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Note: This is a first-person account from Bloomberg.

“Coming soon! Take a drive on the wild side! Tour around the Zoo from the comfort of your car for a 45-minute safari adventure," officials at Canada’s largest wildlife park urged me via tweet.

As Ontario’s Covid-19 lockdown eased, the zoo was luring people back with its own version of physical distancing — bring your own car (also referred to as BYOC on its website), a drive-through one-hour “scenic safari" along normally private roads to learn about some of the zoo’s more than 5,000 animals.

Having been cooped up for three months, I was more than ready to break the mundane cycle of: Sleep, Work, Eat, Read/Watch TV, Repeat. Eagerly I started planning my trip: securing tickets for a tour in a week’s time, downloading the zoo’s accompanying podcast and packing up drinks and snacks.

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It didn’t take long for the bubble to burst.

On a normal summer day, the Toronto Zoo would be filled with tourists and locals wandering happily along more than six miles of walking trails packed with animals. Today, a long stream of cars was wending its way, excruciatingly slowly, through a small portion of the actual zoo. People were pressed against their windows, snapping pictures via mobile phones in the hopes of finding cheetahs, zebras, rhinos and — above all else — the feeling of an actual vacation. Having not set foot on a plane all year, I too dreamed of southeast Asian rainforests, African savannas, and thick jungles in India as the sun scorched through my windshield.

Cars drive by a group of flamingos during the Toronto Zoo Scenic Safari in Toronto, Ontario.
Cars drive by a group of flamingos during the Toronto Zoo Scenic Safari in Toronto, Ontario. (Bloomberg)

The reality was more prosaic: cars grinding to a halt to take pictures of animals practicing their own version of social distancing by taking shelter from the sun. I was constantly moving around in my seatbelt-confined space to find a good angle and craning my neck, in vain, to spot whichever animal the podcast zookeeper had mentioned five or even 10 minutes ago.

And then it struck me. There I was, trapped in a car looking at animals who were also behind fences and glass walls. What I thought would be an escape from my Covid-19 life was only magnifying the new normal.

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After an hour of playing and pausing through the 23-minute “Scenic Safari Audio Tour" podcast, I heard Toronto Zoo Chief Executive Dolf Dejong’s parting keepsake in the form of a pandemic-crafted farewell. “Stay safe, stay healthy — and we hope you’ve enjoyed your adventure today at your Toronto Zoo."

I was ready to head back home, get out of my confined space and walk right back into my socially distanced habitat.

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