In an episode of SpongeBob, Squidward, his play freshly rejected by an actual producer, requests staging it during dinner at the Krusty Krab restaurant where he and SpongeBob work. SpongeBob ponders what to call this and, rejecting Squidward’s suggestion of “dinner theatre,” settles on “Singy Eaty Time” — despite a lack of music in the production.
Well, it is Singy Eaty Time here in Gunnison, as over the weekend the county got special dispensation from the state to allow restaurants to open at 25 percent capacity.
The county, it turns out, can impose stricter restrictions than the state, but not looser regulations. While so far everything the county has done has been at least as rigid as the state requirements, allowing restaurants to open is ahead of the state’s curve.
But our restaurant sector, meeting Tuesday mornings at 9, came up with a proposal that the county felt was sufficiently prudent, so on May 11 the county applied to the state for a variance allowing this limited opening. And didn’t hear back until late Friday.
The state noted Gunnison County has a virus positivity rate consistently less than 5 percent, which translates to four cases in the last two weeks. (It sounds much worse when we go back to our mythic per 100,000, which would equal 23 cases.)
Since we’ve been so darn good, we can open restaurants at 25 percent capacity, open campgrounds if someone is there to clean and disinfect shared services such as bathrooms and showers, and stage church services with a whole pile of conditions.
Like retail, restaurants have to require masks for their employees, except in back-of-the-house positions where wearing a mask presents a danger. I’m trying to decide what that might be. Cooking over an open flame, where it might catch a mask on fire? I’ll have to ask a restaurateur, I guess.
Masks for patrons will be “strongly encouraged” except while eating and drinking, which means “most of the time one is in a restaurant.” And since on Saturday I watched numerous uncovered people walk obliviously past the giant sign on the door at Safeway “requiring” customers to wear masks, I don’t foresee a whole lotta wearin’ o’ the mask at restaurants.
One night while scanning the internet for local restaurants, I came across some site (Yelp, maybe?) that assured me there are 36 restaurants in Gunnison alone, not counting Crested Butte (and don’t forget the two in Almont). Lynn and I, disbelieving this, used all our fingers and toes and some borrowed digits to come up with 32, and it’s quite possible we forgot to account for something somewhere.
If you’d asked and I hadn’t counted, I probably would have opted for a number closer to 20. And maybe that’s where we’ll get yet: I keep hearing dark hints that some restaurants are not going to survive the mandatory shutdown. Opening at 25 percent capacity may or may not help.
I’ve been surprised at the number of restaurants that have not opened for take-out, or that got to the party really late. Neither of our Chinese restaurants appears to have opened at all and both of them had what seemed to be a thriving take-out business in the Before Time. Several of us wonder if this is because the owners were subjected to or fearful of racist attacks, since this virus is completely the fault of restaurant owners who have lived in Gunnison for decades, probably far longer than many of the people who might launch such attacks.
Supporting local restaurants in the Time of Corona has been a lot more work for us patrons, too. I have tried to give my business to one restaurant four times without success, and I no longer try. The phone number in the book and on-line was wrong, so I drove to the restaurant and stood right in front of a hand-written sign saying they were open, calling the number printed on it with no answer.
They finally got a professionally-done sign with a bigger phone number and specifying their hours — hours that are more theoretical than actual. I pulled up one night at 6:30, which on my clock comes before the posted 7 p.m. closing, and watched every car at the back of the restaurant leave without a glance my way as my phone call went unanswered.
No one seems to be open very late, 8 p.m. at most, and trying to remember which days places are open has tasked our ever-failing memories. Lynn and I always seem to want fish and chips from The Dive on Tuesdays, but we have to wait until Wednesdays.
Sunday we ran into a new problem: Lynn couldn’t get past a busy signal for the W Cafe, which may be Gunnison’s oldest eatery. I’ve been ordering from there nearly every Sunday since they started offering take-out, and business appears to have picked up by the week. Kara tells me they were open for in-house service yesterday.
I don’t know that Lynn and I going to rush back to in-house dining, opting to stick with our take-out regimen. It’s far less about the restaurants than the patrons. I’m assuming the first people in will be the ones who think the shutdown was nothing but the trampling of their personal liberties, liberties that include not social distancing and none of this mask-wearing crap.
[Do you suppose these liberty-loving freedom seekers would be at all concerned if their restaurateur told them it was an infringement of his or her liberties to have to wash their hands before preparing food and not sneeze in the soup?]
Thirty-plus businesses that hire a bunch of people is nothing to sneeze at, and if they can get back to a semblance of normality that will get some cash in their pockets and some people back to employment, that sounds like a good thing.
The state, which took so long getting back to Gunnison that our 25 percent opening is only a few days ahead of the state allowing 50 percent capacity (up to 50 people), included in its variance the threat to revoke it should 17 people test positive in the county in a two-week period.
You would like to think restaurant patrons would appreciate the jeopardy they could place the restaurants in and respect the distancing and face masking, but somehow I’m not holding out hope.
But I do look forward to perhaps accessing take-out more easily and on more days of the week, and wish all of my fellow business owners the very best as they seek to get their feet back under them. Bring on the Singy Eaty Time!