HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Weekends in Las Vegas. Cruises in Alaska, or across the Mediterranean. A week touring the sights of New Zealand.
For former banker John Roxburgh, it’s a list of vacation destinations that the coronavirus pandemic swiftly transformed from a lifelong traveler’s retirement dream into a symbol of lost opportunity.
“I was immensely looking forward to that. I worked for 44 years,” says Roxburgh, of his career as vice president and an institutional trust fund officer at Central Pacific Bank.
“I was supposed to retire earlier than I had. (He and his wife) were both looking toward retirement, to traveling more, whether it be within the U.S. or abroad.”
For Roxburgh, some of the favorite parts of life prior to the pandemic were cyclical, involving being either airborne or waterbound. Roxburgh and his wife, Sharon, would spend months planning flights, going on weeks-long cruises, and then sharing photos from their travels for just long enough that it’d carry them into the planning phase of the next trip.
Roxburgh travels often enough that it comes as no surprise he’d have been on an Australia-bound cruise ship in February, just as the pandemic began to intensify — and quite literally as news began to break that hundreds of people aboard another ship, the Diamond Princess, were testing positive for COVID-19.
It wasn’t long after that, Roxburgh says, before he knew those days were done — that perhaps the most beloved aspect of his retired life had been put on hold, and for who knows how long.
“I don’t think it’ll ever get back to what we are used to. Ever,” Roxburgh says. “We’re gonna have to accept change. Basically, it’s never going to get back to where we would just pick up and get on a ship, and do the neat things about being on a cruise. And it’s gonna be difficult to travel unless you get a vaccine and the vaccine works.”
Roxburgh is 72 — “I just had a telephone call with my doctor. He reminded me that I’m in ‘that’ category” — and knows that the pandemic has necessitated changes in his life beyond his travel habits.
Retired life can feel isolating under even the best of circumstances. It’s why Roxburgh, in retirement, took to frequent lunches and dinners and parties, with old coworkers and friends Kamehameha classmates: If everyone feels the same thing, why not feel it together?
What many of his fellow retirees feel now, though, is equal parts loneliness and frustration.
Like office professionals around the world, Roxburgh has attempted to embrace pandemic video chats to stay connected. But when technology goes awry, that can be easier said than done.
“It was very frustrating. Thank goodness that we had (our daughter) to walk us through that,” he says. “The computer wasn’t set up properly. And it’s only an hour, because we use the ‘free’ Zoom program. And everybody is talking over one another.”
Still, he says, the calls are better than nothing. And they aren’t the only way he’s trying to get out more.
Long morning walks around his Central Oahu neighborhood, a pandemic-renewed hobby of his, have helped a little. But plenty of people say they’re still wary of running into others.
“A wave or a good morning, but you can’t stop and talk. I think people still don’t feel comfortable, even though you have a mask on,” he says. “Some people I see every morning, the same time, the same place. We wave, and then we move on.”
Eventually, the time will come when Roxburgh and the rest of the world can move on from the pandemic, too.
But he and Hawaii’s other retirees aren’t getting any younger. And when they can meet again, and hug again, and travel again, Roxburgh hopes they’ll have picked up lessons along the way.
“I think I’ll have to be more aware. The cleanliness of things, not taking for granted that what you touch is clean. I think that’s gonna change. I’m gonna be more aware. You have to be aware. That’s probably going to change the most.”