In April, my family and I entered our local Triple-A baseball park for the first time in almost two years. As we strolled into the stadium, the crowd was masked, polite and socially distanced. We walked through the gates in wonder that it was all still there — the stands, the concessions, the wafting smells of popcorn and hot dogs. Aside from the masks and the reduced capacity, it felt exactly like every baseball game I’ve been to since my first one at Dodger Stadium, a lifetime ago.
Until we got hungry.
I wandered up to the concession stand and saw a dozen customers standing around, looking lost. I was informed that there wasn’t a line; you needed to order your food and drinks through an app — then you could either pick up your food when it was ready or it would be delivered to your seat. Well, that’s an improvement, I thought, and likely good protection for the workers at the stand, too.
Back at our seats, my family and I downloaded the app and placed our small order to be delivered. An hour or so passed. We got so lost in people-watching (people!), game watching (Should that guy have run to third?
Will his coach be mad that he got out?) and appreciation that the sun was moving in a direction that saved us from potentially brutal sunburns, we didn’t notice our food hadn’t arrived. Once we did, I headed back to the stand and discovered that the crowd had tripled and, while still masked, they were no longer polite.
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There were lots of grunts and grumbles, eyerolls and communal hand wringing. One man at the front, wearing a “Monsters University” hat yelled at the struggling staff behind the counter that they needed to speak louder. The masked horde behind him grunted in agreement.
Mind you, this is a crowd that just spent a year in isolation, losing loved ones, employment, sanity, security. These are people that worried whether they would ever find toilet paper again, go to a birthday party or hug their grandchild. People who witnessed the truth of inequity in our country, tyranny in our leadership and the closest call we’ve had with the destruction of our democracy. Now, they were losing their minds over hot dogs. OK, maybe it was over beer.
Still, while I was craving some Crackerjacks myself, I looked over at the concession stand workers and saw people — on their second day of work, the second day the stadium had been open in a year — trying to navigate a completely new protocol, the demands of a frustrated crowd as well as what appeared to be a fussy nacho cheese machine.
But it was also my first real day back in the world and I wasn’t ready to take an actual stand, like maybe by finding a crate to hop up on, insisting through my mask that folks be patient and remember that they had been trapped in their living rooms just days or weeks ago. That we were all lucky to not be among the more than 560,000 people who died this past year, that the privilege of waiting too long for our nachos was one we were lucky to bear.
I wish I’d done something. It was all I could muster to go up to one worker at the counter and say how sorry I was that we were all being so crotchety, that we did appreciate how hard they were working.
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She explained that the app had gone on the fritz, all the orders disappeared and then reappeared suddenly in a glut, that it was no one’s fault. She personally put my order together, right then and there.
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Back at our seats, my family ate and drank, watching the game unfold, listening to the crowd cheer, the crack of the bat, the buzz of the announcer and the music. It would have been easy to forget the concession workers and what they’d been through that day, but I chose not to.
As we slowly reenter the world, thanks to the dedication of scientists, health care workers and all of the essential persons we now finally realize are essential, let us hold onto what we’ve learned. As we reenter our ballparks and movie theaters and workplaces, let’s not go back to normal, let’s be better.
Geralyn Broder Murray is a writer living in Northern California. Follow her on Twitter: @GeralynBMurray