Let Inga Tell You: Sobbing at the salad bar — happily

To Inga, seeing the salad bar at Gelson’s after a 15-month absence was like a mirage in the Sahara.

Who knew June 15 would be the happiest day I’ve had in 15 months? I went to Gelson’s to pick up dinner and was happy to see no cart guys. Nobody spraying anything. No masks required for customers.

Then a few steps further inside, I saw it, like a mirage in the Sahara. The salad bar was back.

I actually started crying. OK, my husband doesn’t call me the Grim Weeper for nothing. But I truly thought salad bars were going to become permanently retired relics of the past, along with blowing out birthday cake candles and shaking hands. We’d tell our great-grandchildren about them and they’d say, “Seriously? People touched each other? There was food that wasn’t plastic-wrapped?”

Pre-pandemic, Gelson’s fabulous salad bar, along with its hot food bar and soup station, were mainstays of my life. At the salad bar, you could get exactly how much you wanted of about 50 different salad ingredients, freshly replenished multiple times daily, with a choice of six dressings as well. I blame my 22 pounds of COVID weight on the loss of that salad bar. Also from not socially distancing myself from my refrigerator. But especially the salad bar.

I guess sometimes you don’t appreciate what you have until you don’t have it. COVID has given us all more opportunities to experience this than we ever wanted. Like most people, I got the message after three months. Didn’t need another whole year of Appreciating How Good I Had It Before — especially about masks.

Let me be clear that I did, and will continue to, wear masks when required (or someone specifically asks). But for those of us who wear glasses, unloading the mask requirement in most locations was right up there with the salad bar. For more than a year, I’ve felt like I’ve been rendered legally blind with fogged-up eyewear. It’s amazing I haven’t fallen and broken my hip. In my age group, that often leads to pneumonia and death. Either way, it seemed like I had “respirator” written across my forehead.

We all developed our own comfort zones over the past 15 months about personal boundaries. By definition, anyone whose standards are more lax than yours is a risk-taking idiot. And those folks who still haven’t left their homes in 15 months seem (in some of our opinions) to have traded fear of death for having no life.

Let me clarify that my husband and I have probably been less impacted by COVID than 99 percent of Americans. We’re retired. Nobody we knew died of COVID. In fact, no one we knew even contracted it.

Regardless, there are some things I am just totally over.

At this point, I can’t even bear to hear the “C” words (COVID and coronavirus) or the “V” words (vaccine and variant).

In various mindfulness classes I have taken over the years, the power of visualization has been emphasized as a way to manage stress. So when someone other than a doctor says, “Have you been vaccinated?” I can visualize myself inflicting some major act of unkindness on them. It allows me to continue to smile the whole time.

Forty-two million doses of vaccine have been administered in California. Watching the evening news, I think I’ve witnessed every single one of them.

I’ve written about the 30-hour-plus slog it was to get appointments for Olof and me, only to have them repeatedly canceled. I feared that as younger and more computer-savvy groups became eligible, it would be harder and harder to get appointments. They’d be giving shots to offshore infants and we’d still be hitting “refresh.”

Turns out we could have gotten a free ticket to Six Flags and a $50 gift card if we’d waited long enough. Now, those once-elusive vaccine folks are begging us to show up. In another month, they’ll probably be offering foot rubs and a glass of pinot along with the shot. I’m guessing all those people who waited five hours in their cars to get into Petco Park for vaccinations are feeling Refresh Rage right now.

Initially, I wore latex gloves at the supermarket and washed my hands a lot. But I lived for those two trips a week to Gelson’s and a weekly jaunt to CVS. If I lived in a locked-down retirement home, I would have broken out early on.

Plenty of people we know are more comfortable continuing to wear masks, which is fine with us. We, however, hoped getting vaccinated would allow us to start living a freer life. As we experienced during this past year with a family friend, COVID isn’t the only horrible thing you can die of.

It’s been emphasized that COVID is probably never going to completely disappear. Its future course is still unknown. But as long as Gelson’s salad bar is back, I can live with it.

Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at ◆