By Carmen Gentile
Friends Carrie Nasi, left, and Tracey, who did not give her last name, hug each other while Lori Stayberg and Cindy Coleman, right, wait to greet their friends as they all met for food and drinks at Jonesy's Local Bar on the first day of the bar reopening in Hudson, Wis., Thursday, May 14, 2020. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers warned Thursday of “massive confusion” after the state Supreme Court tossed out the Democrat's stay-at-home order and Republicans said they may leave it up to local governments to enact their own rules for combating the coronavirus pandemic. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)
The sight of folks tipping a few at their favorite watering hole shouldn’t be one that induces foreboding and dread.
But that’s what I felt when I saw pictures of Wisconsinites in bars and — many not wearing masks or keeping their distance — after their conservative-leaning state Supreme Court overturned the Democratic governor’s stay-at-home orders last week.
Revelers were tossing back brews and brats (I’m guessing since that’s a popular combo in those parts) in celebration of their “freedom” after an extended shutdown that was painful to most everyone’s wallet, not to mention taxing to their sanity.
While reopening guidelines for bars vary from state to state, even county to county, throughout the region, it strikes me as a particularly bad idea to belly up to the bar.
At least for now.
Why am I being such buzzkill? My reasons are based on indisputable fact and my experience working in bars.
First off: The virus is still among us. And because testing is still woefully inadequate in the United States, and contact tracing nearly nonexistent except for tracking the virus outbreak in the White House, we don’t have a clear idea who’s carrying the virus. Some who have it remain asymptomatic.
Bottom line: we still don’t know enough about who has the virus and that makes all of us particularly susceptible to infection as people venture out into the world.
Now it may seem like I’m unfairly targeting bar owners and their employees by singling out taverns, when many restaurants and other service industry establishments also are open.
From an economic standpoint, I recognize my suggestion is particularly cruel since bartenders and other saloon staff rely heavily on tips to eke out a living.
That the federal government, in coordination with state and local officials, hasn’t figured out a way to keep working Americans afloat for a few more months, instead forcing many to face their own mortality by simply returning to work, is horrifying. I’m no advocate for national-debt-be-damned spending, but the alternative is perverse, especially considering the ridiculous ways in which tax dollars have been spent in recent years (the Iraq War’s $2 trillion-dollar price tag immediately comes to mind).
So it’s with full comprehension of how much bar owners and their workers will hurt that I assert that folks ought to stay away.
Look, I don’t have anything personal against bars. As I mentioned, I worked in a few and used to be a barfly when I wasn’t on the job.
Which is also why I know bars being open while the coronavirus continues spreading is a bad idea.
Having worked in places where folks get inebriated while I was (relatively) sober gave me a keen vantage point on the human condition of the intoxicated.
You know what drunk people do? They lean on each other and talk loud, often spraying what they’re saying. They cast aside their inhibitions after a few cocktails and make out, and sometimes more, with strangers.
In the age of corona, when most folks have been stuck at home for a couple of months with no physical contact, I’m afraid run-of-the-mill, handsy bar shenanigans could well turn into a scene from “Caligula” thus furthering the spread of the virus, not mention other romantically-induced ailments.
It may sound like I’m kidding. But I’m not. I recently discovered that driving home a point in a bitterly divided America doesn’t work unless I inject some humor into my argument. Even then it’s a crapshoot as to whether some of you won’t call for my head for saying people should stay out of bars.
But that’s where I stand. And if you choose to make your stand in a bar, be sure to keep your wits about you and your mouth off of strangers.
And most importantly, raise a glass to me for writing about you.
Postindustrial founder Carmen Gentile has worked for some of the world’s leading publications and news outlets including The New York Times, USA Today, CBS News and others. His book, “Blindsided by the Taliban,” documents his life as a war reporter and the aftermath of his brush with death after being shot with a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.