Masking has become a fascinating study in sociology framed by ambiguity. In the first year of the pandemic when politics split the country, the mask or absence of one turned into a flag. Maybe it’s still that way in some parts, but where I live in one of the bluest zip codes in the state, I don’t think the mask (or lack thereof) is used that way. Everything is just more ambiguous.
Food and beverage venues are the most difficult. Last year when things were just beginning to “open” again, it was clearer. In most places, patrons were required to wear a mask upon entry and anywhere inside the venue except at one’s assigned table. If we got up to use the restroom, the mask went back on. It was sometimes hard to remember, but at least the policies were clear.
|Although it probably looks like the figure was seated inside, he was actually seated outside the large |
window, though unlikely by choice. Fortunately, he was sheltered from the deluge there.
Now, a good year and a half since vaccines have been widely available to all, it’s a brave new world. Without mandates, we all make our own choices. I’m relieved for restaurants that they no longer have to participate in “sanitizing theater”: most have taken down ineffectual plexiglass partitions and double cups of “clean” and “used” pens. I used to feel bad for all the extra work staff had to do to make patrons feel comfortable, even if their actions were mostly useless. (I did appreciate vaccination requirements and made a point of patronizing venues that voluntarily mandated that policy.)
On Tuesday morning when another atmospheric river was flowing like whitewater through the Pacific Northwest, the sign on Caffe Ladro’s door said, “Masks are strongly recommended.” Mine was already on. Looking around and seeing comfortably spaced tables with only two other patrons, I felt fine going in. (Stark irony: I go to cafes in winter to sketch people, but with our ongoing “triple threat,” I’m simultaneously avoiding people. Ambivalence prevails within, too.) At the counter, one barista was masked; the other wasn’t: That’s certainly a clear message of ambiguity.
|I keep wondering when the man bun will go away. Not soon enough.|
I chose a comfy corner couch with the best view of the interior, which was well-lighted by floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides. Most patrons came in for to-go coffees. Some wore masks; some didn’t. Once I took mine off to drink my coffee and eat my banana bread, I left it off for the duration, as did the other patrons.
Happy ambiguous new year!
Material notes: I have been having so much fun with pocket-size Uglybooks that I recently got some in the larger size. It’s exactly double the pocket size, which gives me plenty of real estate, and opens in the landscape direction, making the format flexible for urban sketching. I’ll probably write a review after I’ve used them more.