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The Paradox of the Pandemic

In March 2020, life as we knew it became something completely different. What seemed like a temporary situation is now our day-to-day, with no end in sight. Aside from philosophical, scientific or religious views informing (or misinforming) our individual and collective behaviors, I've made a few curious observations along the way. Things that make you go, "Hmmmm.....," if you will.

Restaurant Rules

Parkshore Grill, downtown St. Peterburg

In our search for safe solutions to ensure our favorite local bars and restaurants survive, and enjoy a momentary change of scenery from the same four walls or the same four recipes, we've reluctantly agreed to some new terms.

But what about the old terms?

My husband and I usually cook at home or pick up takeout. When we want to venture out, we have a mutually-approved short list of establishments where we feel comfortable, influenced by how well they execute COVID-19 protocol. We believe in small businesses and we want them to stick around, so we choose with intention. We dine outside where possible, wear masks in respect to the staff and other customers, scan QR codes instead of touching paper or plastic menus, forego salt/pepper/condiments on the tables, use disposable utensils when requested, and try to be conscious of repositioning our masks while servers are nearby. It's not that big of a deal, and we feel proud to help someone get paid. (I also don't have to cook or transform my makeshift office back into a dining table.)

One recent Friday evening, we chose a casual, trendy, outdoor, local hotspot with great fresh seafood and fun craft cocktails. Our table was in a nicely positioned corner where we could see the activity without feeling crowded, with potted palm trees on either side to keep us safely separated from our neighbors. As we were leaving, feeling satisfied we had made a responsible and yummy choice, we pass by a young 20-something woman with her dog SITTING ON THE BAR. After all that trouble to protect me from the pandemic. Really?? My subsequent shock had little to do with dogs themselves (which are welcome in many outdoor venues where we live) and everything to do with where the dog might have been before it was perched in a public space on a surface where food is served. So has the Health Department relaxed their standards outside of coronavirus because they are too overwhelmed? Or was it a contagious case of cluelessness?? Hmmm....

On another occasion, three of us gal pals (all of whom are currently assisting our elderly parents) made an intentional decision to gather at the place we mutually felt most comfortable. A popular spot where the outdoor tables are large enough to spread out and the staff response to all this stuff is first rate...accompanied by a great wine list.

All was going quite well and everyone was comfortably compliant...until a storm came up out of nowhere. So what happened? Florida Rain Reflex kicked in! Everyone (including our waiter) scurried to grab what we could from the table, with relaxed regard for who had used what, and ran for the front door. Patrons huddled inside the entrance, waiting to be relocated inside, wondering if we were still OK yet not ready for the evening to end. So I guess in that moment, we were more concerned about getting wet than getting sick. Or we simply reverted to what made sense.

Paper or Plastic?

While I was waiting I took this photo...

OK, we all have our pet of mine is the wasteful grocery store bagging practices created in the name of customer service, which to me, fly in the face of "Save the Planet! Remember Your Bags!!" This has bugged me for years, and the Corona Culture has only exaggerated it.

If I had to choose one store and one store only to visit during this time (or ever), it would Trader Joe's. Love the brand, love the products, love the sustainability they stand for. (I'm not cool enough to be in here...but here I am!) I proudly own two very nice insulated cooler bags plus several other reusable grocery bags featuring their playful logo, which on this particular day, I am excited I remembered to bring. I wait in line in the summer heat on a decorative chalk mark for my turn to go in, and the perky, hip-looking staff is managing this very well. There is upbeat music playing and same perky staff is handing out water. I discover while in line I cannot take in my own bags, so it's back to the car and back to the end of the line. (No problem...I actually really like their paper bags with the handles. We are all in this together!)

At checkout, I notice the TJ team members in their bright t-shirts are doubling up and lining up their trademark paper bags behind the register. So twice as many bags potentially consumed before they assess my selections, and my reusable bags are literally just across the parking lot. They explain the handles break easily (which has never happened to me, but OK), hence this proactive practice. I say I don't mind them not being doubled, so they thank me with a sincere tone of relief and proceed to cheerfully put fewer items in each bag, which sends me out the door with just as many in total as if they had been doubled. (Well, at least they don't use plastic bags...those kill the sea turtles!)

What happens the next time I visit? They are now using reduced-size paper bags with no handles, which they say they are running out of, and they are using them because they already ran out of the handle bags.

Then the next time, I can now bring my own bags, but the bright t-shirt crew can't actually bag the items for me...I am welcome to take them out to a tent in the parking lot and bag them myself. (No problem...I'm on board!)

Then the next time, I can now bring my own bags in and they will happily bag my items for me. I honestly don't know how they keep up with all the change and still be in such perpetual good moods, but clearly they finally really did run out of bags. (Twice as fast.)

Meanwhile, as we are trying so hard to keep these sacks from becoming super spreaders, customers are climbing over each other to get to the cookie butter and have completely ignored the directional arrows on the already-narrow aisles. Which, curiously, are also now removed from the floor. Hmmm.....

Priorities, Principles, Perceptions and Practice

Actual Oxymorons

All in all, most of us are reasonably doing the best we can with this New World Order, attempting to keep our lives moving along at whatever pace the global/social framework allows. And because we are reasonably intelligent, reasonably self sufficient, and reasonably sensitive to how our actions affect others, we are also reasonably doing the best we can to navigate an ever-changing landscape with blurred boundaries. I'm watching myself -- convicted and conflicted -- simultaneously mock and mirror others, often with no real rhyme or reason. I see among us a deep rooted intention to do the right thing, whatever that is at the time.

So...we have our groceries delivered -- then go to (or have) a yard sale. We move our monthly Book Club group of 10 to Zoom -- and then attend our niece's wedding in person (which is now in the backyard for 50 instead of the country club for 150). We work from home instead of the office to avoid exposure -- and then road trip to escape, stopping along the way to use the restroom at the nasty gas station where a crew of unmasked construction workers are buying snacks. We would have preferred the Chick-Fil-A clean restroom, but we can't go inside there because of exposure. Contactless drive thru only! Unless you pay in cash, in which case the cashier gingerly transfers your change back from his/her bare hand to yours. We can't send our kids to school...but we can take them to Disney World.

This is weird...but we're here...Go Tigers!

In Clemson, as in other college towns, we do class/work virtually or hybrid-ly all week and risk fines on campus for not wearing our masks. Then we join the drastically-reduced crowd of 19,000 fans at the football stadium on Saturday...widely spread out in the stands, wearing our orange and purple tiger paw masks. Except for when we are eating our roasted peanuts, pre-packaged hot dogs or candy bars, which is now the only food available to us at concessions. (I guess that means the plastic gloves/hair nets they used to wear to flip burgers or scoop popcorn don't stave off germs any longer...?)

Pick and off and trade in...find logic where logic doesn't exist. Life might not have made sense before March 2020, but I'd sure like to try it that way again some time soon. At least then I might recognize what was previously familiar...and somewhere back there, myself.


(photo credits courtesy of Google Images and the window art at Trader Joe's, St. Pete.)


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