Essential reporting in volatile times.

Click here to stay informed and subscribe to The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Click #isupportlocal for more information on supporting our local journalists.


Learn more about HD Media

Last month my wife and I took a trip. She hadn’t been anywhere other than hospital facilities in and out of the state since January. I hadn’t, really, either.

So, to commemorate our anniversary (a month late), we went to a state park not too far from home. There wasn’t much to do. Many of the activities offered at this particular locale had been shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic. That was fine by us. We’ve both been extremely cautious during this whole thing, and really just wanted a change of scenery, some food we didn’t make ourselves and some peaceful quiet.

Anytime I’ve ventured out, I’ve been impressed with how well everyone has generally abided by public health guidelines. Our destination was no different. Everyone wore masks indoors. We even donned our masks — as others did — when we passed folks on outdoor trails in the middle of nowhere.

I haven’t been presented with any major situations of conflict regarding masks or other public health practices. I saw an infantile display that was over in a matter of seconds at a store that I wrote about previously. I also once entered an auto parts store with a friend, and we noticed the employees and customers weren’t masked up. We turned around as nonchalantly as possible and walked out. No fuss. No declaratory judgment. No alerting the authorities. Let’s just try NAPA next door.

But on my little getaway I could see some of the tension that has been marinating. I also saw some pretty reckless behavior.

There was a very raucous party going on around a fire pit at the resort lodge one night. My wife and I had hoped to just sit quietly by the fire and relax, but we weren’t going near that. Yes, it was outdoors, but it was a lot of people, all crammed together and without masks. They were also hammered, and blasting bro-country on a bluetooth speaker, both very strong ways of saying “Do not approach” in their own right.

I felt sorry for the person I assumed to be a manager, masked up with walkie talkie in hand, pleading with the folks to keep it down, and probably expressing some concern that copious amounts of alcohol had been brought to the premises that hadn’t been purchased there, an apparent no-no. I watched intently, nursing a rather expensive (by my standards) old fashioned. The guy tried to be cool with them, but he was utterly ineffective.

Since there were other people outside, my wife and I were wearing our masks (sans break to sip the aforementioned drink), and were a fair distance away. One of the party-goers tried to get my wife to take her mask off when she passed by. We left at that point.

The next night we ate dinner inside a restaurant for the first time in at least eight months, if not longer. I felt nervous and exposed. I also kind of felt like a hypocrite. But I told myself I wasn’t doing anything illegal. I kept my mask on except when eating or drinking. The steak I ate that evening would’ve been worth another COVID-19 test and self-quarantine if it had come to it.

Again I saw the man I was now calling “walkie talkie manager guy.” He was having a long conversation with a man eating with his family at a nearby table. A hostess who was also present kept flicking her eyes nervously between manager guy and the man at the table. Before talking with manager guy, the man had also had a long discussion with someone seated at another table near us.

After we left and went outside, we could see manager walkie talkie guy having a discussion with that person. Whatever all that was about, people were on edge. I wondered how many situations walkie talkie manager guy had been forced to defuse over the past few months, and what kind of toll that was taking on him.

For the first time, I saw some of the underlying tension of formerly normal things.

I just hope everyone can hold on until next spring, when a vaccine will likely be circulating among the general pubic. I welcome a return to the days when musical preferences and sports loyalties were what kept us on opposite sides of a lodge patio.

Ben Fields is the Gazette-Mail opinion editor. He is currently working from home. Reach him at ben.fields@hdmediallc.com or follow @BenFieldsWV on Twitter.