Socializing in reopened SF is kinda fun, but very, very scary


Even before Juneteenth was finally declared a national holiday, I knew I was going out. I didn’t know where, but I knew I had to do something. After all, I had my second photo of Moderna in mid-May and still hadn’t left home well. California was lifting all COVID restrictions (except for leaving unvaccinated people without a mask) and San Francisco – my birthplace and home for 40 years – is expected to achieve collective immunity soon.

The least a black man born in SF could do was celebrate in his hometown; especially since there are so few blacks here.

It was wonderfully sunny as I walked into The Mission. Valencia’s blocked “slow street” was full of artwork and pedestrians. I walked around eating a veggie steak sandwich, then finally walked across the Haight to Golden Gate Park, where I saw the “Monumental Reckoning” exhibit by former KPIX presenter Dana King.

One of the things I love about being an art critic is discovering work that can say a lot with just a little. It’s hard to do when you’re trapped inside for months.

As the day progressed, I arrived at DNA Lounge, where I had a pending Juneteenth Hubba Hubba Revue ticket. I hadn’t entered the Lounge since January 2020. I devoured slices of DNA Pizza and walked inside for a debauchery and steamy show of all-black talent.

I kept my mask on all the time.

Well, not all the time. I wore two cotton masks that day, only removing the first to eat my sandwich. I carried the other to the Lounge. I also had a Ziploc full of surgical masks, another full of surgical gloves and antibacterial wipes in my bag. Also, I had my vaccination card in a plastic cord sealed around my neck under a shirt in case I was asked for proof of vaccination.

I wasn’t.

Honestly, I wish I had been. No matter how secure my city looks on paper, I would happily go through a TSA-style check of that security. I don’t trust playing public health with the legal equivalent of “cross my heart and hope to die” (which seems all the more bleak in the midst of a pandemic).

Even if SF kicks the ass out of the pandemic, this pandemic is not over.

And I get it: after a year and a half of isolation and eye strain bleeding our eyes, why shouldn’t we go out? Although vaccinated since May, I had only done two indoor public events this year, both in my capacity as critic.

Meanwhile, friends who have been fully vaccinated for months have shared photos of unmasked restaurant dinners and crowded unmasked parties. Hell, one filmed herself dancing “Coyote Ugly” in a Texas bar – despite Texas’ lax masking standards and his, as of this writing, More than 1,300 new daily COVIDs infections.

I know it feels like we’ve earned it this time around. But it’s the very kind of thinking that has led to tighter restrictions before. The last time I had really “socialized” was in June 2020. SF infection rates had dropped enough for a smooth reopening. I went to a bar I liked to have a drink in the unmasked courtyard with smiling strangers. If I had known it would be the last time I would drink there, I would have stayed longer.

My Juneteenth outing was as shocking as it was entertaining. As I waited in the queue outside DNA Lounge, I asked the unmasked guy behind me to step back 6 feet. When I walked in the staff were wearing masks, but the crowded auditorium had maybe 30% of clients masked. I kept mine on for the entire show, sliding straws underneath for drinks.

I’m too happy to support local black artists and one of the few independent venues that remain in the city (have they already secured the promised salvage funds?), But I’ll be damned if I ignore the pandemic when the variant Delta threatening the Olympics has already crashed in Marin County. (Yes, the risk is extremely low for vaccinated people. I do not care.)

When you have lived through the AIDS crisis, you know the danger of complacency. As such, I will continue to wear a mask, even if it is not compulsory.

As the ancients say, “A shot of penicillin is no excuse to stop wearing rubbers.”

This reopening which took place so close to Juneteenth has just strengthened my determination. My parents attend church near Bayview, so they witnessed firsthand the city and state’s bitter struggle with places of worship. (Their church still limits capacity and requires masks.) I have a niece and nephew in SF public schools, so they’re caught in the quagmire of when and how schools should reopen.

Call it “bureaucratic micro-management” if you will (at least it’s not a Duterte style arrest of non-vaxxed), but black people have too much danger hanging over us to ignore the pandemic; especially when the headlines have already forgotten about the black deaths and the daily attacks on our Asian American and Pacific Islander friends.

As we head into July 4th, the United States is still below of its goal of 70% vaccinated. I checked the artwork and daily friend meeting invitations based on whether or not everyone was vaccinated. The success of SF means little to me while the rest of the world has yet to follow suit.

Yet I will continue to wear a mask for the same reason I check The ChronicleThe California Fire Map multiple times a day: because I want to stay safe and everyone else is too. If SF is truly leading the fight against COVID, then let’s take our example to show how much fun you can still have while keeping safety a priority.

Charles Lewis III is a San Francisco-born journalist, theater artist, and art critic. You can find questionable evidence of this on The idiot of the man who thinks.


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