The travelers

These ‘travelers’ were caught off-Island during the height of the pandemic.


Nicole Galland — stranded off-Island

On March 8, I arrived in New York City to begin directing actor Scott Barrow in a one-man play, “Every Brilliant Thing.” We were scheduled to bring it back to the Vineyard to perform both at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival and also the Playhouse. The evening of March 9, I attended a gala for the Writer’s Guild Initiative, for which I wore “festive attire” (I love that term, now more than ever). It was a dinner and staged reading in a mostly glass building with gorgeous views of the sunset and then the city lights — a loud, crowded event, where we all spoke directly into each other’s faces, but thought we were being “safe” because we elbow-bumped instead of shaking hands.

Thirty-six hours later, while in a small, windowless rehearsal room in midtown Manhattan, Scott and I learned that our show was being postponed (until September). The next day, Broadway shut down.

It’s hard to remember this, but initially we thought the closing of the world would last about two weeks. To avoid bringing the potential of New York contagion home to my aging parents on the Vineyard, I redirected to rural Vermont to stay with cousins for what I assumed would be a fortnight. My second day there, they said to me, “You know you’re probably going to be here for longer than that, right?”

I stayed five months.


Mollie Doyle — the last time we left the Island together

My family began last year with a BIG PLAN: Go to India for three weeks in March. Thanks to her work with Plastic Free MV, our daughter Emma was invited to India to attend a Compassionate Leadership conference with the Dalai Lama. We were beside ourselves with excitement, and really couldn’t think of anything else. Then, on Valentine’s Day, the Dalai Lama’s office wrote to say that they were canceling the conference due to COVID-19. Emma took it in stride, but my husband and I felt it would be good to go do something as a family. So about a week before school vacation was to start, we decided to take a short ski trip to Vermont.

Vermont was fairly empty of people, but filled with wet snow. We skied in the slushy rain, drank too much hot chocolate, and hunched by a fire eating takeout sushi and pizza. We arrived back on the Island on the 28th of February, and have not left together since. I got a terrible cold the following week. At that time, I had the great freedom and luxury of not worrying that being sick might mean I had COVID. It was just a cold, and I got to spend the first dark March week watching bad movies in bed.

March had arrived, and so had the shutdown. I sent out an email to my yoga students to see if anyone wanted to Zoom and do some yoga. About 100 people responded. In March and April, our little yoga tribe raised money for the Island Food Pantry. And about 50 of us have continued to practice yoga together ever since. Our group includes folks Zooming in from as far away as Egypt, London, Germany, Spain, Hawaii, and the U.A.E. to as close as Edgartown and Chilmark. So while I did not travel the world this last year, I have felt my Island life expand, and feel deep gratitude to be in connection with people and their communities around the world. It’s an extraordinary group of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, parents, doctors, lawyers, writers, readers, environmentalists, activists, therapists, artists, healers, chefs, and students who are all doing their part to help make this world better. And this gives me great hope.


Dana Nunes — long way back from New Zealand

The last time I gathered maskless with friends on the Island was our New Year’s Eve party, Dec. 31, 2019. The last time we were maskless with friends anywhere was in Hot Water Beach, New Zealand, on, I’m not kidding, Friday, March 13, at an open mic night that we attend every year. An event that’s held almost every Friday during their summer, it’s one I always eagerly look forward to in that tiny little town. It’s attended by local and international musicians, with a core group of locals who greet us warmly every year; this year there was a certain sadness as one of the regulars announced that he was moving to a small town in the interior of the country. As special as that evening was, little did I realize how precious it would become in memory. It was also the last time that I hugged someone joyfully, casually, and without caution.

As the issues around the pandemic intensified, and it became obvious that we needed to exit the country ASAP, finding plane tickets became problematic. The airline was no longer staffing its phone lines or updating its website. We could get no information, and neither was our country offering any assistance, either. All we received from the State Department was an alert advising out-of-country travelers to get back to the States pronto, or prepare to remain in place for the duration of the pandemic. At that time, the U.S. was considering closing the borders, which, of course, they didn’t do in the end.

