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I first noticed the pattern when picking up my cheese pizza at Little Caesar’s. Signs were everywhere: “Due to the Coronavirus, we are asking that you not wait in the lobby.” “Due to the governor’s order, masks are required for entry into this establishment.” With a little intake of breath, I realized I’d left my mask in the car. Then I saw that no one behind the counter was wearing a mask. Neither was the other customer, a man waiting casually in the lobby for his special order. The next time I got a hankering for pizza, I noticed the same thing. Montanans in our town are just finished with the mask mandate, and certain establishments and their clientele have tacitly agreed that going maskless is fine.
If I had a graph of mask compliance around here, it would show a steep, narrow curve. It’d start with about a third of locals in the stores wearing them, often older women and workers. Before the governor made the order, there were national guidelines, and probably some state and county recommendations, too, so we all had the feeling we were supposed to be wearing them. But the mask wearers stood out. And then the governor gave the order in July, some weeks after our re-opening, enforced through the businesses. Everyone was masked, and one of my friends told a story about being ordered out of a coffee shop after protesting she had a health condition, and told never to return. My graph shoots up to about 98%.
Then after some weeks, I noticed a trend of shoppers and workers wearing the masks right under their noses. They were wearing them just enough to avoid accusations of non-compliance. Not sure what that does to my graph. Enthusiasm was certainly falling. And now I go into places where almost no one is wearing a mask, or they’re doing it with the mouth-only compromise. They are only sort of wearing them. The line of my graph plummets down to 20% or so, except for in the number of stores that still strictly require them for entry.
The other night, upon entering a taco shop, I noticed that an older man and a younger one, presumably his son, had gone in right ahead of me. It was actually hard not to notice them, because before they strolled to the entrance, they were yelling back and forth, something about their car. It sounded like they were upset, but once in the restaurant, they appeared chummy and cheerful–Montanans do that sort of thing with their conversation decibels, and this public volume often has no correlation to feelings of anger. However, I also noted two other factors that had me tensed for some unpleasantness. First, there were signs pleading with customers to wear masks. One said: “Be kind. We are just trying to stay open.” I felt the pathos of the plea, and the resolution to uphold the requirement. Second, however, I saw that this vocal pair were not wearing masks, and neither were the required accessories anywhere near their persons.
But nothing unpleasant happened. The older man leaned up against the tall counter, behind which were both masked and sort-of-masked employees, and deliberated on his order. Near me stood another pair of customers who were not going to ruin their dinner out with face coverings, and a lady next to me who had her mask under her nose. “Do you want guacamole with that?” I could hear the server asking. The older man, after considering, said, “Yeah, go ahead and put all of the good stuff on it” in the same way a diner at a fine restaurant would order the hundred-dollar bottle of wine to go with the meal. He was already splurging on this pleasant fall evening, so he was going to go all out. Guacamole and everything. As they were ringing him up, the employees warmly wished him a great day. And they meant it.Published in