Everyone from the age of about five on up will have COVID stories to tell for the rest of their lives. Depending on their age last year, their perspectives will vary, of course, but one thing is certain. That pandemic left its fingerprints all over us, whether we liked it or not. Things are returning to normal after COVID, though.
I am happy to finally be pivoting away from COVID coping blogs to more upbeat topics. Maybe you think the abbreviation Y2K and all its worries was overdone a little more than two decades ago. COVID, though, demanded we hold its beer and hang on for the ride.
But now, the numbers are down. While there are still pockets in the US that are not keeping up with national averages for being vaccinated, things are looking better than they have been for 15 months. Texas and Florida be like, “What pandemic? We’re done with that,” while California, on the other side of precautionary measures, just reopened on June 15.
Who Is That Masked Man?
My wife and I went to Walmart recently, and we were pretty much the only ones still wearing masks. Maybe it’s just habit, because we are both fully-vaxxed. Or maybe we just kind of like not having been sick at all with anything during those same 15 months. I’m good with it, and as I recall from Summer 2019 when I took my daughters with me to their native China on a business trip, a lot of Asians wear masks all the time. We respected that.
There is growing evidence now that we are rapidly returning to some semblance of normal, one step at a time. It’s all of the little things that, when added up, show that 2021 is going to be a lot better than that year we would all really rather just forget about.
Take, for example, the fact that many stores are no longer requiring masks. They are optional at best, and in some cases, they use the honor system for customers to self-police according to whether they have been vaccinated. I see so few people with masks out and about in Canyon and Amarillo these days that it is almost like this were February 2020, but with warmer weather.
Just A Sampling
Stores like Costco and Sam’s Club are also resuming the use of their very popular samples. These little pop-up tables are usually staffed by third-party employees hired by a manufacturer, and they have become almost signature experiences at these warehouse clubs. Savvy customers know how to show up on weekends at the right time and practically get a free lunch by going from one table to the next. Regardless, it is yet another sign that life as we knew it is resuming.
Clothiers are also reopening their fitting rooms. I know this first-hand, because I had to purchase a new suit for my oldest daughter’s wedding later this month. You know. The father of the bride needs to be stylin’. Thankfully, I was able to try on suits at two of the three retailers I visited. I sure as hell did not want to purchase an expensive ensemble without trying it on and being fitted appropriately. Otherwise, I may as well just buy it at Amazon.
Day and Night
Retailers like Walmart are also slowly adding back more hours of operation. During peak COVID, most shops limited their hours to the barest of minimums, if at all. Gone was the 24-hour shopping spree at Walmart, although things are getting better, and a late-evening run is not out of the question now.
Finally, food courts at retailers and malls are reopening. Typically, these courts have shared seating areas, which made distancing difficult. In addition to food courts, which commonly feature fast food outlets, their upscale food hall counterparts are also reopening. You can now feed your inner foodie with progressive fare and be able to sit among everyone else dining there.
Not There Just Yet
We still have a long way to go, to be fair. While some areas have dropped their masks forever, there are still reminders that COVID is not completely in the rear view mirror.
But how retailers approach the post-COVID era will be telling. Will they act as if it never happened, and try to return to February 2020? Or will they treat the future with kid gloves, a “new normal” that, while many hate to hear that phrase, will become their and our defining moment?
As for me, I am happy to be able to do more than I could a year ago. While I still have some reservations, I also recognize that we do need to move on, if only to preserve who we are and where we are going. The economy needs to keep moving forward, people need to work, mouths need to be fed. I get that. On the other hand, maybe sidewalk dining will stick around. I kind of liked eating outside in Durango and Jackson Hole. That was pretty cool.
My grandkids, though, whenever they are born, are going to get an earful from their maternal grandfather, because I have stories to tell. And so do you. Start filing them away, because while the virus may be pushed into submission, I don’t think that the collective memory is going to fade any time soon.
Dr “Coming Up For Air” Gerlich