The World, a cruise ship of condominiums, parked offshore from the Santa Barbara Harbor | Credit: Paul Wellman/S.B. Independent

This morning, a charming young woman named Nancy called to let me know that I had qualified for an amazing free cruise to the Bahamas. Now, like many of you, this wasn’t the first time that something this special had been offered to me. In fact, one of my semi-retirement hobbies is trying to get myself removed from as many call lists as possible. Although there are extraordinary deals on everything from home security systems to jaw-dropping credit card discounts, I’d prefer to be left alone. So, I patiently waited while I was transferred from my robo-caller to my live operator, Nancy.

But before I could politely ask to be taken off her call list, Nancy immediately let me know there had never been a better time to take a cruise. And it was absolutely free! All I had to do was tell friends about my fun-packed experience on her luxurious ship.

I was stunned. This seemed the equivalent of a World War II German operator offering an all-expenses paid train trip to the Eastern Front. I asked her how often she had heard the term “coronavirus.” 

She hesitated and then said, “You know, this really isn’t much worse than the swine flu.” I at once asked if she knew that the 2009 pandemic had resulted in between 150,000-575,000 fatalities. She hadn’t heard that, but she said people get sick from the flu every winter. That was no reason to pass up a free vacation. 

I pressed on. Had she, perhaps, heard of the Spanish flu? Of course, she hadn’t. I told her that in 1919, over 500 million people were infected worldwide. It was one of the deadliest epidemics in human history. It killed over 190,000 Americans in one month!

Nancy was undeterred. “You know, we have open bars on the ship. That means free drinks whenever you get tired of being at the pool. Plus, that other virus was a long time ago,” she said. “We know how to take care of things like that today.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell Nancy that we actually don’t. There’s no vaccine, and nobody knows how long it will be before we find a way to stop it. 

 “Anyway, nobody has died on any of our cruises!”

“Nancy,” I said, “has anybody today actually signed up for a cruise?”

 “Well, not yet, but I just came on duty.” Nancy lowered her voice. “You know, these cruise ships are very, very big. All you have to do is stay away from the other guests.”

Should I have told Nancy that the human transmission of the coronavirus happens when an infected person sneezes or coughs? That more than half a million virus particles spread in an amazingly wide radius? And that they stay there for quite some time, so that even the next day, you can easily pick up the infection by simply putting your hand in the wrong place and then touching your face?

Instead I asked, “Nancy, would you want any of your family or loved ones to go on this cruise?” There was a long pause, and then the line went dead. 

I was sad about not being able to go to the Bahamas, and worse, I was still on their call list, but at least I was still alive. 


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