When I attempted to go to the Starbucks closest to my work a few days ago, I was shocked to find that the street that it’s on was barricaded off. The cause? The street was now home to dozens of rows of picnic tables and sets of patio furniture, as several of the restaurants located there expanded their outdoor dining areas.
As it turns out, Syracuse is just one of many cities that have taken to temporarily detouring traffic for the sake of socially distant dining.
At first, I thought this was a good idea. If dining rooms are at half capacity, if open at all, then let restaurants set up more outside seating, as COVID-19 has been found to spread less effectively outside. Plenty of restaurants in more suburban areas have been doing so with their parking lots, so it would make sense that, assuming that one particular side street had a high concentration of restaurants on it and typically didn’t have much traffic to begin with, it could be shut down to let those restaurants expand their patio areas. And it’s nice to see local governments stepping up to do something to help while the federal government drags its feet.
Unfortunately, when I looked down towards the other end of the street, I saw a few vendor tents and a make-shift stage that presumably would be for live music during peak hours. It seemed as though everyone who was involved in organizing the effort was so excited about being able to eat at their favorite downtown restaurants again that they accidentally turned it into a block party, cancelling out the benefits of having the outdoor seating in the first place.
It’s entirely possible that I’m overreacting here. Syracuse so far hasn’t been hit too hard by the virus compared to other parts of the country (the county just registered its 200th death a few days ago). It’s easy to understand how some may have perceived the shutdown as a waste of time. But it’s important to remember that if you walk away from it all thinking “nothing happened,” that just means that no one you know died. It’s like someone going off their meds because they think they don’t need them anymore- they felt better because the meds were doing their job- only to have a nasty relapse.
Some might say it’s easy for me to argue that restaurants should be staying closed while I, a cook at a grocery store chain, have been working this whole time. Americans don’t “want to get back to work” to alleviate the boredom of being cooped up for the past few months, they need to work in order to survive. I won’t fault anyone, from the restaurant owners to the servers, for doing what they need to to make ends meet as the social safety net crumbles out from underneath them. It could be argued that patronizing these restaurants is the best way you can show your support within the bounds of American capitalism.
I guess ultimately, there isn’t going to be a no-risk alternative until a (reliable and not-for-profit) vaccine comes out. If where you live somewhere where the virus isn’t running rampant (that means you, Florida) and neither you nor anyone you are regularly in contact with are immunocompromised or otherwise more susceptible, it’s up to you to decide if the calculated risk is worth it. But seeing as the past few months have conditioned me to panic anytime I see someone not wearing a mask, I think I’ll stick to takeout for the time being.