Most of California is back on lockdown and, with the exception of take out or delivery, restaurants are once again shut down. Months ago, when the pandemic was still a novelty I applauded the complete restaurant closure and criticized the torch and pitchfork rabble that was protesting the closures.
With the resumption of the restaurant restrictions I was ready to give them my full throated blessing, not that officialdom really cares about my own irrelevant stamp of approval. I was ready to unleash a barrage of derision and vulgarity, in this very space, against the anti-closure hordes.
Double standards and mixed messages
And then, just before firing the first salvo I found myself compelled to hold my fire when I learned the story of restaurant owner Angela Marsden of Sherman Oaks, California where the local officials closed down both indoor and outdoor dining. Earlier this month she showed up at her restaurant, The Pineapple Hill Saloon and Grill to find an outdoor dining area in a parking lot just feet away from her own outdoor patio. The dining areas look almost identical to each other yet Ms. Marsden’s is shut down while the other patio was given a permit to operate. The difference? The other dining area belongs to a catering company, set up to feed the cast and crew of the T.V show Good Girls.
By all accounts and from the appearance of her own patio area Ms. Marsden had done the right thing and followed the guidelines issued by the Los Angeles County Health Department. As she put it in an interview with a T.V news station, “I did the dance,” and to the tune of $80,000.00. To add injury to the insult Ms. Marsden found herself without funds to support take out service only.
Just about the time that Angela Marsden’s video was going viral, actor Michael Rapaport posted his own salty video (with plenty of salt) over the Melrose Trading Post in Los Angeles being allowed to operate while restaurants across the street from the market were ordered shut.
“Yo, look at this shit. The fucking Melrose-Fairfax farmers market is popping. I have no problem with all these people making their money and making a living, but how the fuck is this OK, but right across the street all the cafes, all the restaurants are shut down?”
Get your money. But who’s making the decisions here? Garcetti, you fuck? Gavin Newsom with the fucking good hair? This shit don’t make any fucking sense. This don’t make any fucking sense. This is why motherfuckers are pissed off and protesting.”
According to The Melrose Trading Post website “A delicious selection of Food Trucks is available in the P section of the market.
If you purchase food, there will be a limited number of outdoor tables available.” It begs the question, how are the food trucks and outdoor tables consistent with closing down outdoor dining at restaurants?
It’s been drummed into us, 24/7 and particularly during the holiday season, that the major causes of COVID spread are the holiday parties and family gatherings. These are the places where people let their guard down. The family barbecue starts out with the best of intentions; virus tests beforehand, everything outdoors, paper plates, masks and socially distanced tables. And then it unravels. People drift indoors, masks removed for eating aren’t put on again, the kitchen gets crowded with people helping to clean up, the kids from different households gather in front of a video game and the adults sit at a table for a board game. And I haven’t even mentioned the free for all gatherings put on by virus deniers, the latter day Patrick Henry’s running around without masks while screaming passionately (and ironically) for “liberty or death” and the irresponsible antics of the President of the United States.
No offense to friends and family but during these COVID days I’d rather go to a restaurant where the owner’s livelihood depends on following best practices than to someone’s home where the tendency is to assume the best out of people we know.
Oh my god
And what about the churches? To set things straight, let me make a confession, so to speak, that I am far from a friend of the church – any church. That said, why has it been okay for casinos in Nevada to operate at 50% capacity while churches are restricted to no more than 50 people in attendance? How is sitting at a blackjack table safer than sitting in a church?
The local Catholic Church that my wife was attending before COVID showed up is no cathedral by any means, but you could put far more than 50 people in that building and separate them by far more than the advised 6 feet.
In my opinion Andrew Cuomo got it wrong when he allowed businesses to have capacities based on percentage and churches based on the number of individuals. He left equal protection out of the formula and made it easy for the court to rule against him. I’d certainly feel safer sitting socially distanced in the pew of a large church than squeezing past people in the garden center at Home Depot. To quote Michael Rapaport, “shit don’t make any fucking sense.”
Money doesn’t talk, it swears
Bob Dylan was making a point here. Money doesn’t just influence, it influences emphatically.
A recent Associated Press report tells the story of Amanda Serulneck who, finding out she might have been exposed to the virus, needed a rapid test so that she could return to her job at a spa. She went to a rapid testing center and was sent away when the center ran out of tests. The story was the same the next day. On the third day she finally got tested but at the cost of two days of missed wages.
The same article reports that while some people wait for hours in long lines to get a free test, others are taking advantage of pop-up clinics that charge $150.00 or more for a place in the front of the line for a rapid test.
“Time is money” as the saying goes, and its living proof in New York, where the gilded citizens needing a COVID test are shelling out up to $80.00 an hour for line waiters so that they don’t have to stand for hours with the unwashed and possibly contagious masses. And while the line waiters who probably need the money are making some good tax free scratch, there’s just something icky about the whole thing. It’s reminiscent of the American Civil War when the well-heeled were able to buy their way out of conscription by hiring poor schlubs to march off to war in their stead.
While the bourgeoisie are waiting in long lines to get tested, and sometimes, as in the case of Amanda Serulneck, are getting sent away because the site is out of tests, the National Football League is testing its players and coaches daily; 8,000 tests per week. While the commoners sometimes wait up to a week for test results, making the test essentially worthless, NFL players and coaches have their tests back within 24 hours during the week and immediately after testing on game days.
