Random thoughts along the West Coast COVID trail
You know how in JAWS they wanted to kill the shark to save the summer holiday season for Amity Island? Well they blow the shark up (“Smile you son of a …”) and swim back to shore and…fade to black. We never find out if they saved the summer holiday season.
That’s kind of where we are right now with COVID, vaccinations, and the summer season. Some places have opened up fully for business, some partially, and some, well, it’s hard to say what they are doing. So in California the shark blows up and everyone comes flooding in. While on this trip I have booked four separate tour hosting gigs for groups coming from all over the country. Meanwhile in Washington the shark is blown up and people from Washington itself and neighboring states who are vaccinated are taking the opportunity to get out and enjoy some of what they’ve been missing for the past year and a half. Oregon? Best I can say is some people think the shark either wasn’t blown up or was never there at all. Others think everything’s fine. Totally depends on where you are and even from one town to another the rules change.
Asked the waiter at the restaurant last night if their business has been impacted by the ferry service closing between Victoria and Port Angeles. He hemmed and hawed, finally admitting that he doesn’t pay much attention to Canada since he can’t go there (hmm, that little scrap over the illegal substance conviction must have put a damper on his pro snowboarding career). But the town has definitely suffered since there is no ferry service from Victoria to Port Angeles because of Canada’s COVID border closure. That ferry normally carries hundreds of cars a day back and forth and suddenly it’s up and gone. What few waterfront bars and restaurants are still in business (lots of empty store fronts) were busy on a Father’s Day Sunday night, but only BECAUSE there were so relatively few left. On the other hand the hotels were jammed with Olympic National Park enthusiasts eager to get out in the fresh cool air and hike, bike, backpack, and otherwise take advantage of the beauty of nature.
Washington does have a more lenient attitude toward COVID precautions. Signs dot pretty much every retail and eating location that say in effect “All employees have been vaccinated so if you don’t want to wear a mask, we’re okay with that”. And almost as a thank you for their efforts, most people will wear a mask into the building and remove it at a designated point (at a table in a restaurant, once fully inside a retail establishment, etc.). And no one barks or demands compliance with government mandates.
In general it’s the small towns that seem to be doing better than the large cities we visited. I suppose if you don’t have a lot of businesses in the first place you have less businesses to lose. Seattle in particular has a horrible problem with drug addicts on the streets downtown because they have moved into the abandoned buildings large retailers (Macy’s, Ross) and small have abandoned. At one point we walked back from Pike Place Market to our hotel along Pike Street and watched no less than a dozen junkies lighting up crack and meth and shooting up heroin, all sitting in the doorways of these abandoned retail locations. With no one caring to push them away from their front doors, Superfly’s cliental are beginning to act like they own the street. That’s not good for what retail establishments still ply their trade down there and even worse for the city as a whole. Vibrant downtowns bring not just locals and tourists but a sense of a city moving forward. Frankly it made even me, urbanite from day one, feel uncomfortable and on edge. The response from the police and city officials? A shrug and the excuse “why arrest them, they’ll just be out and back in the same space in a matter of a few hours”. I understand this has been going on pre-COVID, but the pandemic has worsened the situation.
Speaking of drugs, I need to get this out of the way. Washington and Oregon, what is with all the pot stores? I know it’s legal and I know there is a desire for the product but we went through towns that were no more than a couple of blocks long and there was a weed shop on each block. On one block in Portland there were five stores. It got so that the wife (Cruella) and I were playing Punch Buggy with pot palaces and we had to stop for fear one or both of us were going to end up in jail for spousal abuse or in the hospital with black and blue arms.
One of the joys of travel, to me at least, is finding new and exciting dining experiences. Right now in Oregon, especially on the coast but in Portland and Ashland as well, dining as a tourist has become a nightmare game of chance. Restricted dining exists in many locales, as low as 20% in some counties that are not as vaccinated as others. Add in the high number of people who are coming out to the coast to get away from pandemic confinement and the situation becomes even worse. Make a reservation? Well maybe you can, but more likely you’ll get a response of either “we don’t take reservations” or “come by and we’ll see if we can get you in”. One restaurant in Newport we attempted to dine at had the hostess telling us that at 6:30 in the evening the wait time was two and a half hours. I asked if this was COVID related and she answered that “no, we’re always this busy”. Lady, if this restaurant is quoting a two and a half hour wait time on a Monday night and claiming it’s always this busy then it would be the most successful restaurant in the history of commercial dining and not the middle of the road seafood house on a crummy dock on the coast of Oregon that it is.
One would think that after a year and a half of little or no business a restaurant owner would be doing anything to bring some dollars in. Longer hours, creative seating accommodations, maximum time stays, whatever. Not here in Oregon. Most eating establishments have actually cut down the number of hours they are open. It’s not uncommon to see 7PM closing times or closing on Sundays altogether. To me that it a sign you can’t get people to work for you. The answer comes from Econ 101 — pay them more. Supply and demand. You can raise your prices to cover that extra cost, especially in a tourist area where ten bucks more on a ticket isn’t going to scare Mr. and Mrs. and the kids away because bottom line, those stomachs need to be filled and you have a table for them to sit at.
You may be aware that hotels, in these unprecedented times, have cut service down to a minimum. There is no maid service unless you ask for it and if you do you must be prepared for a full disinfecting of the room including anything you have brought into it like luggage, a water bottle, or a spouse. The front desk will really discourage you from asking for it. It hasn’t been a problem for us since most of our stays have been only the one night, but it was odd on the two occasions we spent two nights at a hotel to come back to the room as unkept as we have left it. What can I say, Cruella and I have a tendency to explode our luggage all over a room. Also both Hilton and Sheraton will put a paper seal on the room after it is cleaned that must be broken in order to enter. Yes, if your mind’s eye just imagined a scene from CSI that is exactly what it is like. But feel free to take the shampoo and soap because they have to throw it out once you leave.
Shapiro (Almost Home) Out