Everything was going as planned. At the end of 2019, I had it all set up. I had sublet my apartment in Taos, and returned to Barcelona for the opportunity of a lifetime - to work on a documentary for Media 3.14, award-winning producers of documentaries like "Comprar, Tirar, Comprar" and "Me Llamo Violeta."
Then, 2020 hit me like a brick wall. Something went wrong with my visa. This and that was expired. This and that, and I couldn't get paid until it was fixed. This and that, and I had to move temporarily to a friend's extra bedroom because of all this hullabaloo. Sprinkle in the bathroom ceiling caving in and getting mugged, and 2020 was not off to a great start.
Anyhow, I got it all under control. It was my birthday, March 9. My boss said he definitely wanted me to be a part of the team when they moved forward on the project, hopefully, by the end of the summer. My contract with Media 3.14 was coming to an end on March 12. On the 17th, I was going to go on the next leg of my adventure: a writer's residency in Castilla-La Mancha to finish my feature screenplay, "Timestretchers." Life was looking up.
By March 11, everything had changed. I was sent home early. I worked my last day remotely. My boss said he'd be in touch.
March 14, the national Estado de Alarma went into effect. Veronica Leandrez at the Flatlands Artist Residency said I was welcome to come. I rented a car. Then, 10 minutes later, I got an email that my rental had been canceled.
My friends at the place where I was "temporarily living" said, "You might have to stay."
No one knew what was going on. An overwhelming feeling of existential dread crept in rather quickly. I found it hard to focus. Six weeks passed, and the lockdown dates kept being extended, two weeks at a time. I've never felt so helpless making a decision. I emailed the consulate to ask them. They emailed me back and then also called me saying that they had no idea about interregional travel. I should contact local officials. They also asked about my well-being and if I wanted information about flights home. I told them, "Yeah, sure. Thanks."
I continued to look at car rental options, obsessively changing dates and length of time. Turns out, I ended up being able to rent a car for 28 days for a ridiculously cheap rate. The rental wasn't automatically canceled. It seemed like this could work. I had to pick it up at the airport in Terminal 2.
Now, I had butterflies in my stomach, because you're not even supposed to leave the house to go to the grocery store without filling out a permission slip. Also, a number of friends had warned me about being stopped by police. A friend of a friend had been given a €3,000 fine for going to the store to buy ice, because it wasn't deemed an essential purchase. Some other friends have been stopped coming in from their house in the countryside to go to the grocery store.
My friend, Elvira, an abogado, told me to call the Mossos (local Barcelona cops) to make sure that I would be OK if I got stopped. I have a contract from the residency saying that I'm going there to live and work ... and be quarantined. Technically, I didn't have a place to go other than this place in La Mancha. It's all legit. And, I'm an American citizen!
The night before I had to go to Terminal 2 at the airport to pick up the car, I printed out three permission slips:
One to go from the apartment to the airport. One to go back to the apartment to get my things. And, one that delineated a force majeure/situation of need que necesito mudarme a La Mancha.
I took the Aerobús, normally jam-packed with tourists, to the airport. It was completely empty except for me, the driver and the conductor. It was quite surreal. I asked them about going to Terminal 2, but they said that it was closed. No one is going there.
So, when I arrived at Terminal 1, I walked around an empty airport. Only the occasional solitary traveler eyeing each other cautiously, face masks on. I found an info booth. The guy said I could find the car rental places downstairs.
Downstairs, all of the car rental company booths were shuttered. What was I going to do? I called the car rental company, but no answer. I called the the third-party car rental company and they didn't know any better than I did. The customer service agent said, "Yeah, we might as well cancel it." He said that he was also in Barcelona and even he didn't know anything about travel restrictions or what's going on. So, I canceled the reservation and prepared myself for the inevitability that I would have to stay in Barcelona indefinitely.
Then, I walked back by one of the booths and saw that it had opened. I looked closer, and I saw the logo of my car rental company printed on a piece of paper taped to the front of the plexiglass. I asked the guy, and he said, "Si, están arriba."
He pointed me in that direction. I ended up getting lost and having to come back to ask him again. "¿Dónde está? No puedo encontrarlo. Lo siento. Que estúpida, la americana!"
I called the third-party car rental company. "Can I cancel the cancellation?"
I had the car. Step one, mission accomplished.
Now, I had to get back to the city to pack up my stuff. Oddly enough, I didn't see any police as I drove back to Barcelona. I went through a roundabout, and I saw that they had set up a traffic checkpoint on one side of it. But, I didn't have to go that way. I went straight through. No worries. I packed up the car and had lunch.
Finally, it was time for my road trip, my force majeure, my situation of need. Let's see what happens, I thought to myself as I turned left on Via Leitana, and by the time I got down to the next street, I had two motorcycle cops behind me. I got nervous. I took a right. They were still behind me. OK, go the speed limit. Don't go too fast or too slow. OK, coming up to a stoplight. They drove around me. OK, I kept driving. Smooth sailing out of the city.
To get to La Mancha, the land of Don Quixote, you drive through tunnels and around mountains, next to the ocean, to Valencia. Then, you hang a right into the plains of Albacete. Spain is beautiful. And, I am free.
Although there were warnings all along the highway to quédate en casa, and that travel was restricted unless you had good reason, I did not get stopped. (Plus, I was legit, remember?) It was a beautiful drive. I arrived just before the sun was setting. Crepuscular rays peeked out through the clouds over the lush, verdant fields of wheat and rice, vineyards and fruit tree orchards. Thousands of wild crimson poppies lined the road.
The Flatlands Artist Residency (flatlands.es) was ready for me. Veronica welcomed me with open arms, if six feet apart. A wave of relief swept over me. Finally, I was where I was supposed to be, to do what I supposed to be doing. We opened a bottle of Manchegan wine and sat talking. The giants were just windmills after all.
Suddenly, a police car stopped in front of the building. They had seen my rental. It's a small town. An American girl just showed up here? What's going on here? There's a pandemic, you know.
Luckily, all of the paperwork was already in order. I showed them the same things I would've shown any cops had I've been stopped on my way. They took a photo of my passport. And, everything was fine. That was the extent of my interaction with the police.
Since then, in the past two weeks, I have gotten more writing done than I had the last two years. My friend Luci Lenox, a casting director in Barcelona, started a group connecting screenwriters, directors and actors: facebook.com/groups/GetInspired2020/. Anyone can Join. The more the merrier!
They've been doing Zoom table reads. We did one last week for my short film, "The Scream of the Moth." We had actors from all over the world taking part, including Lauren Poole (@laurenpoole505 IG) and Linda Stokas (@mestoked IG) from New Mexico. It was awesome. For me, it's one of the best things to come out of this entire quarantine experience.
My goal now is to try to finish the "Timestretchers" screenplay before this pandemic ends, so that I can do a Zoom table read with the Get Inspired group before everyone has to go back to work.
And, I do have to return the rental car at some point.