Perhaps it was naïve to think of vacation as an opportunity not only to get out of town and spend time with my loved ones, but also as a break from the stresses 2020 has been relentlessly hurling at all of us. Driving east on the Bayway headed off for our annual sojourn to the Florida Keys, I could feel the stress melting away — no worrying about the newspaper, whether the kids will actually attend real school next year, protests or viruses. Nothing but fishing and fun in the sun for a week.
Like I said, these were naïve thoughts probably born of a bizarre feeling these stresses were somehow specific to Mobile. So, I was a little shocked to realize the farther south we got in the Sunshine State, the more mask militancy brought me back to reality.
I’ll admit I haven’t been a strict adherent to the COVID-19 mask suggestions. I’ve worn them when required to visit doctors or Costco, and sometimes just to avoid the jaundiced looks — real or perceived — from the mask wearers I’m certain are judging me at Publix. I’ve also cooked up my own logic on the matter, figuring if the masks are primarily to prevent me from spraying people with “droplets” — a disgusting new entry into our shared lexicon — and not really to keep ME from getting CV-19, then I can accomplish the same goal by simply not speaking while I run in to grab a few things. In other words, if I didn’t talk to you in the cereal aisle, it’s not personal.
And I know I’m not alone. The Mobile area has had a pretty boisterous love/hate relationship with masks since the virus crisis commenced. Some revel in them, creating their own and wearing them with great pride and maybe even a bit of haughtiness. Some people are so into it, I’ve seen them riding alone in cars while fully masked. It makes me wonder if those people just enjoy having a hard time breathing or if it’s so they can sing along with the radio and not be judged by other drivers, because it obviously can’t be protecting them from anything.
It seems like most people are hit or miss on the masks, not wearing them at work or while hanging out with friends, but then popping them on at the store and feeling like they’re doing their part. And then there are those who just flatly hate the masks because they don’t feel like they’re actually doing anything and/or they represent government intrusion into our personal lives.
For the most part, though, our area hasn’t been terribly demanding about requiring masks. So far. As you read this, the city is considering a mandatory mask ordinance that would massively change the way we live our lives, and I’ve gotten a little look into how that will be during this vacation.
Once we started getting closer to Miami, the percentage of mask wearers increased dramatically. Every gas station had signs encouraging masks to be worn and even the need-a-penny-take-a-penny-have-a-penny-leave-a-penny trays had been banished. There were gloves at the gas pumps and a sign letting us know 13,000 people had touched that gas pump over the past month. It definitely made me want to squirt some unleaded on my hands when I was done filling the car.
And it kept getting worse the farther we traveled. We couldn’t go inside the gas station stores without masks. Naturally we hadn’t brought any, so finding a place to buy junk food and pee became a challenge.
I figured this was probably more of a Miami thing and the free-wheeling Keys would be more like home, with people wrapped in the American flag standing mask-free and deeply inhaling the potentially COVID-ridden air. But I was wrong.
We stopped at a small store to buy some adult beverages and bait (not exactly Whole Foods), and they wouldn’t let me in without a mask. I pulled my shirt over my nose and attempted to navigate buying a 12-pack of White Claw, a bottle of wine and a box of squid with one hand. The exasperated clerk handed me a mask when I got to the counter and looked at me like I had spit on the floor. But at least I’d scored a mask.
Then we tried going to dinner. We walked to a nearby place with outdoor dining on the water. Signs on their door were adamant — absolutely no entering without a mask! None of us were packing (I’d foolishly left mine at our rental, expecting it to be like Mobile where you could go to eat without one). I opened the door and poked my head in. The manager yelled across the room, “Can I help you, buddy?” but he didn’t sound like he wanted to help me at all.
I told him we wanted to sit down outside, and he said he couldn’t let us in without masks. When I explained our predicament, he testily found four masks and then said, “You can take these off at your table, but if you get up FOR ANY REASON, they must be on!” So, we ate a tourist trap-quality meal constantly re-masking and unmasking. The waiter had an accent and was difficult to understand mumbling through a mask, so he just pulled it down to talk with us, seemingly defeating the entire purpose of this entire program.
We quickly came to understand we were unwelcome most places in the Keys without a mask. And all of this brought me right back to what may soon happen in Mobile if Mayor Stimpson and the City Council pass their ordinance.
The proposed ordinance is clearly much more draconian than even the mask militancy I experienced in the Keys. The way it’s written even makes it sound like if you’re entertaining at home or riding in your car with a non-family member you’d better be masked up. How such things could ever be enforced without your Google Home or car’s computer system ratting you out, I have no idea, but it’s in the ordinance.
I should probably support forced mask wearing, but I’ve lost faith in masks or lockdowns to stop this horrible virus.
It just feels like we’re headed back down the road to more lockdowns, and I wonder how businesses will possibly survive — especially restaurants and bars — if they must enforce not only distancing and capacity rules, but also shut down for a week or two anytime a staff member gets COVID-19, and now enforce mask requirements.
The concept of sitting in my office all day breathing the accumulated CO2 in my mask is disheartening to say the least. And I really don’t know if it’s possible for all of us to stay masked, distanced and alert all the time, or if that’s the kind of life worth living.
It’s all part of the frustration of our times, I suppose. The one bit of solace I can take is at least we still don’t have to wear masks on a fishing boat. God help us if that ever changes.
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