comes in and collects keys and paperwork. He loads the vehicles (about 8) onto his truck and leaves.

We watch others go ahead of us. There are 4 choppers in action and all are within a few minutes of each other. When our turn to leave comes we head out to the chopper where they have set up a ramp for Molly to walk up to the aircraft. No way. She sees me in the chopper and wants to get in. They remove the ramp and Rudy and the attendant lift her in. She sits in the tight seat next to me. When our pilot gets in he pets her and explains the deal. He starts the rotor and we lift off. What a feeling!! Molly is fine. I’m trying to absorb the experience and take photos. It’s a quick 20 minute flight over the Welland Canal and Niagara Falls. We touch down gently in Buffalo and wait for the customs agent. He walks to the chopper and clears us in 40 seconds. Didn’t even ask for Molly’s documents. We walk with the pilot into the small terminal building.

We are told that the vehicles will be there in 5 minutes. Wham bam. We are in the USA in one piece and hop in our cars. First stop Erie PA where we will spend the night.

We order Italian delivery to our room and enjoy a celebration drink and food. Molly is on the bed passed out from exhaustion. I call mom and dad and send the pictures to them. The relief in their voices is a healing balm.

Whew. The hard part is over. Cincinnati here we come.

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