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From the Editor: Squirrelly Observations

Everyone at the park that meanders along the Mississippi River in Red Wing was social distancing, except one especially aggressive squirrel who had his eye on my picnic lunch. My husband and I were about to check into the newly reopened St. James Hotel, and all we wanted was to eat our lunch in peace after a semi-long drive. We were certainly not flaunting our takeout from Bellecour’s pop-up at Cooks of Crocus Hill in the North Loop of Minneapolis. 

As I chewed cautiously, the squirrel started advancing on me. Thinking I could halt his hell-bent assent, I tossed a small piece of bread that miraculously hit him square in the head. He hesitated before deciding to attack me to check out what I had thrown his way. 

And here’s where it gets really weird. He sniffed at the well-made bread, but didn’t bite. “Does he know he just turned down cuisine by one of the best chefs in the Twin Cities?” my husband opined. Was it too fancy for his palate, I wondered, or is this a squirrel who's bought into the “eat local” movement?

Either way, I didn’t like him invading my personal space, nor his piercing stare. Visions of the squirrel jumping on Chevy Chase’s back in the movie Christmas Vacation flashed through my head. I crinkled my clamshell container and the noise caused him to back away.

 As I packed up the remains of the day's picnic, he finally retreated to a tree where he made himself into a pelt to blend in with the bark, but I still could feel his piercing eyes on me. 

The reason I’m telling you this is I don’t think this is an isolated incident. Last month when we were visiting the Boundary Waters, the squirrels on the resort's patio walked around like they owned the place. I almost expected one of them to ask for our credit card. And don’t get me started on the pushy ducks that had been spoiled by guests tossing them dried corn 24-7.

Is wildlife just as COVID-weary as those of us experiencing a suddenly too-tame, adventure-free life?

Unfortunately, aggressive behavior isn’t restricted to animals. It seems like we’re all suffering from too many uncertainties, along with constantly changing rules. One of the restaurateurs I talked to recently said she had been surprised and a bit dismayed at the rude behavior of some guests returning to dine inside or out. 

“I thought they’d all just be happy to be dining out again,” she said.

Another owner said he’d had diners point to a six-top and tattle in hushed tones that the six people “don’t look like they’re all related.” It’s kinda funny, but also a sad commentary on who we are becoming. Right, Karen?

Add to an already-charged atmosphere guests who refuse to wear masks or who move tables together to accommodate larger groups, and you’ll see another reason why some employees are hesitant to return to work. 

But hospitality has never been for the faint of heart. Dealing with the general public is no picnic, for the most part, and people who love to serve others deserve a crown or a halo. Or a tip.

That night we dined at the hotel’s restaurant and our server was especially jovial. It was such a treat. I’m finding it harder to communicate when I’m dining out now because masks seem to muffle personality and conversation. Mask wearing also has made me realize how much I rely on lip-reading. 

As our server handed us the check, I thanked her and remarked, “You are a really good server.” She looked surprised and a bit flustered. “Well, you’re really good guests,” she replied. And even though we both had on masks, we knew the other one was smiling. 

That’s the definition of hospitality, right? Good service, good guests. And both sides have a part to play in the hospitality dance—whether we lead or follow. Let’s hope we all get back to that mutual admiration sometime in the very near future. We all need a little civility. 

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