We are more than seven months into lockdown—and my job in the taproom has changed considerably.
My asthmatic taproom manager wisely self-quarantined immediately—what a strange twist of fate that I can say “self-quarantined” and have it be an unremarkable phrase—while all taproom events and parties ceased to exist. Therefore, I am often by myself behind the bar.
I’m not sure how common my experience is, but my work has changed—and I want to talk about it.
After Gov. Newsom’s stay-at-home announcement in mid-March, the taproom changed drastically. With my taproom manager out and my cohort behind the bar, Mikki, in her own self-quarantine due to her husband having been potentially exposed at his workplace, it was up to me for a couple of weeks to hold down the fort. Beer was only available to-go at that time, so my job mainly consisted of alternately filling crowlers (to-go 32-ounce cans filled from the tap and sealed on site) and sitting down, listening to the music I wanted to, and reading a lot. It also consisted of worrying about every single interaction I had with every customer, concern over every surface they touched, and making a game plan in case any anti-science imbeciles waltzed into the place looking for beer—and probably trouble. It also fell to me to deliver any orders called in to local residents.
I will not lie: It was a stressful time for me. There were many hospitality workers who felt the same way—and many who continue to feel the same way. (Never mind nurses and doctors on the front lines.)
In order to provide a good picture of what my job turned into, I have to try and convey what my job was before. That is to say, it was pretty fun as jobs go. Not that it didn’t have trying moments, but I once worked on a roof in Palm Desert when the temperature was 128 degrees in July. I ran around the greater Los Angeles area setting up bouncy houses for a few months. I played jazz guitar for hungry country-club people, and I delivered liquor and sandwiches in Hollywood (yes, I met celebrities often; they are mostly tiny people), among other weird jobs. So being a Cicerone at a brewery taproom has been near the top of the “fun” job list.
Alas, much of what made it fun has disappeared for the moment, to varying degrees. I have no idea when it will be busy, for example. This creates a strange semi-anxious feeling, because it can go from dead to me being absolutely buried. This would be mitigated by having co-workers, but outside of a half-hour each week, I have no co-workers upon which to lean.
Another less-than-stellar aspect is the needlessly awkward state regulation that a meal must be on the same ticket as any beer consumed on premise. This often disappoints customers who are unfamiliar with this—which is a large portion of them—and it leaves me having to explain the situation many, many times a shift. I say “needlessly awkward,” because the customer can order food through the delivery system we have set up with a local restaurant and, theoretically, throw it in the trash in order to drink beer in-house. There are only so many times I can repeat the same spiel about how it works and why before I tune out—or worse, I grow disdainful for the task.
All of this sits on top of the underlying realization that we are still neck-deep in a pandemic that has the very real potential to end lives. Yes, the state has eased the lockdown a little, but recent statistics indicate that we are heading for another reversal—as soon as next week, perhaps. Combine that with the influx of tourists (whose mask-less visages I’ve encountered regularly on the local Bump and Grind trail in Palm Desert), some of whom are from places that never took the virus seriously, and you may begin to see where I’m coming from in all of this. My tolerance of anti-science conspiracy mindsets, and just plain absentmindedness when it comes to protecting those around us, was low to begin with and has now reached what I assume is its ultimate nadir for me. Unfortunately, if social media has taught me anything, it’s that there’s always another nadir.
Please don’t get me wrong here: I’m awfully grateful to be employed (albeit part-time with the kindness of tips and partial unemployment), and I know many people are facing a far worse fate than I. It’s also nice to see the faces of regulars and visitors who are just grateful to be out of the house. I also have to mention that I’ve only had to bounce one older couple, because the woman refused to put her mask back on while she was trying to figure out our food service. (I felt sorry for her husband who was super-apologetic.) Therefore, my fears of dealing with misinformed Facebook-group-addicted ignoramuses have largely been for naught. But the truth is that COVID numbers are climbing again, and when I see recent pictures of a full stadium in New Zealand, or read news reports on how places like Tokyo—the most populous city in the entire world—are containing it far better than we are, I become indignant that we have turned some ridiculous corner in this country where caring for your fellow citizens by wearing a mask and social distancing is a bridge too far for too many Americans. No matter how much some of us have sacrificed, it is made meaningless again and again, thanks to the selfish babies whose battle cry is, “MUH FREEDOM!” It’s like in school, when the entire class is punished because of one idiot’s misdeeds. We seem to be doomed to go back to square one, over and over, until we’ve either all caught the virus, or there is an effective vaccine (and that’s assuming there will not be a swath of anti-vaccine morons to ruin it for the severely immunocompromised among us who can’t take the vaccine—a rather large assumption).
I guess what I’m trying to say is, “Welcome to the taproom. If you’d like to drink on site, you have to order food …”
Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at email@example.com.