New Normal

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The word “normal” is tough to define. It has a lot to do with the status quo and what is socially and culturally acceptable.

It used to be normal to commute to work via horse and buggy. Of course, now almost all of us own or lease a personal automobile to get there quicker than hooves.

The American Dream used to imply homeownership, a white picket fence. Now, many rent property for decades before getting a place of their own.

In 2019, it was common to say hello to la familia with a hug and kiss on the cheek and to greet colleagues with a firm handshake. As I write in June 2020, close contact is frowned upon with fear of spreading the novel coronavirus. Getting too close could put abuela y abuelo in grave danger.

The point is that normalcy never stays still. It’s always evolving with the world around us.

In 2020, the focus has turned to prevent the spread of a virus that stays on surfaces, can be spread through coughs, sneezes, handshakes, and inhaling breaths of infected air.

Andy Santos of BrandIt believes this is an overdue shift in cleanliness.

“This should have been done a long time ago, staying clean,” Santos said. “I’ve been in sales for 25 years and I always carry hand sanitizer because I open doors. I shake hands with business owners that see reps every day.”

“I think people will get used to it,” Santos said. “It is a change for sure but I think people will get used to it, it’s for the best.”

Santos, who spent time in Chicago, also mentioned that guards to keep cashiers, bankers, and others safe are commonplace in bigger cities. Something that might stick around as the virus remains prevalent.

“Those sneeze guards are normal over there,” he said. “There’s a door that comes out where they give you your food or money. It’s a different place and it might be bulletproof for different reasons but it’s the norm over there. They have those guards for safety purposes as well.”

As COVID-19 ravaged not only some healthcare facilities in the hardest-hit spots, it also took a toll on society and the way we live our lives.

Everyday changes

In response to the virus, especially during the month of April, much of society was quiet and in their residences due to the “shelter-at-home” order in Valley counties.

The running joke is that there is no separation between the days. With workers and students at home, a Tuesday and Saturday evening can start to look eerily similar.

School and work nights were impossible to distinguish from weekends as most work and education transitioned to online only. Some companies and employees embraced work from home and have continued the practice, while others, like the education sector, have remained mostly digital.

April and March birthdays that kept community health in mind were confined to Zoom meet-ups [and drive by parades].

“I’ve been doing Zoom calls for the last 10 years with my profession,” Santos said. “Now it’s being utilized [by all] — more like they say the future is here.”

McAllen’s vivid downtown nightlife was hit hard. Spring Break wasn’t the time that visiting college students and partygoers imagined.

Suerte Bar & Grill, arguably 17th street’s top destination, took drastic measures to keep cash flowing. They transformed into a curbside restaurant with a new law that allowed take-out alcohol the liquor kept flowing.

“Suerte pretty much converted into a drive-thru overnight,” manager Analisa Luna said. “We hit some rough patches, never having done carry-out before, but we definitely improved and adapted. Thankfully, we have a very creative team (family) that never stops and our revamped to-go cocktails created quite a buzz.”

As restrictions started to fade and bars were allowed to reopen, Luna says safety has stayed on the minds of the establishment.

“It was a huge eye-opener,” Luna said. “All of us in the industry need to do our part to get this virus under control. We would hate to see another outbreak and to close our doors again, so we will definitely be keeping some of these new guidelines permanently for our safety and our guests.”

Luna explained why Suerte, which is known for vibrant Mexican themes and with loteria art, is so loved by the community.

“We love and represent our culture and the Valley!” Luna said. “This is a family-owned and operated business. We have to make it work and we have to figure it out — we don’t have a choice. Imagine having all your family at a barbecue or group chat: brainstorming, always throwing out ideas, and then, bam — we make it happen. It’s a fun process, a team effort, and it’s a beautiful thing to see when we see the success.”

Silver lining

If you’ve been able to keep employment, then this might have actually been a good break from the rat race of daily life.

Families have had more time together, which in turn has led to parks filling up with people exercising.

Playgrounds and basketball courts were closed to curb the spread on surfaces and person-to-person transfer. Parks and recreations departments encouraged social distancing while enjoying local parks and hike and bike trails.

As things return to some resemblance of pre-COVID ‘normalcy,’ we can keep some of the nightly activity and slower pace.

Even as restrictions end, there remains a concern. The economy needed to open, so it did. But the novel coronavirus still doesn’t have a vaccine, and there are still hospitalizations and deaths.

While you enjoy this relative freedom, remember the reality of a global pandemic. Be safe, RGV.

What has the pandemic changed the most in your life? #JoinTheConversation at facebook.com/rgvisionmagazine.