Does anyone else find themselves a little nostalgic for real COVID restrictions? I don’t mean COVID itself — I would not trade my vaccine for smaller crowds — but I forgot what a pain in the ass everything is when people are no longer freaked out and staying home.

There’s traffic on the Eisenhower again, which I did not miss at all. There’s an upsetting amount of traffic everywhere, really. I liked not worrying about how long it was going to take to drive places; in May of 2020 I made it downtown for a 9 a.m. dental appointment at Northwestern Hospital in 23 minutes. Even found street parking. Today I would be nervous about tardiness if I hadn’t left the house by 7:30.

Dentist was focused and moving fast, too. I definitely appreciated the way medical people got focused overall. My doctor is a normal doctor, which means every appointment starts with 40 minutes of waiting in the exam room, and a couple of weeks ago a trip to the ER kicked off with a very rapid $450 charge to my credit card, followed by a 90-minute wait to see any medical person. 

Not during the pandemic though! During the pandemic, doctors moved swiftly and efficiently to minimize exposure and my couple of trips to urgent care were handled like there was an “Either your problem is resolved in 10 minutes or your care is free” promotion underway. I could tolerate recreational capacity limits on restaurants and movie theaters if the exchange was no traffic and no lines. 

Restaurant-wise, I miss not having to make good choices. When everywhere was closed, it was easy to avoid defaulting to “Let’s just go out.” Good for the wallet and the cholesterol, avoiding that temptation. Now I have to avoid it the old-fashioned way, with planning and will power, which is much more effort than just shutting everything down. 

I liked not having to remember how to make plans. I love traveling and I used to be great at it. Book tickets, book rental cars, pack, plan, go. Then we couldn’t travel for 15 months. I still haven’t gone anywhere, partly because I’m still not 100% sold it’s a good idea and partly because the idea of buying tickets and renting cars and packing seems dauntingly complex compared to my go-to pandemictainment of staying in and learning to cook something new and watching a movie I haven’t seen before.

We had such a taste of how good a voluntarily lower-capacity world was during the phased reopening, too, which makes this all the harder. I went to a reduced-capacity game at Wrigley in May. Ten thousand people in the park. No crowds at all in Wrigleyville. We found street parking, ate dinner without waiting in a mobbed bar for an hour, breezed through the gate and sat in seats near (but not too near) people who were visibly happy to be there instead of belligerent sports-analyst superfans heckling after five beers.

But maybe I’m just trying to brace myself for the next few months. I’m trying to be sanguine about this surge, and I’m generally a pretty optimistic guy, but the effort is showing. I was a good sport about the mask the first time around. This time I might get a little cranky. “Regular life plus masks” was not the endgame I had hoped for.

Alan Brouilette writes a monthly column for our sister publication, the Forest Park Review.

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