A week ago Governor Ralph “Coonman” Northam, in his infinite wisdom, decreed an end to his face mask mandate. After raising a moistened index finger, mind you, and determining which way the political winds were blowing.
Last Tuesday I took a trip to town to see how the good burghers of Charlottesville were handling their newfound freedom. My first stop was the ABC store, which is one of the few places I always wore a mask, because it’s a state-run enterprise where the mask rule was enforced (as was also the case with courthouses, county office buildings, and other government-run real estate). The two checkout clerks were still wearing their mouth zorros, but not the customers. Yippee!
Next was Wegmans. I love Wegmans, but I would expect its customer base to be COVID-compliant. And so it was: I counted only nine customers besides myself who weren’t wearing masks. But still, that was better than zero, which is the way it had been there for more than a year.
The place was crowded. I looked around at the masked customers and thought, “Hmm… These are Wegmans customers, which means that well over 50% of these folks have been vaccinated.” So either they don’t believe the vaccine works, or they’re trying to prove they’re not Trump voters, or they’re just doing what they consider to be the polite thing. Or some combination of all three.
On Thursday I set off on my trip to visit family. I left all my masks behind, and was absolutely determined not to wear one. If some business or other asked me to mask up, I planned to just turn around and walk out. Shake the dust from my feet and go spend my money elsewhere.
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. Everywhere I went, most people were going maskless, and giving every sign that they were enjoying it. A lot of the staff in business establishments were still wearing masks, but most of their customers weren’t.
My destination was a small town that’s in an even more remote area than the one I live in. When I went to restaurants on Thursday night and Friday morning, the waitresses were all masked, but most of the customers weren’t. Yesterday afternoon I wandered around the downtown, buying organic cornstarch and wine at some of the hip businesses. The hipper the business, the more masks. But nobody seemed to care about the numerous unmasked people.
Late in the afternoon I hung out in the town square listening to an impromptu group of geezers and near-geezers sitting around playing bluegrass and old-time music. There were three guitars, three fiddles, two banjos, and a stand-up base. It was great stuff. One I particularly remember was a rendition of “Short’nin’ Bread”. One of the banjo players remarked to the fiddler who had led the tune that she (the fiddler) had played the old-time version, while he was more familiar with the bluegrass version, which he proceeded to pick out at lightning speed. I didn’t notice any major differences, but then I’m not an expert on the genres like those folks were.
None of the musicians was under the age of fifty, and most of them were older than I am. They were packed in there on the shaded porch like sardines, and not a mask among them. If they were worried about catching the COVID from each other, they gave no sign.
Meanwhile, behind me on the sidewalk the shoppers and tourists went by in the bright sun, about a third of them masked. I noticed that the younger they were, and the more out-of-town they looked, the more likely they were to be masked.
When happy hour came along I stepped over to the nearby watering hole to meet my relatives and avail myself of a cool refreshing adult beverage. When I walked through the door I received a pleasant surprise: there was not a mask in sight. And this was a place that had been really strict about masks during the “pandemic”. If you wanted to go maskless, you had to sit on the deck, no matter the weather, with no exceptions. But all that has been forgotten now that Honest Ralph has emancipated the Coronaslaves.
After that it was off to dinner, and then the brewery. I wrote about the same brewery in a post last fall, and noted that they didn’t pay much attention to the pandemic there. It’s even better now — no masks, no social distancing, customers sitting thigh to thigh and shaking hands and hugging each other and otherwise behaving like normal people. The brewery crowd was never doing much more than going through the motions, and now they don’t even have to do that.
It’s my habit when returning home to leave early and stop at a diner in a tiny crossroads hamlet to buy breakfast. When I walked in there this morning, it was glorious to behold — not a mask in sight. Staff and patrons alike. The place was packed, and life had returned to normal. The sense of oppression that I have felt in my travels for the past fifteen months has finally lifted.
A brief incident yesterday morning when I was walking into the restaurant seems emblematic of what’s been happening. An older couple was headed for the door coming from the opposite direction. He wasn’t wearing a mask, but she was just starting to put hers on. Then she saw two big bearded buys coming out of the restaurant without masks, and me heading in without one. She paused for a second and then pulled the mask off and put it back in her purse.
I stopped at Walmart on my way home, and about 50% of the people in the store were unmasked, including at least one of the staff. It used to be I might count eight or ten maskless customers, but today I couldn’t have counted them all. Once again, it lightened my heart.
I noticed a lot of discarded masks during my peregrinations, just lying on the sidewalk or the curb or in the aisles of stores. A brand-new standard blue-green mask lying in a hedge, as if someone had suddenly realized they didn’t need the stupid thing and flung it aside.
I sensed a general euphoria in the air, but that may just have been projection on my part.
It’s important to note that when I travel within the Commonwealth, I’m a “two-lane tourist”: I avoid the main roads and big cities as much as possible. Thus my report is a very selective one, and not at all representative of the population at large, which for all I know is still hunkered down at home, fearful of the dreaded COVID. But not the country people, moonshiners, rednecks, and rural hippies that I met and hung out with. They’ve obviously had enough of the Great Pandemic, and are gladly watching it fade into the distance in the rearview mirror.