The stories related here have common threads; money and influence. If you have either of those your chances of getting by financially and getting access to care are greatly improved. For proof just look at the disparity in cases, deaths and economic well being between poor people, people of color, single mothers, those in crowded working conditions and white professionals.
None of this is to say that there aren’t bad actors. This is after all America, where you can act like a fool and be a danger to society and claim that your bad behavior is protected by the Constitution; a recent youth basketball tournament that resulted in at least 77 coronavirus cases, or the preacher at Calvary Chapel San Jose who’s holding full services, unmasked and without social distancing, all in violation of a court order. The Orangetheory fitness center in nearby Pinole that considers an enclosed tent in the parking lot to be an outdoor gym and a local restaurant using the same theory for it’s version of outdoor dining. These are the places that should feel the drop of the hammer.
Here in America we’re just days away from people receiving that “punch in the arm” as the vaccine shot has been described. Never have so many been so eager to get poked. At 67, in relatively good health with no ailments other than being something of a curmudgeon I imagine that I’m a few steps down on the priority ladder and that’s perfectly fair. But I’ve little doubt that some of the flush and the famous will be looking to leverage a better place in the line in order to get that punch in the arm and having no problem with giving an old lady a slap in the face.
Yanking off the Band-Aid
Years ago I found myself in the emergency room where I was hooked up to the requisite electronics monitoring my vitals and the requisite bags dispensing the requisite E.R. fluids; all of it hitched to my body with wires and tubes that were taped firmly to my body. That’s how it works in the E.R. – if there’s an arm or a leg or a chest with hair, that’s where you slam on the tape. Upon discharge the nurse disconnected me from the hospital gear while leaving some adhesive tape. She watched me as I slowly and carefully eased the tape away from my skin trying not to pull away any hair as if each filament was spun from gold. I was of course trying to avoid the shock of pain that comes with the quick tug. Finally the nurse lost patience, distracted me, grabbed the tape, yanked and showed me a bushy strip of tape as if it were a hunting trophy. It was that instant of sharp discomfort that avoided the protracted misery; done and done.
If you asked me to meet for an outdoor lunch at, say, Angela Marsden’s Pineapple Hill Saloon and Grill, I would absolutely accept your invitation. But here’s where I turn contrarian – because that’s what I’m good at. While I’ve no issue with outdoor dining I would much rather have us tear off the tape and have a hard shut down.
Everything but the most vital services should be shut down with no exceptions, no fudging and no confusion. Stores like Bevmo don’t get to stay open just because they offer a few food items. You go to BevMo to buy booze. The food that BevMo sells is snack food that goes well with booze – an impulse item. And we wouldn’t piddle around with the shut down – four weeks and if you violate you get fined until it hurts and if the fines don’t deter you then you lose your license to do business. But how will people survive you ask. The answer is simple – pay them to stay home. Every American gets a weekly check for the duration of the shutdown plus an extra two weeks. Six paid weeks to hang out, watch TV, read books or screw. After the four week shutdown, see where we stand with the virus and start a gradual reopening – and if necessary extend the shut down and dole out more money.
We won’t do that of course. The Mitch McConnell’s and Rand Paul’s will holler Socialism and the Kristi Noem’s will pull out their allegorical tri-cornered hats and Gadsden flags and wail about trampled rights. In America we won’t tear off the tape, instead opting to ease the bandage off. Some in America are unwilling to touch the bandage; just wait and the adhesive will wear away in time and the bandage will just fall off – or as the president so famously said, “One day it’s like a miracle – it (Coronavirus) will disappear.” And then there are the Americans that claim there’s no bandage, no hair and no arm at all.
As I’ve written in this space before, America isn’t set up to deal with this pandemic. The president long ago termed it a war and dubbed himself a war president, absurdly putting himself in the same league as Lincoln and FDR. That’s until he surrendered. The problem with comparing our struggle with the coronavirus to a war is that when America wages a shooting war the whole nation is compelled to act as one. When FDR declared war on the Axis Powers, Wisconsin didn’t get to opt out of war with Germany and focus on Japan and the governor of Iowa wasn’t presented with the option of sitting out the whole war.
Our so called war with the coronavirus has been a failure because the Commander in Chief has been derelict in passing out the ammunition, while being willing to let 50 generals wage war however they see fit and let still others lay down their arms. When the Founders wrote the rule book they focused on state’s rights and didn’t see any need to include a chapter on a strict national plan to combat things like disease.
Note: Since Angela Marsden’s video went viral a campaign was started to raise money to support her business. As of two days ago $185,000.00 had been raised. Will it be necessary for every struggling restaurant owner to start a GoFundMe campaign or will the powers that should be step up to the plate? Because Congress won’t do it’s job, and local leaders can’t find their butts with both hands, should it be necessary for every community to start a GoFundMe with the proceeds being divided among the struggling businesses?
Note: The banner photo is of a sign that was put up on the window of a local pub that I wrote about in a previous post. I’d talked to the owners just a week before the new lockdown began. They were planning contingencies for cold weather and probably had no idea that the rug would be pulled in a matter of days. I wish them the best and if they decide to resume outdoor dining in defiance I might just go have one of their wonderful burgers and maybe a Manhattan.