My grandmother would not have been pleased to know this, but we restaurant workers are working class folk, educated as any of us may be. When I worked at Boccata thirty plus years ago, many a night would find the crew at a neighborhood dive bar. There were a handful that we frequented, but for the purposes of this note, the one we need to consider is Danny’s Baboquivari Lounge. There was pinball there, and air hockey, and cheap drinks, and I haven’t been there in years, but I can attest to this: at some point, in the men’s room, there was a towel dispenser. It was the old kind, with a linen towel where are you dried your hands and pulled down and the dirty portion of the towel rolled up onto the loop inside the machine, exposing fresh new linen for the next person to use. It was a relic of times gone by, with one exception: Riveted prominently on the face of the machine was an aluminum plate that said: “Do not hang from towel loop. Do not insert head into towel loop.”
That dull silver plate has stuck with me for years. It’s stuck with me because it had to be added for the legal safety of the company that made the machine, years- probably decades- after the machine was first made. And it had to be done because some idiot somewhere tried to hang from that towel loop, and some other idiot, somewhere else, tried to put his head in that loop. Clearly, they both injured themselves. Clearly, they both sued the company. Whether they won or lost their respective lawsuits is irrelevant; they both cost the company money.
When I opened a restaurant 20 years ago, it never occurred to me that I might have had to explain to someone who called for a reservation that we would ask them to wear a mask to their table, or to the restroom. It never occurred to me that that disclaimer might be interpreted as having political connotations. But that’s the case now- if I don’t tell someone that we’ll hand them a mask if they don’t have one for walking around the dining room, I’m the jerk.
In 2001, all I wanted to do was open a restaurant that offered people good food and drink. I didn’t care what their political leanings were. I didn’t care whether they were conspiracy theorists. Frankly, I still don’t. To me, a restaurant has no politics. We offer people the best food and drink that we can offer, and we hope that people will like what we do. If we’re lucky, they’ll like it enough that they come back, or tell friends, or if we’re even luckier, bring friends.
This week, we’ve had a broad spectrum of responses to the fact that we ask guests to wear a mask while they’re mobile in the dining room. To us, it didn’t seem like a big deal: wearing a mask for 30 seconds on either end of a two-hour meal seemed negligible. It seemed like a courtesy to another uncomfortable, vulnerable guest that would pose no serious inconvenience.
Evidently, that’s not the case for everyone. I get it; I know I’m tired of wearing one. It’s hot. I’m bearded. It’s Tucson. And I am acutely aware that there’s no small number of people for whom a mask represents a threat rather than a slight inconvenience. I respect their frustrations, especially when they explain them politely. I have ongoing correspondence with a guest who believes to her core that masks pose a danger to the wearer, and while I disagree, we treat each other with the courtesy and respect that we both believe our fellow human beings deserve.
But last Saturday, a man told Mary Ann to “piss off” when she offered masks to wear to their table, and his wife followed it with an email that threw in some all-caps concerns of hers, implied that we were somehow wrong for ignoring the governor and “science” (quotes hers,) and that we were neither friendly nor cognizant for suggesting a thirty-second mask usage in the dining room. She canceled their reservation and left.
We had another couple who’ve dined with us for years. They’ve brought us their homemade barbecue sauce for the entire staff to share when they give it out at Christmastime- they arrived for their reservation on Friday and upon being offered masks for that walk to the table, replied, “that’s not happening,” and left without ceremony.
Whatever I signed up for when we opened our doors in 2001, it wasn’t this. It was simple- we wanted to give people good food and drink. We didn’t care what their political affiliation was, or what news network they favored. We figured they were members of our community, and we of theirs, and if they liked the food we made, we were all meant to exit the transaction content. Evidently, that’s not the case, and as a result, you’re being subjected to yet another lengthy email detailing my disappointment and resentment over the fact that we now live in an era in which running a business carries with it implicitly political implications in everything we do, and people are so sensitized to them that they’ll take their business elsewhere if it doesn’t suit their beliefs.
I could understand it if we were taking a vocal stance on a hotbutton issue like abortion or guns or race or policing issues, but I don’t personally understand how this one is so outrageous that people will respond with, well, outrage. It’s wearing a mask to your table, guys, not jackbooted thugs knocking down your door.
I don’t know how it’s affecting other businesses, but I, for one, resent being dragged into the fray over trying to keep a significant number of my guests comfortable. I called the Pima County Health Department to get their recommendation, and their recommendation was to follow CDC protocol. That would, at this point, still be for people not in each other’s immediate circle to give one another a healthy six feet and wear a mask for anything nearer than that, hence the mask while you’re walking around.
So: if you’re not offended and leaving angrily, you’re welcome to join us for a bite. We’ll keep asking you to wear that mask for a few dozen steps in the dining room, but once you’re at table, you can enjoy a civilized meal with us, and we’ve begun the new menu today, it being the first Tuesday of the month. We’d love to have you, and we don’t care what your political affiliation is; we just want to serve kind and polite people good food and drink.
We’ll have our customary wine tasting this Saturday as well, this time a prelude to Bastille Day- an assortment of four French wines that should pair nicely with French food and French mood.
It’s practice for next Wednesday, July 14, when we throw a little party for the folks that helped us out during our own revolution celebrate theirs:
And we’ll follow that up, certainly with another wine tasting, but more importantly, with another celebration, this one for Mobile Meals of Southern Arizona’s 50th anniversary.
We’re continuing to work toward our goal of donating 10,000 meals, and there’ll be more about that and our next donation run as we get confirmations from the people I’m in correspondence with, but for now, I’m going to go quietly stick my head in a towel loop and call it a day. I really hope that linen is clean. Those things have always given me the creeps.