When we stopped for breakfast on the first morning of our long-weekend trip to the Niagara area of New York State I didn’t think much about using the drive-through window at the fast food place. We’d been doing that occasionally at the place near our home. No big deal. However, if someone needs to use the bathroom and the interior of the store has signs that say “Employees Only” then there might be a problem. So, as we moved on down the road, feeling a little uncomfortable, I started thinking about the logic of that inconvenience.
At the rest area just south of Watertown (our next necessary stop) the bathrooms were open and only occupied by a couple of people. It was an exceptionally clean place and a couple of attendants were hanging around making sure it stayed that way. When an older woman came into the building without a mask on her face one of the attendants told her to go back to her car and get the face covering or go somewhere else. This order by the janitor was not delivered in a kind or reasonable way. The woman left and when I left the building, I saw her hustling back to the rest room wearing a mask that didn’t hide her discomfort or embarrassment.
Later in the day we stopped at a burger joint near the town where we lived for many years. The place was remarkably busy and, at first, didn’t seem that much different from past visits. We still approached the counter (though we were masked-up and standing on the appropriate floor markings) placed our order and paid. But when our order came the usual condiments were missing. When I asked the counter person for some ketchup and pickles, I was handed little ketchup packets and a tiny cup of their usual pickles. In the past the customer could spoon pickles from a big tub and squirt ketchup into little cups. How many people catch a virus like Covid19 from a pickle jar? Can a virus even live in pickle brine?
But the most noticeable difference in our visit to the burger place was an almost visible tension in the customers. This place, in the recent past, was always relaxed, full of pleasant conversation and laughter. The employees had always been noted for loud and friendly good service. But now, in the time of Covid19, the place was sullenly quiet. Service was efficient but not friendly. People seemed more concerned about following the new rules than about enjoying some good food in a pleasant lake-side atmosphere.
We traveled on. At our destination motel we were checked in at the Plexiglas shrouded counter. We got our instructions on how the free hot breakfast would be handled and filled out the appropriate breakfast form. We were instructed on procedures for making an appointment to use the pool or fitness room. We were instructed on elevator protocols, housekeeping limitations and the availability of sanitizers. Finally, we got to our room on the fourth floor. It was spotless, smelled like Lysol, and was littered with little signs saying, “This surface has been sanitized in accordance with recommendations from the NY Department of Health and the CDC.” There was even one of those signs on the TV remote and mini-fridge handle.
When I went online (on my un-sanitized laptop) I looked up the State regulations for Hotel/Motel/B&B operations. They are many. Page after page of bureaucratic minutiae instruct these establishments in every facet of their business. My bet is that the good places, the ones that are already doing a good job, will continue to do a good job. The cheap, less than stellar operations will still do a shoddy, corner-cutting kind of cleaning, just as they had in years past. But they’d better be careful. On every set of instructions from the State is a plea to anyone who observes violations (or violators) to report these individuals and establishments to the appropriate authorities. Fines, jail terms, severe scolding are probably all in the folio of punishments available to the State in its enforcement efforts, though they are not spelled out.
Since we were in a tourist area, we wanted to do a few touristy things. We planned a trip to see the US side of Niagara Falls (can’t cross over to Canada due to Covid19), visit the Buffalo Zoo,visit Old Fort Niagara and, most importantly, visit a winery or two.
To do a zoo visit we needed to go online and make a reservation. Then, when we arrived, we had to have our temperature taken. Once we got through the entry process, we were encouraged to follow social distancing rules, keep our masks on, follow the approved visitation path, avoid touching the glass, railings, signs, and other people. It was fine. But again, people seemed awfully tense. No one seemed to be enjoying the experience, not even the little kids who usually are thrilled to see the animals. We made the circuit and headed off on a calming ride in the countryside. By the way, that not so hot visit to the zoo cost thirty-six bucks including parking.
The next day we drove up to Old Fort Niagara. There was no reservation required and when we arrived the place was not too busy. Before we could enter, we were reminded of the Covid19 rules about masks and distance. At various stops along the walking tour of the fort we were asked to wait before going into buildings. Capacity limits have been reduced to twenty-five percent of the usual allowances. Eventually, as more folks entered the place, little traffic jams occurred, and it got harder to maintain the six-foot spacing. This fort is not a small place, but the current rules make it feel crowded, even at twenty-five percent capacity. And once again, people seemed to be uncomfortable, slightly edgy, and lacking patience. A beautiful day, at a beautiful location, was not as fine an experience as it could have been.
Over the weekend we visited three wineries. Two required reservations. Since a wine tasting room is basically a bar the NY government insists that a food purchase be made, or no alcohol will be served. Most small wineries have no kitchen facilities. When they have events requiring food, they bring in a food truck or a caterer. To meet the NY requirement, they now sell little packs of snack food. Airline size bags of pretzels or chips cost a dollar. The wineries were the most relaxed places we visited. They were friendlier as well, friendlier than restaurants and tourist attractions and hotels. The wine might have something to do with that, but I’m not sure. My wife would know better than me.
So friends, if you go out touring in time of Covid19 be sure to prepare carefully, follow the rules, avoid riling folks up, bring extra masks and sanitizer, and, if you decide to break a rule or two, watch out for snitches. As for us, we think we’ll limit our traveling to family visits. They’re more relaxed and welcoming, have fewer rules posted in their houses, and are less likely to turn us in to the Covid19 cops.
Travel safely and be good to your new neighbors, wherever you find them. And have a fine day.