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  • Writer's pictureWILLIAM HAZEL

Strolling the Old Beach Farmers Marker - A No Mask Outing to Another Dimension

No masks. That's the revelation today. And it feels weird. It feels amazing, but weird. I thought I'd have a crest the top roller coaster rush after fourteen months of wearing face coverings, but I'm feeling off and even a little bit anxious. It's Memorial Day Weekend and the State of Virginia has lifted all COVID restrictions. Mindy and I are celebrating with a trip to the Old Beach Farmer's Market in Virginia Beach. We're going to show our smiles, get social without the distance, and who knows what could happen next.

We're both feeling the same disconnect in the market's crowded parking lot behind the Croc's restaurant. We expected jubilation. Brass bands. Oversized welcome back banners. Everyone just seemed their usual hurried, over scheduled, push ourselves to the front of the line selves. It was like we were the only ones who were noticing the pandemic was ending. Cue Twilight Zone theme. I more than half expected Mr. Serling to appear from behind the bushes, his face pushing through a cloud of cigarette smoke.

“Meet William and Mindy. They don't know it yet, but what they think is their reality is actually something else. A dimension they can't quite yet imagine.”

About five months ago our government almost collapsed. Tens of thousands were still dying slow pandemic deaths. Only a month ago, I was baby stepping in a line with hundreds of neighbors waiting for a volunteer to send science through a needle into my life. I understand the paradox that on a weekend built upon remembering the fallen, I'm trying to celebrate the living, but still, this is a huge moment in our history. My history. Your history.

At least there was live music. A trio, in fact, with a quaintly civilized violin, guitar, and cello for baseline. Ain't Misbehavin' was missin' the downbeat, but it felt pleasantly unrushed to stroll a pop-tented area calling itself the Art & Eco show. Mindy passed on the crochet halter, thought about getting a candle, and liked lingering with the vendor selling little rocks.

The coffee was amazing, and the crepes were pretty damn good too. The crepes came first, and luckily, we grabbed ours just ahead of the growing it's going to be a least a half hour before you eat cue at the Lamia's Crepes stand. We went for coffee across the street at Three Ships.

The thrill of the coffee visit was... wait for it... we could go inside. We haven't been inside for anything for over a year, and here we are, sauntering mask-less across the busy street scene, about to walk into an establishment to... wait for it... sit down and relax.

Surely the inside of the coffee shop will be filled with others deeply thankful for a chance to sit with each other again. Maybe even talk to each other.

Nope. Not in this dimension.

Three Ships is bedlam. Downtown Chicago workday morning ten deep at the counter busy. The deafening din has the cashier shouting at us. We shout back. We go for cappuccinos and cookies. They always offer to warm the cookies. Not today. Not during this celebration. The five girls behind the counter are all in the deep weeds. To the Chinese cat tattooed barista's credit, our coffees are almost perfect. The only downside being the paper cups. We dare to linger at the remodeled bar to savor the scene.

Almost everyone is dressed like they've just come from or are going to the gym. Workout tights, gym shirts, wrinkled printed Tees. Dozens are wearing that timeless hungover, just got out of bed, not sure if this shirt is clean scowl. We've made the mistake of wearing clothes, since we've also erred in approaching the morning as an outing.

Maybe that's it. Maybe everyone seems miserable and hungover because the pandemic party was last night. We missed the party. We went to bed pretty early and just missed the whole damn thing. We've dressed for a party that's already happened.

The old man in the golf shirt is too important to wait in line. He grabs a bottle of water from the fridge, steps to the far end, away from of the cashier, and sticks his pair of dollar bills and his Rolex in cat tattoo's face. She's trying to keep up with the tickets, but golf shirt doesn't give two shits about her work, her skill, or her person in any way. I guess he expects her to pay his tax as well. She stops her work to grab his arrogance with equal familiarity and disgust.

Welcome back to normal.

I guess I should be ecstatic at being crammed in a small space with all the rush again. I love the big city and it feels big city in here. In a way, I suppose I am happy. I just thought there would be a pause, at least. A day, or maybe even two days, for celebrating being on the other side of a living nightmare.

We finish our cappuccinos and head out. It was time to go. The two dudes with the man buns have been glaring us down with it's time to give up those seats stares.

We try to return to our dimension outside. It doesn't feel familiar, though, until we are at home. No masks today and it felt amazing and very, very weird at the same time. And it all seemed to feel, sure, I'll use the term, normal. But it also felt, I don't know, like we're missing something.

And so we're back. I just wish I knew where.

© Copyright William Hazel, 2021

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