Gov. Janet Mills’ order on Thursday that effectively shut down nightlife throughout Maine did not strike me as a particularly big deal.

I don’t have a nightlife.

I’m an old guy. My wife and I eat our dinner usually between 5 and 6 p.m. We watch the news, which can take an inordinately long time because I’m prone to hitting the pause button and sounding off about this or that story while Andrea patiently nods and waits for me to unfreeze the screen.

If we’re up for it, we’ll watch something on Netflix or maybe read a bit. Then, in large part because we rise so early in the morning, it’s off to bed – usually before 9 p.m.

So you see, when Mills told restaurants, tasting rooms, movie theaters, casinos and other entertainment venues they now have to close by 9 p.m. because of the rapid spread of COVID-19 across Maine, I thought, “Sounds fine to me. Won’t change my life one iota.” (A word that’s been in the nightly news lately.)

Still, it got me thinking. With the pandemic’s long-predicted winter surge now at our doorstep, who would want to go out for a burger followed by a beer, and another beer, and maybe another beer…?

And if a friend called and said, “Hey, want to go to the casino or catch a late movie?” my response would be, “I have a better idea. How about I stay home and you go have your head examined?”

Before anyone fires up their keyboard to protest that just because I live a boring life doesn’t mean they have to, let me assure you I get it. There was a time when being out and about at 11 p.m., midnight or even beyond meant I was having a good time, reveling in the company of good friends and soaking up the energy of a crowded brewpub or concert hall.

But this is far from one of those times. The notion of heading out on the town these days runs smack into a question for which there is no easy answer: Why?

If it’s to relieve stress late in a historically stressful year, I ask you: How relaxing can it be to go into a restaurant/bar wearing a mask, sit down at a socially distant table, pull down the mask to eat and/or drink, all the while scanning the room and wondering, “Does that person have COVID? Or that one? Or how about that guy coughing up a lung in the corner? What’s up with that?”

Or picture yourself in a movie theater, as a couple laden with popcorn and soda “excuse-me” their way around your knees en route to an inside seat. Suddenly you’re no longer mesmerized by the tiny pixels on the screen. You’re fixated on the even tinier microbes in the air.

And casinos? I’ve always had a hard time grasping the allure of plunking your money down, winning a few bucks, and then losing it all in the wistful hope that maybe you’ll win more. Throw in the coronavirus and, in my humble opinion, the odds against you skyrocket.

By now, I’m sure, business owners far and wide are ready to throttle me. And I get that – we’re talking about your livelihood here.

I spoke Friday with Steve Hewins, president and CEO of HospitalityMaine, who mounted an impassioned defense of the thousands of Maine restaurateurs, innkeepers and related businessfolk who have bent over backwards these past nine months to stay afloat while protecting their employees and customers as best they can.

“I’m nowhere near an anti-COVID person or anything like that. I completely understand what we’re facing,” Hewins said. That said, “Where’s the data that says restaurants are spreading the COVID? That’s the data I’ve not seen.”

Hewins is in a tough spot. Many of his organization’s members have already gone under. Most others are hanging by a thread. And whenever the Mills administration hands down another business-related directive, he’s the guy whose phone rings off the hook with distress calls from small-business owners who feel they’re being singled out here, that they – despite all the safety measures they’ve taken – are perceived as the problem.

They aren’t the problem per se. The problem, buttressed by reams of actual data, is that COVID-19 is most dangerous in indoor settings where people congregate for extended periods of time. Masks and social distancing help, but the risk remains high nonetheless.

The business backlash echoes with the refrain that it’s just not fair. With a few notable exceptions – we’re looking at you, Sunday River Brewing Co. owner Rick Savage – they’ve done nothing wrong.

They’re right. The COVID-19 pandemic defines unfair. And the longer Congress fails to come up with a new aid package to help keep small businesses’ heads above water, the more unfair it gets.

But like it or not, this is now about survival. On Friday, Maine posted 224 new cases of COVID-19, the 15th time in the last 17 days that the daily count has exceeded 100 and the fifth time in 11 days that it’s blown past 200.

“What was for so many of us an abstract concept is now very real,” warned Dr. Nirav Shah, head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “If we don’t do something different, nothing is going to change.”

To those Mainers – and I think you’re relatively few – who still find enjoyment in late-night revelry, the message is plain: You need to, as Dr. Shah put it, do something different.

As darkness fell on Friday, my wife asked, “Want to eat out tonight?”

An hour later, we were in the parking lot of The Buxton Common, our culinary savior since last March. The ever-friendly hostess brought our dinner (Portuguese seafood stew and a carrot, ginger and coconut soup that darn near made me weep) in a big brown paper bag, placed it on the barstool in front of our car, held her hands together as she bowed in thanks and then scurried back inside.

Minutes later, we were happily scarfing it all down in our living room, watching the latest season of “The Crown.”


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