Thursday, March 5, 2020

Burning Money: My "Fool's Errand" to the Homeland

UPDATE(S): Since this post on Thursday morning of March 5, there have been additional costs associated with the journey, which I have added to this accounting in red. I will continue to update this until I return to China.

I do not feel the need to explain myself, despite the judgmental and horrible things that people have said before and after my arrival on this, my native soil. As my readers know, I have come back because the United States government told Americans living abroad that they "should depart by commercial means." It was not "if you choose to depart, you must use commercial means" because, in fact, the consulates are under-staffed in China and staying there is a bit of a The Sand Pebbles-esque decision. (More on that in a later post.)

Some of you may have seen an article from the Old Grey Lady about being a pariah and the stigma of a Returnee. Today, there is another article about how the rich and super-rich are preparing.

On the other hand, a full accounting of the expenses that I have encountered since my return and some anticipated expenses appears below. I am offering this not so much as a word of caution to my friends in China who might be considering a similar "junket," but more as an explainer to the public of what is involved in such an endeavor. It would be financially devastating for the vast majority of the people with whom I work in China.

This accounting does not include taxi expenses to the airport in Guangzhou or any cash expenses that I may have spent with the cash dollars that I had in my wallet prior to arrival.

It also does not include the ongoing family expense of paying rent in China for the apartment that houses my girlfriend and kids. I am lucky to have a partner who can pay for food and basics for the family without my help during this time, but many people will not have that luxury.

It also does not include the future expenses that I anticipate: food for the next couple weeks until planned return; another rental car or public transportation (will it ever be responsible to sit among others for several hours) to get back to the airport; etc.
  • Airfare to Date  

  • My flight home was 10,900 RMB ($1,555). It is a round-trip ticket set to return in June. The change fee from our travel agent, which I assume is at cost passed on from the airline, is 1,100 RMB (about $158). 
  • If I choose to return on March 18, it will cost me another 1,180 RMB (approx. $170 at today's rates), which I shelled out today because tickets are flying out the door as Chinese people realize that it might be safer to return than weather this in the Land of the Free, Home of the Daring. 

  • Rental Car Fees to Date 

  •  The first car that I kept for 24 hours was picked up at JFK and dropped off at Ithaca Airport. It cost was supposed to cost $234.90 with a base price of $172.20, taxes and fees of 62.70 and I agreed to pay the $10 for the collision damage plan, but I was subsequently charged $268.40 and have not called to find out what the additional costs were. 
  •  But I was charged $14.00 for EZPass tolls based on the license plate of the car. 
  • The second car that I picked up in Horseheads, NY, and dropped off in Hudson, NY, cost $144.00 plus the collision damage plan of $30. 
  • The third car, which I plan to keep through Saturday, was picked up at a different rental car location (not an airport, which saves money) in Hudson and will be dropped off in the Seacoast of New Hampshire. It is expected to cost $257.77 plus a $40 collision damage plan, which is a far sight cheaper than an extending the Hertz rental by the same amount of time.
  • Lodging to Date 

  • AirBNB from Monday, February 17 (the day that I arrived at JFK from Beijing) to Wednesday, March 4 cost me $625.95. 
  • Then another $62.76 for a single night in Leeds, NY, at The Hodepodge Lodge AirBNB. Leeds is across the Hudson River from Town of Hudson, where I needed to return my rental and where I expected to borrow a friend's Subaru; however, I do not drive stick/standard and after about 600 feet of practice, I was not not confident, so decided to rent another car after three hours of calling both Travelocity and Hertz (long hold times and multiple disconnects due to poor cell service or incompetence on their end). By the time I reimburse my friend for sending his key and send it back to him, it will be roughly $60 through the USPS. 
  • I am fortunate to be headed to a farmhouse for the duration of my stay that belongs to a friend in the Seacoast of New Hampshire
  • Public Carrier Transportation to and from Rental Car facilities

  • It was $65 from the Ithaca Airport to my AirBNB on Day Two of Quarantine. That was the drop off point for my Budget rental at Federal Circle, the car rental location associated with JFK.
  •  I gave a Benjamin Franklin ($100) to my Superhost for driving me to the car rental place in Horseheads, about an hour away. A taxi would have cost $165. There was no offer of a shuttle despite multiple calls to the Hertz location, explaining that neither Lyft nor Uber were responding to calls in my rural area. (Not sure about the range of the shuttles that Hertz might offer, but a guy dropping his car off at Enterprise yesterday was shuttled home in it by one of their employees.)
  • $12.43 for a Lyft from Hertz to Enterprise since keeping the car from Hertz for three more days was going to cost
  • Gasoline 

  • $21.45 at Mirabito in Ithaca to return compact car (hybrid) to Airport drop-off with a full tank
  • $30.71 of gas from Stewart's Shops in Catskill, NY to return the Hertz vehicle full in Hudson.
  • $30.84 at Irving in Hartford, VT to add  gas to the not-so-minivan that Enterprise rented to me

  • Healthcare 

  • $401.78 for health coverage from the exchange for the month of March. (Yes, Mom, I was uncovered from Feb. 17 to Leap Day, because my employer's insurance was not portable and HR did not remind me to get travel insurance.)
  • $37.95 for a flu shot at Kinney Drugs in Seneca Falls, NY (yes, home of the 1848 convention!). It will be re-imburseable, but I had not yet received insurance card with number.

  • Food and Meals 

  •  $252.45 for a Forks Over Knives diet (no meat and mostly fresh food) at the Green Star Coop in Ithaca. (I was asymptomatic and wearing a mask. I called in advance to see if they could prepare the order, but they only had a not in-house delivery service that would have cost a lot so I did my own shopping, somewhat irresponsibly.)
  • Lots of free squash and canned goods, as well as a spice cabinet and probably $100 to $200 of other edible supplies from host. 
  • Forgotten amount for restaurant meal in Scranton, PA, but roughly $40.
  • Incidentals 

  •  The SIM card, necessary for getting Apple to call you back when your computer gives you a Service Battery ⚠ warning, but also for getting Uber to verify you, was $20 for the month of calls and texts, plus $10/GB (no charge beyond 6 GB or $60). I have used 0.43 in just two days since leaving my lazaretto. I had to pay $12.95 for expedited shipping to make sure the card would arrive before I departed.
  • Purchase of two washable, re-useable masks for $59.98 that were sent to my sister and have not arrived.
  • $8.99/month for Netflix, planned mental sanity account, but never watched more than the first episode of "The West" by Ken Burns and sixteen minutes of the second one

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