Tuesday, December 8, 2020
Yesterday they turned off the lights behind us as we walked out the hotel door. Just like Friday March 13th when they were cancelling flights as we left Portugal. Déjà vu, as they say, all over again. I don’t envy the decisions that have to be made as the pandemic pushes the reserves of ICU beds and hospital staff while businesses that have made costly adjustments to stay open face another statewide lockdown. Surely there’s a better way.
It was a Christmas holiday in Yosemite, which we planned and reserved back in September, knowing how much this natural beauty raises our spirits. We arrived in the park on Friday about 10 AM and headed to Degnan’s Deli for a spiced caramel latte and a cinnamon roll. They had inside seating, but well spaced.
Then we walked to the lower Yosemite Falls, thinking that our hotel room at the Ahwahnee wouldn’t be available until 5 PM. Actually we got in a little early, because, as the receptionist explained, they could only have 70% capacity anyway. As we checked in, they handed us a menu to check off our dinner choices and reserve a seating time.
As we unloaded the car, the hotel staff were hanging cedar garlands around the entry and finishing up snowy window displays for Christmas. This was the weekend after Thanksgiving, so all the decorated trees and wreaths had just been put up that week. As in all the hotels right now, they had eliminated valet parking, bellhops, and dining room servers. Cleaning and sanitizing the room was done between guest stays only. Their downstairs area is spacious and tables and chairs were set out in all the public areas, but spaced far apart. We were cheered by the roaring fires and the Christmas soundtrack playing softly in the lobby.
Although there was no snow on the ground, the temperatures were below freezing at night and in the mid-forties in the daytime. But we hiked about 3 miles every day in brilliant sunshine, returning for a rest and a nap (for me) before dinner. It was nice to see families out enjoying the trails. Some hikers kept their masks on all the time, while most just kept their masks handy and put them on when others approached. The park was far from crowded, so most of the time we felt safe going maskless.
Like many Californians, I have a long history with Yosemite. My grandparents honeymooned here and my parents rented us a cabin one summer when we were little. We hiked to Mirror Lake, went to the rangers’ campfire talk and watched the fire fall from Glacier Point. When we were on home leave from Iran in 1956 we rented cabins as a big family group at Camp Curry and the cousins all got to know each other again. I showed Chuck around Yosemite Valley in the sixties and we backpacked at Tuolumne Meadows the year we were married. Of course we brought our children to the Park more than once, but later years brought new destinations. Now, with travel limited, I’m rediscovering this beautiful place. Although the Ahwahnee Hotel always held a certain mystique for me, I’ve never stayed there until now.
I wondered how an elegant hotel would do dinner. Would you believe, brown bags! They took every precaution for distancing and safety. You marked your menu and reserved your time at the front desk before 5 PM. We chose 7 PM for dinner. At the appointed time, we went to the dining room and picked up our dinner in a brown bag at a table shielded with clear plastic. Disposable plates, tableware, napkins, and condiments were all in the bag. Tables were sanitized and laid with fresh linen between guests. We sat down and opened our bag, took out the brown boxes, and arranged our food on the plates. A bar was set up in one corner where we could get beverages. At dinner a jovial Swede played jazz standards on the piano every night. There were scattered tables set up in the other downstairs public rooms, but I liked to be near the music.
Before dinner we explored the premises inside and out, taking in the atmosphere of this classic hotel which has stood here since 1927, hosting famous guests, from Gertrude Stein to Lucille Ball, JFK to Queen Elizabeth II. The fireplaces are large, the furniture heavy and dark, the chandeliers glowing, and the decor blends native American, European, and Middle Eastern influences. Several movies were filmed here.
We didn’t get much news, but on Saturday we heard a rumor that Yosemite Lodge was closing the next day due to a statewide lockdown. On Sunday morning we had a letter on our door that told us that all guests had to check out on Monday morning because the regional hospital ICU capacity was less than 15%, triggering a lockdown which would close many businesses including hotels and restaurants except for take out. Saturday night the pianist played later than usual and a few people danced. Some twirled around with their children requesting songs from Frozen and the theme from Harry Potter. I requested “Night and Day.” A medley of James Bond themes was a great favorite for all.
The next morning the dining room was quiet as everyone had a quiet meal and a cup of coffee before hitting the road. As we checked out, the soundtrack in the lobby was playing, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” I don’t know about that, but try to make some memories worth keeping. It helps.
Today’s Notable Headlines
“Some restaurants are defying California lockdown rules: ‘We have to make a living’” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 8, 2020. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-12-08/restaurants-defy-california-coronavirus-lockdown-rules
“With hospitals under siege, U.S. moves closer to COVID-19 vaccine,” Reuters, Dec. 8, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa/with-hospitals-under-siege-u-s-moves-closer-to-covid-19-vaccine-idUSKBN28I1WD
“What California’s new coronavirus restrictions mean for holiday travelers,” The Washington Post, Dec. 8, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/tips/california-restrictions-holidays-covid/
Why am I doing this?
The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. It is my intention to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary crisis.
You are on History’s Edge.