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The city where I am staying is slowly coming back to life. On Friday, some small retail stores that have been tightly shuttered had their doors open, so I went shopping. When I walked into the first store, a clothing boutique with a chalked sign proclaiming “Made in the USA” out front, I promised the lady hovering behind the cash register that I’d keep my “social distance.” With an accent that only exists where people are grown on sweet tea and biscuits, she loudly proclaimed, “You’re the only one here, baby girl! Get on in! I’m thrilled to see you!”
Let me tell you. I didn’t need anything. I didn’t really want anything. I normally hate shopping, but this was gloriously fun. By the time I was done, my American Express was at the point of melting. But I justified the bags in my mind because my husband and I had decided to go out on a date and get dinner at a restaurant since restaurants now have permission to open their dining rooms under certain guidelines.
The truth is we couldn’t find an open restaurant on Friday night, though the curbside “hosts” we’ve been frequenting told us they are getting ready, feeling out the waters. Pickings were still slim on Saturday night, but we scored some reservations at a high-end establishment built for special occasions. I got dolled up in a new dress I’d bought, and off we went.
Now, while I have heard people recommend people wear masks when going out to dinner, how does that even work I wonder, we were not wearing masks. The entire staff had their faces covered though, more than half with bandanas per the Southwestern cuisine we were about to be eating.
The host who looked like a bandit took us to the end of the bar where we were required to put our names, phone numbers, emails, blood type, number of children, health histories, and time of last known cough on a sheet of paper. (Okay, okay. I josh. We wrote down our names, phone numbers, and emails.) Then the host took our temperatures and noted these as well. (That part is true.)
Without fevers, we were shown upstairs to a table where everyone dining was fairly spaced out. It looked like furniture had been removed to accomplish the required distancing. This is actually great for me, by the way, because I have long hated New York City style spacing in which one can hear every word in someone else’s conversation. Plus I’m not an idiot. I’ll argue all day about aerosol particles and the efficacy of masks, but I completely accept the sound logic behind the current attention to separation.
Anyway, our gloved waiter gave us our menus and tried, bless his heart, to explain the specials from behind the cloth that covered his mouth before he finally stepped away from the table and pulled his mask beneath his chin. “I’m sorry folks. I just can’t talk in this. But I’ll stand way over here if that’s okay with you.”
That was certainly okay with us. If it wasn’t, I guess we could have read the menu and had a different experience.
Eventually, we learned this particular fellow had not qualified for unemployment, so he was extra thrilled to be back at work. This was obviously not his first rodeo as a waiter, but he said he had been surviving on odd construction jobs for most of the shutdown. This particular restaurant has multiple floors, for which he also expressed gratitude. While plans to create a Speakeasy on top were now on hold, the capacity-ceilings for patrons as imposed on each restaurant are determined by floors, so it will be easier for this particular place to have enough tables to stay alive, as long as people still go out.
At some point, he let drop that he thought the masks and gloves everyone working there had to wear were just costumes in a strange kind of theater, “but we’re following every regulation.”
By the way, the regulation book passed out by the city government is over fifty pages long. I know because one of the store owners showed it to me during my shopping extravaganza.
We ordered drinks. We got multiple courses. We counted the empty tables. We nodded at the other hungry souls happily enjoying their own meals. We understood why everything on the menu wasn’t available. We lingered and talked over the candlelight. We left a healthy tip.
What did I take away from this experience?
I suppose if someone is frightened of catching the virus, he or she should stay home and eat cake. That can even be a very rational decision per one’s risk group. But I hope that more people who are not in high-risk categories start going out and living again. We can’t revive the economy on our own, after all, and we need restaurants to survive for the long term because I am an abysmally bad cook.
To put it in perspective, these adventures took place in a county with a population of almost a half-million people. There have been less than 250 known cases of Covid-19 with five deaths from the virus since the beginning of the shutdown.Published in