I Want To Go Back To Work/I’m Scared To Go Back To Work
In mid-March when Covid forced New York City to shut down restaurants completely and I found myself without a job, I was more relieved than anything else. While I worried about getting by for a few weeks without working, knowing that I could safely ensconce myself in my apartment more than made up for the apprehension of losing some of my income. Fast forward forty-four freaking weeks and things haven’t changed much. There’s an extra-contagious strain of Covid floating around and I’m still not working in my restaurant. There were a few months when indoor dining was allowed and I was working part-time, but that ended in December. I want to go back to work, but I’m scared to go back to work.
Most servers who lost their jobs are ready and willing to go back to waiting tables. Even some that that are collecting unemployment would rather be making more money in tips. Besides that, being unemployed is a full-time job and it’s not an easy one. Filling each day and trying not to fall into a vast pit of despair takes more effort than one would think. When there’s no such thing as a work week, it’s surprisingly difficult to be a productive person because there’s always tomorrow to do what could be done today. With 308 days off in a row, there is literally time to do everything that needs to be done, but no reason to do any of it. For that reason, I would love to go back to work.
Even working just twice a week would force me to figure out what I will do on the other five days. Being back at work would give me a purpose again. When I was working part-time, I found that those five hours I was there each day allowed me to think about something other than coronavirus or our flailing democracy. Instead, I used my brain to remember food orders and I had chats with customers about things like burger temperatures and beer specials. It was a welcome respite from what I’d think about sitting in my apartment for 24 hours a day. Even writing “thank you for supporting our restaurant” on the occasional takeout container was a welcome break from reality. So, yes. I want to go back to work.
On the flip side, being at work doesn’t feel nearly as safe as being at home. There’s no one in my apartment who might infect me with Covid because they refuse to wear a mask when they walk to the bathroom. At the restaurant, we were taking the temperatures of our customers, but a digital thermometer reading of 98.6° doesn’t do much for the nerves when that same person is later coughing up a lung at Table 16. When that happened, it felt like I was stepping inside a cumulous cloud of contagion just to serve a grilled salmon. Every time I retrieved a menu, a dirty plate or a credit card receipt from a customer, I had to wash my hands again. Eventually, my knuckles were as dry as a burger that sat on the grill too long. When customers would come in to pick up their to-go order and had their mask below their nose or would just lift their arm in front of their face, I had to wonder if it was worth being there or not. So, yes. I’m scared to go back to work.
Servers want to go back to work, but we want to feel safe when we do it. Some states have restaurants at 100% capacity while other states have no indoor dining allowed at all and we don’t even know if that’s making a difference in the spread of Covid or not. It seems that if an airline can pack customers into a plane like sardines, then restaurants should at least be able to have a few customers sit inside while socially distanced. On the other hand, at least on a plane, everyone can wear a mask which is not an option for someone eating in a restaurant. The only thing that’s going to make me look forward to wearing an apron again without worrying for my health is the vaccine. In the meantime, I go back and forth between wanting to go back to work and being too scared to do so.