Sunday, June 13, 2021

In just two days, on June 15, 2021, things are going to be different. According to the governor of California, those pesky rules that have kept us apart and hidden our smiles are going to be gone. Well, not all of them, but most of them. Some of them, anyway. We aren’t exactly clear on what will change, but before it does I thought I’d check out the rule situation East of the Sierras out in the country along route 395.

The limitations on travel this year have helped me rediscover the casual beauty of the road trip. This time I traveled with Julie, a friend since childhood, with the simple goal of stopping to see all the sights along the 395 that we’d missed before. Once known as El Camino Sierra, 395 is the route people take to reach a destination–Mammoth, Tahoe, Reno–without realizing that they are driving through the Owens Valley, a rural area with an independent spirit and quite a history of its own.

Starting in Lincoln, California, Julie and I had to cross the Sierras to Route 395 on the eastern side. We stopped for breakfast in Placerville, which started as a mining town in 1848, the start of the gold rush.

The sign on the door of the Buttercup Pantry said “masks required,” so we masked up. As we walked in, a bare-faced man on his way out told us, “You don’t need masks here.” But once inside, everyone was wearing them unless they were seated. What was different from both the coastal counties and central valley was the full rack of condiments on the table. For the past year every restaurant I’ve seen has had little individual condiment packets available by request only. It’s nice to just reach for the salt shaker again.

We continued east over the mountains, crossing the Pacific Crest Trail at 7300 feet and over Monitor Pass at an altitude of 8314. Then we descended quickly, past several signs that marked the former route of the Pony Express.

We arrived at Lee Vining, found a room for the night, and dined outside on barbecued ribs at Bodie Mike’s. Yes, condiments were on the table and everyone took off their masks as soon as they sat down, although the tables were quite close together. After dinner we browsed in a gift shop which was poetic but firm about wearing masks inside.

Our drive first took us south to Lone Pine, stopping at campgrounds, lakes, museums and historic sites, then north to Carson City, Nevada, catching the sights we’d missed. We made no reservations, just stopping when we felt like it. Motels all required masks in the lobby or office area. Some specified masks unless you are vaccinated, and when I told them I was vaccinated and removed my mask, there were no questions asked.

Travelodge, Bishop

Visitors centers at places like Manzanar and Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery were closed. The Tiger Bar at June Lake proclaimed “Masks are required until June 15!!!” and they would not let you stand up even for a second if you weren’t masked. The tackle shop at Lake Sabrina labeled their hand sanitizer “fish repellant,” and they explained that if you sanitize your hands before you bait your hook the fish won’t bite. The Eastern California Museum in Independence (which I highly recommend) had a sign not to touch the photos which were hung together in plastic pages, so you couldn’t see them without touching. Why I would catch COVID from a sheet of plastic and not from a salt shaker wasn’t clear to me, but, hey, we’re all doing our best.

NEVADA: By the end of the week we had driven a 200 mile stretch of road south to Lone Pine and then back north until we crossed the state line into Nevada and stopped for breakfast at the Topaz Lodge Casino, in the town of Topaz, population 50, elevation 5033 feet. Of course you walk through the casino to get to the restaurant, but there you have a lovely view of the lake. On the door of the casino we were informed that, “The CDC and the State of Nevada are allowing vaccinated individuals to gather in public without the wearing of face masks.”

Once inside, we were greeted by sanitizer dispenser promoting handwashing in the casino. In the ladies room, every mirror warned you to wash hands for 20 seconds. So you can’t say there aren’t rules. No masks were in sight in the casino, but, for reasons of her own perhaps, the hostess in the restaurant wore a mask. However, none of the rest of the staff did. Condiments on the table? Of course.

During our entire stay in Nevada I never took my mask out of my pocket.

Is that what we’ll see in California day after tomorrow? I don’t know. I wore a mask when I picked up Ozzie at the dog day camp this morning and asked them if masks would be required after Tuesday, June 15. They weren’t sure. Masks would not be required for vaccinated people, but then how would a small business handle that stipulation?

We’re all looking forward to Tuesday, whatever it brings.

Today’s Notable Headlines

No headlines —it’s a vacation!

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. I intend to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, as a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

One thought on “Year 2, Week 13: East of the Sierras

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