I went into a convenience store today to buy a bottle of soda. I caught a glimpse of myself in some glass: cap pulled down low (it was chilly), dark sunglasses (chilly but sunny), face covered with a mask.
In another time the clerk might have reached for the phone to call the police, or reached under the counter for some kind of more immediate defense, seeing as how the guy with the Mountain Dew in one hand (me) was unquestionably the very figure of the kind of fellow who would hold up a Stop n Rob.
The whole adventure brought home to me just how much things have changed in the Year of the COVID-19. What was up is down, and what was down is up. The unthinkable has become routine, and the typical is now – in some cases – an endangered species.
Last week, Marilyn and I got our first “jab.” We went to the Bren Center on the UCI campus to get Dose One of the Moderna vaccine. I remember a time when getting an injection was to be dreaded and groaned over. But, in this instance, we were practically giddy about getting a sharp piece of metal rammed into our flesh and being injected with Who-Knows-What? I mean, I don’t really believe that it includes microscopic chips that will allow Bill Gates to read our minds, but I was willing to take that chance.
Outdoor dining, once something you only did when the restaurant’s main room was packed to overflowing, has now become our venue of choice. The sunshine, the breezes, the relaxed nature of the experience seems more pleasant than the noisier, more crowded atmosphere of more traditional seating.
How much do you want to bet that every (well, most) new restaurant built in the new few years will have patios for patrons who have discovered the rewards of al fresco dining?
We used to be movie theater loyalists. Ever since I had a car to drive and some money in my wallet, Saturday night was Date Night, which almost always meant dinner and a movie. Some charred beef, a salad and off to the cinema, most recently the Regal 16 at The Promenade.
Now, without that option, we’ve turned three or four nights a week into Date Night Plural. With more streaming services than you can shake a remote control at, we make our bowls of popcorn, snuggle on the couch and watch Anything We Want. Bathroom breaks are a cinch – you just hit the pause button – and there’s none of that “I can’t find the car” afterwards.
Shopping was once a treasured recreation. Cruising the mall, window-shopping and buying little trinkets at the kiosks … the height of leisure time. Now, the purchasing takes place on the iPad or desktop, and the “mall” stretches from Sea to Shining Sea. The arrival of the treasure from the Amazon van or the UPS truck sends us running to the front door. It’s like an updated version of the “Wells Fargo Wagon” song from “The Music Man.”
The Year of the COVID-19 will be over soon – fingers and toes crossed – but it will be interesting to see how many of the changes brought about by necessity will stick. Do I really want to spend $6.95 for a bucks’ worth of popped corn? Why limit my clothes shopping to a choice between Target and Kohls?
One positive aspect of this whole tragic time is that by following the simple steps of frequent hand-washing, mask-wearing and social distancing, I’ve avoided my typical twice-annual colds.
So, maybe we’ll find there is a lasting legacy to all of this. I may even keep wearing the mask. I mean, Batman has one and he seems to do all right.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears every other week, alternating with “Usually Reliable Sources.”