Pandemic has created a new world, just with the same old characters

“Next!” said the man in rubber gloves and a facemask who was standing at the front door of the grocery store,

We marched forward, six feet separated, one at a time. Like the shift change scene in the movie Metropolis, or the 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial. If only dystopian author Philip K. Dick (former San Rafael resident) could had lived to see this.

The line stretched all along the sidewalk in the little strip mall, well beyond the shuttered adjacent buildings which included two restaurants, all now deemed non-essential.

In the restaurant/bar business it is not unusual for someone to be hired and paid for one job, i.e. bartender, only to then be pressed into service doing another: waiter, bouncer etc. For other business this a completely a new phenomenon.

“I certainly didn’t sign up for this,” said the man in the mask to no one in particular, and everyone in general.

No more than 50 people in the store at any given time was the mandate, clearly spelled out in a large sign, and we all know about the social distancing by this point, right?

“I just need to use the restroom,” said someone bypassing the line, which easily had 20 people in it, all spaced 6 feet apart.

“Sure,” said the man in the mask and gloves.

“Let me just get someone to escort you in and out,” he added.

“What do you mean?”

“You’d be surprised at how many people say that, and then try to do their shopping.”

The person looked at the masked man, and then at the line.

“Never mind,” he said, walking away.

Years ago, I was pressed into service as a bouncer, and I vividly remember the advice given to me by my trainer.

“Don’t believe anyone.”

I thought it a rather harsh sentiment. These weren’t bad people; they were just like me in many respects. They were good people, I thought, and good people don’t do bad things.

Over the next couple of months working that front door I realized how naive that belief was. Girls flirted with me to get in, guys threatened me, and both lied and lied. In every dynamic someone will try and cheat, game the system, get ahead. The one constant is the lying.

“Do emergency responders get to go to the front of the line?” asked a young woman in scrubs.

“We have special hours for them, in the both evening and in the morning,” said the masked man.

She turned out to be a furloughed dental hygienist.

“I have a compromised immune system,” said another man, attempting to bypass the line. “Can I just go in?” he said leaning awfully close to the man at the front door.

“We have special hours for that, too, Sir,” said the man in the mask, stepping back slightly.

“But I am health compromised,” complained the man, who wasn’t wearing a mask, and who had moved so close to the first person in line, that they had to step back in order to maintain a six foot distance, which caused the person behind them to have to shift back. And the person behind them, and the person behind them, and so on down the line.

“Next!” said the man in the mask after a customer exited the building.

“I can’t believe you didn’t let that man in,” said the newest first person in the line. “I would be OK with him going before me,” she said, believing that somehow being the first person in line now allows that person to dictate policy. It’s the same in the restaraunt business, just because you are sitting at a table, or at the bar, doesn’t mean you get to decide what happens with your seat next. It just doesn’t.

“You can give him your place, if you like,” said the man in the mask.

“He can go in front of me,” she said.

“No, I mean you can give him your place and you can go to the end of the line,” said Mr. Mask.

“Oh,” she said looking at the line and then looking the man standing too close up and down. “That’s OK,” she said.

“Next!” said the masked man.

The rest of us shambled forward, just like in the commercial.

“I have to use the bathroom,” said another woman cutting to the front of the line.

The man in the mask ooked at me, shook his head and looked at her.

“I didn’t sign up for this,” he repeated.

None of us did, I thought.

His “I’ll get someone to escort you…” was cutoff by the door closing.

It might be a brave new world. Unfortunately, it still has some of the same old characters. Just ask anyone who has ever worked a front door anywhere.