December 30, 2020
A few weeks ago, I ate at Le Bernardin in Midtown Manhattan. It’s a Michelin-starred Eric Ripert restaurant with a fish-heavy prix fixe menu. Given its high price tag, it’s the kind of place during normal times that one might visit for an anniversary or birthday.
A group of friends from the news business wanted to get together, and anything approaching a normal “night out” these days is a welcome respite from the COVID-19 madness, so I gladly accepted. (Unfortunately, all indoor dining in the city has since been completely banned. The ridiculousness of this is a topic for another day…)
Of course, thanks to the pandemic and the idiotic mandates of Governor Andrew Cuomo, Le Bernardin that evening wasn’t what it used to be…
The food is still excellent, and the service first-class. But now it feels like dining in the midst of a science experiment… Waiters are all masked and (rubber) gloved. Plastic partitions are separating all the tables as if the COVID-19 virus couldn’t find a way around them. The menus are virtual, though you can ask for an actual hold-in-your-hands version – so long as you lather up with some sanitizer first.
If you get up to use the restroom, you must also mask up… even though you will have been sitting at a table breathing freely without a mask on for hours. And if you forget, the servers will escort you back to your table, too. It’s not their fault – they don’t want to be hit with the insanely punitive fines from the health department for even the most minor non-compliance.
And at 10 p.m. sharp, thanks to a New York City mandate that no intelligent person believes is anything but idiotic, all guests have to be chased out of the restaurant immediately… no last bites, no finishing the final glass of wine. COVID-19, the health authorities seem to believe, is particularly virulent after 10.
Putting all of this aside – the idiotic pandemic theater that doesn’t make anyone safer and the city and state government edicts that are strangling businesses and driving sane people crazy – it was a lovely evening.
It was good to see people, to be around people, eat delicious food, and live life. Once you begin to do those things, it hits you how much of that has been taken away from us these last nine months.
While the circumstances around us at Le Bernardin were odd, no doubt, there was a hopefulness to people gathering now that would not have been present back in March or April. You could sense a beaten-down but still-trying-to-push-through attitude in the restaurant staff and our fellow diners as well.
Amidst all the anxiety and fear of possible infection, the overcrowding of hospitals, and the countless media stories meant to terrify the masses and drive as many clicks as possible, there’s a perception that by late spring, life will be a lot better.
That’s not close enough that we can start celebrating it now… there’s still a long, cold COVID-19 winter ahead… But it may just give us some additional mental fortitude to push through this nightmare.
What that means for this holiday season is that we should try to appreciate how far we’ve come and some of the unexpected silver linings we’ve experienced. The change forced on our daily routines has created time for personal growth.
I have many friends who’ve taken this time to rethink aspects of their careers, families, and daily routines during the pandemic. For millions of people, this has been the most time they’ve spent with family and loved ones in recent memory.
Without all the external distractions and demands of life at the office or on their commute, there’s been a lot of quality time for people who have now become work-from-home employees.
Much of this will continue into the future… Whole industries will be reshaped or changed entirely. Work-life balance may no longer mean spending an hour on the freeway, in both directions and every weekday, for millions of Americans.
But more importantly, we’ve made it this far… The pandemic has made 2020 a brutal year in so many ways. But hopefully, it’s almost over. In a matter of months, much of this will feel like a nightmare we are finally waking from.
By next summer, you might be able to pack into your favorite sports bar with your closest friends, go to a crowded jazz festival, or just walk around without a mask on your face.
The vaccines are coming… This too shall end. The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the United States and much of the rest of the world, but we now know the path ahead will lead to victory against the virus. America will soon feel like it is emerging from a self-imposed prison sentence.
That’s what we can be thankful for this holiday… Our future is better. And it will be a beautiful, glorious thing.
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Executive Editor, American Consequences
December 30, 2020