After much wrangling and scrambling over the course of a week, we secured two separate pairs of plane tickets, in addition to still having our original departure tickets for April 15. Both flights were canceled. The airport in Auckland was pandemonium, on the outside at least. They had masked, armed guards at the doors who would not allow anyone to enter without a valid ticket for that day. The parking lot was filled with travelers tossing their belongings from camper vans into suitcases on the ground, while at the same time on their phones, trying to secure a ticket. Well-heeled refugees were abandoning their rental vans and cars in a desperate attempt to get home. Inside the airport, though crowded, order prevailed. They had proctors walking the lines ensuring that people stayed six feet apart. They had signs everywhere, explaining the importance of handwashing and masks, and an announcement every 10 minutes of the same. They weren’t messing around, and the country was about to lock down in 12 hours. After that, driving was curtailed, and the airport was shutting down. With eight hours to go before lockdown, we were able to secure tickets for a flight to Houston, Texas, one of the few which actually left the ground, at 6 pm on March 26. I hate flying, but I was never so happy to be in the air. Upon arrival in Houston (at 6 pm on March 26 — love that!), in contrast to Auckland, there was no indication that there was anything unusual happening. During our three-hour layover, waiting for our flight to Boston, we were the only ones wearing masks, all of the airport restaurants were open, and there were no advisories about distancing, handwashing, or masks. In other words, it might as well have been 2019 again.

Boston was another story altogether. With the city completely locked down, while waiting outside our (mostly empty) hotel for our ride the next morning, I watched a lone turkey wander slowly down the middle of Arlington Street, completely unmolested. In Woods Hole, the ferry contained seven vehicles and five walk-on passengers. Home.

And New Zealand? After the March lockdown, our friends there are once again gathering for concerts and dinner parties, with hugs, and without masks.


Hellie Neumann — homeward bound from Italy

I was in Italy when it happened. There’s an MV Times article about me that week. Italy got shut down on Monday, March 9. I managed to book a seat on an Alitalia flight out of Rome to Boston on Thursday, March 12. (I had been planning to stay until early April.) I got in contact with the Chilmark board of health to let them know what was happening, and so I could understand the parameters of my quarantine. I tried to get in touch with the U.S. Embassy in Rome to find out what my options were, with no luck. Fortunately, a friend of mine had an exit paper that he was able to get to me, which I printed. I would have to show the police at any check stop.

A lot of flights were canceled that week, and there was definitely a mood of extreme fear. Once the president declared the embargo on flights from Europe, it was mandatory that I get home immediately. I had no idea at that time what was coming; I figured it would be a month or so and then the world would return to normal, ha ha. I don’t think anybody really understood.

We checked the airline website obsessively to make sure my flight had not been canceled. My Italian sister took me at 6 am to the local train that would take me directly to the airport. The police were there, and I had to show my passport and my exit paper, which he then filled out, and I believe it’s only because I had an American passport that he was helpful. My girlfriend was ordered to leave immediately, no lingering goodbyes. Everyone was wearing masks at this point. (I am so grateful that I had brought some with me, not even knowing that this was going to happen.)

When I arrived at the airport the mood was very somber, as most of the flights had been canceled. Everyone in line was sharing stories of where they had been vacationing or traveling when the order came through to evacuate. There was definitely a sense of camaraderie, but I also heard stories of people who had been in the red zone which was very frightening. That was the first taste of the fear of getting infected as the areas I had been in previously had very low infection rates.

