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  • Writer's pictureCory Howell Hamada

Day 12: Corona Closures


1.5 miles (walking)

↑ 92 feet ↓92 feet

We were speaking through plastic.

“What?” the woman shouted to us.

“Lilly!” Lilly said. She said it loud. Very loud.

“What?” the woman shouted again.

We were also wearing masks, which made it harder to hear, impossible to read lips.

The woman stood up from her chair, leaned close to the tiny square cut into the clear partition. She had both hands on the makeshift desk to balance herself as she turned her head and thrust her ear against the opening.

“Lilly!” Lilly said again.

“Milly?” the woman yelled. Her voice was muffled.

Lilly leaned as close to the woman’s ear as she could manage.

“Lilly!” she shouted. “Like the flower!”

The woman leaned back and nodded, finally understanding.

This is how we ordered breakfast in Arcata.

When we came back fifteen minutes later to pick up our food, a different cashier sat behind the partition. She looked upset at us, accusingly jerked her head sideways.

“No, no, no!” she yelled through the glass. “You’ve got to go around!”

The pickup window was a plexiglass sheet affixed over the restaurant’s back entrance, a doggie-door cut out at the bottom. Colorful linens and a small bouquet were on the back steps in an attempt to make it appear less hostile. A sign declaring “ORDER PICK UP HERE!!!” in all caps was taped just above the opening.

It became clear that we’d missed the call for our food--a to-go box with a “Lily” receipt sat on a table just inside the door. We had a view into the kitchen from here, but with no staff in sight, no bell to ring, no way to reach in and grab our food, we had no choice but to stand in the alley and wait.

Just two days earlier we stopped for breakfast on our way out of Klamath. It was a rustic little diner--one of the only ones still operating, one of the only ones open for breakfast.

We parked our bikes out front, masked up, and walked in.

The waitress and cooks, the four customers sitting at their breakfast all turned and eyed us. But it wasn’t the bike shorts or the neon vests that their eyes landed on--it was our masks.

“Dining in?” the waitress asked. She gave us a practiced smile.

“Yes, please,” I said.

She let us sit anywhere we liked. We took our masks off as soon as we sat down. Lilly ordered hot green tea, I ordered an iced tea.

There was an utter lack of acknowledgement that COVID might exist here--no masks, zero signage, an unwillingness to change the way things had always been done.

Another couple walked in and sat down. They greeted the waitress by name. As if by some unspoken understanding, two more customers came in several minutes later, also without masks.

If I hadn’t heard the TV news in the background quietly mention an uptick in recent cases somewhere, I’d have thought we entered an alternate reality.

It feels like no one really knows how to deal with the virus. There may be federal, state, county guidelines--but it’s up to each restaurant, each business to figure out how to make it work.

And things change so quickly.

The restaurant in Klamath made us feel welcome. The other patrons were comfortable. The food was good. The staff was friendly when they realized we weren’t a threat. But their behavior put everyone at risk.

The restaurant in Arcata was following sanitary guidelines--their protocol was protecting their staff and customers. But the difficult communication was frustrating. Waiting behind the restaurant an extra fifteen minutes--and finally getting our food through a doggie-door--felt demeaning. And when we finally got it, our food and our tea had gone cold.

In reality, most businesses fall somewhere in the middle. They’ve been able to find a way to keep everyone safe and still maintain a level of quality. They’re keeping up with the news, adapting when they can.

In the midst of it all, it seems that we’re all grasping for a sense of normalcy--reaching for safety, stability, comfort. It seems we’re trying desperately to find our place in this new world, whether or not we receive guidance on how to do so.

And for the record, the food in Arcata was good too--even if we had to eat it cold.

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