Last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overruled the governor’s stay at home order. For about three hours, bars opened, and then the counties began to issue their own stay at home orders. By Friday night, Brown county rescinded that order. Most restaurants were not prepared to begin opening that weekend, which in most cases was probably the smart idea. But, some of them did open. This is the story of our experience going out to eat on Saturday, May 16, 2020 at the Wisconsin Supper Club staple: The Redwood Inn.
I’m a well known homebody, and coming up on two months into quarantining at home, I was beginning to miss sitting at a bar and talking to the bartender and waitresses. Dinner time came, and I suggested Rob and I take a drive to see if the one place we knew was open would be too crowded. He agreed. We got in the car. I had a panic attack the whole way there (yeah, I know it was my idea). I imagined the parking lot looking exactly like it did the last time we were there: grass to grass cars and a wait for a table that would take us more than two hours.
Instead, we found the exact opposite of my panic inducing nightmare. Only five other cars were parked in the customer area, and two others pulled in behind us for the curbside pick up option. The Redwood Inn was, without a shadow of a doubt, abandoned in the face of COVID-19 and the reopening of the county.
This was enough for us to willingly roll the dice and head inside the restaurant. When we walked through the doors, the waitresses stood far away from the front door and the bar, perched by the kitchen doors until guests arrived. All of them wore masks. One alone came forward and directed us to the bar to wait and order. At this familiar bar, all groups of guests were two seats apart. It appeared to be an instinctive separation, as there was no signage enforcing this kind of distance between customers.
We ordered at the bar, and at the bar we remained until our actual meal was ready. Only after the waitress deposited our plates at what would become our table were we allowed to leave the bar and enter the dining area. At the time, only two other groups were getting their dinner. Most of them were older couples, long time customers without a doubt. My husband and I were the only millennials in the building other than the wait staff.
It was surreal to order a Wisconsin Fish Fry on a Saturday evening in a mostly empty supper club, sip an Old Fashioned, and have dinner with my husband like nothing was wrong while every other table around the outside portion of the dinner side remained empty. It was surreal to watch masked waitresses go by and still feel their smiles when they asked us how our meal went.
If I didn’t look at the wait staff wearing their masks or at the many empty tables around me, I never would have known things had changed. We ate well. We laughed. We had a good night. The worries of the world felt farther away, and the magic of dining out did not feel any dimmer. For a little bit, the pandemic didn’t exist. Maybe we could all use a little bit of that magic after months of darkness.
While the Redwood Inn was one of the first locations in Green Bay to open its door when the country stay at home order was rescinded, it was not without its precautions. These people took their jobs very seriously, and their customers respected their wishes. No one got upset for having to sit farther away from other tables. No one got angry at the waitresses for wearing masks and wiping down tables before and after they were seated. All parties showed patience.
The national media, both social and mainstream, like to highlight these outrageous outbursts from men and women that can’t stand the life we’re living right now, but the truth is that most of us are being patient with one another. As we move into this new world together, that’s all we can be. No one knows when or if this will ever be over, and if we are to find any kind of peace, it must be together.
The people opening their doors right now feel that they need to do so. The people going back to work in these restaurants and bars are going back because they feel they need to do so. The safety net of the American system is not strong enough to protect their livelihoods or their businesses. Only they can do that, or at the very least, they can try.
Permanent closures have already begun even in the highest echelons of American dining. Our mom and pop joints on our street corners are in fragile positions. As your communities begin to reopen, show them what support you can. We are all up this shit creek, and most of us do not have a paddle. Give your neighbor a push.
Originally posted May 26, 2020 in the Archive
This morning, I plugged my headphones in and went to cleaning the kitchen with Michael Pollan's Cooked keeping me company over my dishes. Much of what he said in the first three chapters it took me to get my kitchen back in order took on a new meaning when I thought of it in the context of our current times. He speaks of cooking as a protest against the commoditization of our everyday life, and who would have thought that a virus would be one of the forces driving us to do this work for ourselves again?
A year ago, I dabbled in bread on the weekends for funsies. A year before that, I didn't bake anything beyond the pumpkin cheesecakes my husband adores. Now-- two months into COVID-19 self imposed lockdown-- I am making bread of some kind almost every day. Now, when I'm furloughed and ineligible for UI benefits until the Pandemic Assistance is granted to me, I am constrained by financial difficulty to make the most of everything I have.
This means that I cannot turn to premade meals. I can't call for a pizza or a burger unless I want to make what is ultimately a large sacrifice just for some time outside of my kitchen. COVID-19 has robbed us of the comforts of our modern life that once alienated us from food, and I know that I am not among the most unfortunate in America right now.
Most of my closest friends are completely unemployed. Family members are furloughed, and the people that aren't are putting their lives on the line every day in the care of others. We are all living lives significantly tighter than we are used to. This is the hardest moment of my adult life, and I will remember it that way likely until I die. That doesn't mean that there are no lessons to learn right now.
Meat shortages are coming down the pipes for most of us. Now there are folks out there trying to tell us farms will face similar problems are meat packing plants, which means we as consumers have choices to make. We have to take care of each other if the world is not going to do it for us. We have to turn to our local farmers for produce, and if we are lucky enough to have them, our local butchers and meat packers. Not everything can be bought from these purveyors, but we have the opportunity to reshape our food economy.
We are taking more responsibility for our own nutrition the farther away we get from our old lives. We can't blame the fast pace of our lives anymore while we are all stuck at home. There is no McDonalds on the way home from work when the work is taking place in your living room-- if you're lucky enough to be working at all. We are what we eat now more than ever.
So let’s take advantage of it together. This is our chance to change the way we eat at home for the better. With enough time, these habits will stick long after we go back to the outside world. COVID-19 has made cooks of us all. It's up to us to choose what we cook and how we cook it.
An idea born in Normal, Illinois, Eating Normal hopes to chronicle the eating Experiences of a Red bird. Pledge monthly to our patreon!