I checked my bags, and went to the first passport control, where they took my temperature. I would not have been allowed to board if I had had a temperature. We were repeatedly requested to socially distance. As we were boarding the plane, our temperatures were taken again, and we had to fill out a document with our seat numbers, our contact information, and address where we would be in the U.S.A. Contact tracing! Almost everyone on the plane had masks on, most notably the airline staff. We were repeatedly informed that quarantine was highly recommended upon return. When I landed in the U.S., there was zero coordination, zero questioning, and zero temperature-taking. After all the press about testing people at the borders, I have to admit I was shocked. I had arranged for a rental car, and I stayed in the car on the ferry, drove home, and proceeded to quarantine for 14 days. I knew I was receiving some negative comments after my story was published, and I absolutely refused to be the first person on M.V. to create a COVID spread. (I was fine, by the way.)

Friends delivered groceries and my mail to me in a quarantine box that I put at the bottom of my driveway, and I wore a mask and gloves to retrieve my supplies. I took my temperature twice a day, and stayed in touch with the Chilmark board of health. Thank God for Marina [Lent], and especially Katie Tamoshunas Carroll. Her connecting with me probably saved my mental wellness. The day I got out of quarantine was the day the state shut down. In the end, I was more than happy to stay home for the next four months; I was finally able to do all the household chores and cleaning that I’d been putting off for decades. Most notably, I cleaned out my attic, where I had boxes and boxes of books, artwork, memorabilia, letters, and documents of all four grandparents, both my parents, and my two deceased brothers. A lot of tears and reconnecting with my heritage. I also discovered cousins that I never knew about in Michigan, descended through my maternal grandfather’s sister. I have made contact with all of them, and when it is safe to do so, will go to Michigan to meet them.


Gavin Smith — speeding back to the Island

Our last gathering with friends was on a road trip. We had traveled across 18 states, and worked our way west to Wyoming and south through Texas to Lousianna. In Austin we attended a couple of live music shows, and ate at restaurants just before things got serious. All the bands were excited to play the upcoming SXSW music festival (which at the time had not yet been canceled). We were in Shreveport visiting old friends, and gathered at a brewery that was offering a crawfish boil. Within days, schools were canceled, cities were locked down, and the reality of the pandemic was setting in. Through these events we were aware of the coronavirus, but at that time nobody seemed to know what was coming down the pipeline. We made it to Atlanta, a former home of ours, to visit family. We ended up staying there for over a month, as it was totally unclear how long these lockdowns would last. We stayed with my niece and nephew, brother-in-law, and his wife. We were really fortunate to have this time with our family, regardless of the circumstances.

While we were in Georgia, we read stories about the limited resources of the Island’s healthcare system, the animosity brewing between different kinds of Island residents, and we were in what we felt was a relatively safe place. However, after 45 or so days, we had to get back to our home and our community. At this point it was clear there was no end in sight, and even then I don’t think there was any expectation things would get as serious as they have.

We packed up our things, having left the Island in late January to attend the Super Bowl, then embarked on our road trip. Coming home, I drove straight for 19 hours, stopping only for gas and bathroom breaks. At this point in the pandemic, everything was shut down. The highways were fairly empty, and it seemed like everyone was speeding. Rest stops were covered in caution tape, with only the restrooms and gas stations open. As we crossed New York City, construction led us through the Bronx. My wife and I spent many years living in New York City, and I had never seen it so quiet. Almost nobody was on the streets, and the few folks outside were wearing full respirators.

By the time we made it back to the Island, we were physically and mentally exhausted. The quarantine was almost welcome at that point, and it was a weight off my shoulders to be back on this rock I call home.

Though the pandemic has changed our lives, there have been some silver linings. The extended time we got to spend with our niece and nephew as they faced completely uncertain times and school closures, as their parents geared up to begin working at home indefinitely, was truly a gift to all of us. A common struggle has rekindled a relationship with a group of our friends that we lived with in Brooklyn. Though we have kept in touch, the pandemic has provided time for us to connect from all over the world, having game nights and check-ins with friends in Austria, Amsterdam, New York, and California on a regular basis. In a way, it has made it easier to check in on your friends and family. Though we aren’t physically close, I feel that we are all connected by the struggle we all face, regardless of your views on the struggle itself.