Unless you’re new here, you know very well that I’m a traveler. I travel so much that I receive comments on social media along the lines of “Aren’t you ever home??” Road trips are second nature for me, and I love going so far away that a plane is necessary. I traveled to Columbus for work and to Nashville, Tybee Island, and lots of other places for long weekends. Chicago? At least twice a year. New Jersey? Twice a year. When Jim and I used to buy concert tickets, they didn’t even have to be local. P!nk in Charlotte, North Carolina? No problem! The B52s in Atlanta? Yes, please! Foo Fighters in Lexington? Oh yes, definitely.
And then, the pandemic happened.
For more than 100 days we’ve been mostly locked down in the house except for going out for essentials (food and alcohol), taking drives, and having quick, less than 15-minute-long social distancing visits with our parents in their front yards.
Of course, we have our health and so I’m not complaining about it that much. We have plenty of creature comforts at home, including the internet. Had this pandemic happened in the 80s I’m sure it would have been so much harder to take. (I mean, TAKE A MINUTE to imagine that.) That said, I really do miss adventures outside of Knoxville, as does Jim.
That’s why we planned a little field trip to Chattanooga yesterday. The city that’s probably most famous for its Choo Choo is about an hour and a half from our door. Our only plan was to eat a late lunch on the enormous outdoor patio at one of our favorite Chattanooga restaurants, State of Confusion. (Now that I think about it, the name is super apropos at the moment.) Our day trip felt outlandish and wild in these times—something straight out of a movie—like flying to Paris and back, just for dinner. We were completely prepared to drive all the way there and turn around to go right home (maybe stopping at a drive-thru because Hangry) if the patio was overcrowded. It would’ve been a bummer but we would’ve done it for our own safety and peace of mind.
As it turned out, while there was a 30-minute wait for a patio table, it wasn’t overcrowded. The tables were far apart from each other and the staff were all wearing masks.
We took a little walk around the corner while we waited and soon I received the text saying that our table was ready. We happily sat down…and then four small children from a family that was waiting for their table on a bench nearby started horsing around. The kids were doing laps around our table, chasing each other. This was our first dining out experience in months: it’s been all takeout for more than 100 days, and we were nervous, even more so when the kids and their chaos appeared. The parents said nothing, and every time I was about to ask the kids to stop running around our table, they went elsewhere. And then they came back for a while. It wasn’t their fault; I felt like especially in this day and age when there’s a pandemic going on and people are dining on a patio while not wearing masks because you can’t eat while wearing a mask, the parents should have been more aware of their kids and whether they were taking up someone else’s space. (I love kids; don’t @ me.)
Eventually their table was ready and they disappeared to another part of the patio. Jim and I enjoyed our lunch but we weren’t very relaxed. We gave our server a huge tip because frankly, many servers were forced to go back to work as their restaurants opened or they had to go back to work even though they weren’t mentally ready. It’s hard for so many of them and we wanted to make sure ours was taken care of.
Anyway, I’m thinking that we’re not ready to dine out yet, in that kind of setting. Perhaps we can go to one of our tiny local eateries that is never very busy and has four or five tables outside where we can seat ourselves. The world is so different right now, and will be for the foreseeable future.
I guess what bugs me is that we have no less chance of catching COVID-19 than we did in mid-March, yet so many people act like, since states are opening up, the virus is just…gone. It’s not, and we know that if everyone wore a mask because they cared about public health, the virus would start to be eradicated. It’s not a big deal to wear a mask when you’re in a non-eating situation where you might be close to other people. Medical personnel wear masks all day long. Certainly we can wear one while running into Target or the bank. I can’t lie; I’m discouraged. The same people who were yelling for businesses to reopen are mostly the same people who won’t wear a mask. The media calls it “virus fatigue.” Can you imagine what our great grandparents would have to say about all of this? They’d be so ashamed.
I look forward to the day when scientists announce they have a vaccine for the coronavirus, so we can go back to some of our normal activities without feeling like we’re mentally on DEFCON 1. I’d love to go back to my gym. I’d love to go to the mall, just because. And I’d love to take a little field trip to Chattanooga that feels like no big deal rather than an extravagant and over-the-top gesture.
Please wear a mask and wash your hands. PLEASE.