David J. Danto
Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion
SORTA Traveling Blog, 4th Week Of August
(This blog has a critical September 4th & 5th update at the end.)
In 2014 I was voted by USA Today readers as one of the top ten business travel bloggers in the USA. Now mind you, I turned out to be number ten on the list of ten, but I did make it on (with my thanks to all those who voted.) Now that we’re all stuck at home and not traveling, I had to think about what to do with my blogs. I could stop writing them entirely – waiting till we all get through the current COVID19 pandemic / crisis. I could wax nostalgic and/or complain about past trips. Or, I could focus all of my efforts on my day job – growing the use of collaboration technologies – especially in light of how many people are now forced to use those tools for the first time. In reflecting upon those choices, what I decided to do is compile an ongoing list of observations during the crisis. Some of these may amuse, some may inform, some may sadden and others may help. My goal will be for you to have seen something in a different light than you did before you stopped to read the blog. I was going to apologize for how disjointed these thoughts may seem when put together, but then it dawned on me that feeling disjointed is our new normal – at least for a little while.
Trip Report – The Jersey Shore – Atlantic City. As readers of my “not traveling” blogs know, my wife and I had been planning our first trip this year since March – a drive down to the venerable Jersey Shore and a quick visit to Atlantic City. It represented two days to get away from the stir-crazy life we’ve been living. We were all set to go, but then the COVID19 infection and transmission rates in New Jersey – one of the few states in the US that had done a fantastic job of ‘flattening the curve’ started to tick-back-up (due to some Coviditos and super-spreader house parties) and we were worried that our plans would be dashed. Thankfully the rates we were watching headed back down to below 1, and we decided it was safe enough to go.
New Jersey COVID19 stats from August 12th
Atlantic City is about a two hour drive from our home (with no traffic) and we were lucky enough to make it down in record time. Highway traffic in New Jersey has picked-up from the peak of the pandemic levels, but not back to where it used to be. We stopped at one of the many Garden State Parkway rest stops along the way to use the bathroom and get some take-out food (as New Jersey is still not permitting indoor restaurant dining anywhere in the state.) The concessions in the facility were mostly closed, with only one Burger King open, and all of the “fresh” options on the menu (salads, grilled chicken, etc.) removed. Eating out is still a challenge in New Jersey.
When we arrived at the casino/resort the check-in process was easy. Plexiglas dividers are everywhere, and the front lobby is no exception. About the only other difference is that every floor space where people could wait is now marked with Xs or circular spots to encourage social distancing.
The resort showed they were being serious about cleanliness. In order to go into any entrance one has to pass-by a thermal imaging camera to read your temperature, use a hand sanitizer station, and be wearing a mask. All of the entrances have been split into “enter only” and “exit only” and each entrance is manned with a security guard to make sure everyone passes the tests and follows the rules.
The elevators are now limited to four people or one party together. There are disks on the floor to show people where to stand.
When we arrived at our room we found a sticker sealing the door to indicate that no one had been inside it since it was cleaned. Inside the room, the resort-provided toiletries were on the vanity in a sealed plastic zip-lock bag. Honestly, we didn’t think that any of these efforts represented a cleaner room than before, but each gesture was meant to help people feel at ease. My wife and I got to work with the alcohol we packed and started wiping-down and spraying everything. We also set up a HEPA air purifier to clean the room’s air continuously for our stay. We mist-sprayed the bedding with the alcohol and let it dry, then unpacked our own pillows for the bed. Was all of this overkill? Just like everything else with this pandemic, I have no idea. We obviously did whatever we could to feel as safe and comfortable as we possibly could. In addition, we opted out of housekeeping services for the brief, two night stay, as we felt we could manage to keep the bed and towels for an extra day, and honestly, why take the risk.
Walking around the resort and the casino it was good to see 99% of the people taking the rules seriously. Nearly everyone was wearing masks – and correctly covering their face and nose. One person walking through the casino was only covering their mouth and a security guard stopped him and made him cover his nose too. There was the occasional rude person wearing the mask as a chin strap, but it was very rare. We wore KN95 masks for this visit, not our usual cloth ones, again, to feel a bit safer. The casino itself was clearly completely transformed due to the pandemic. I wish I had the Plexiglas concession for this place, as shields between players and between players and dealers were permanently installed – complete with the resort’s logo.
Only every third slot machine was playable, the rest were disabled to promote social distancing. The entire resort is mandated by our governor’s orders to only 25% of capacity, so there was plenty of space for everyone. In addition, again because indoor dining is still not permitted and masks are required, there was no smoking nor drinking allowed in the casino. It was clearly the cleanest casino I’ve ever been in – which was actually a pleasure.
Dining, however, was a problem. With only outdoor venues allowed there is a huge capacity limitation on getting a table at one of the few restaurants that had boardwalk or outdoor deck areas. Sporadic rain on our first night there meant there was just nowhere to eat except our room. We went to one of the many take-out restaurants on property and brought the food back to eat. I was fine with it but my wife was quite disappointed, as being served at a restaurant (as opposed to having to set-up and clean-up ourselves) is a big part of the experience she is looking for when on leisure travel. The weather was much better on our second day, so we were able to eat at one of the resort’s boardwalk restaurants. I kept my mask on until after ordering as a courtesy to the waiter. Sadly, our and many of the other waiters were not wearing their masks properly – not covering their noses – and we’ll be sure to point this out to the resort via this blog. Again here, the limitations were unfortunate. We could order a $39 ‘faux-steaming’ cocktail, but we couldn’t order a simple unsweetened iced tea. Eating outside was wonderful because of the strong shore breeze keeping us cool, but it was terrible because of the strong shore breeze blowing the napkins (and anything else on the tables) all around and down the boardwalk.
Dining tables and chairs set-up under a semi-permanent tent on the boardwalk
Our resort also had its own bar and restaurant right on the beach right next to New Jersey’s famous (infamous?) Steel Pier, with an adjacent area that kind of works out to be a private beach, and we truly enjoyed lounging there, under an umbrella, sipping tropical drinks (that last year were not permitted on the beach, but this year – due to the pandemic – are.) Again here, people kept masks on at the bar and when interacting with other people, but were able to remove them when distanced on the beach. (Yes, those are my toes.)
Once we left the areas under the control of our resort, the rules were not being followed or as enforced as much as we would have liked. On the famous (infamous?) Atlantic City Boardwalk, about 1/3 of the people were wearing masks correctly, 1/3 were wearing them as chin straps or with noses uncovered, and 1/3 just didn’t bother. Here in New Jersey, masks are encouraged but not required when outdoors in public spaces and when people can maintain their distance, but IMHO it really is an IQ test and a test of courtesy, and too many people just fail (as you can see if you zoom in and all around in the picture below.) I can count three masks being worn correctly, a few incorrectly, a few chin-straps, and a whole bunch of nothing at all.
…and, that photo was taken during the middle of the day. In the evening, when the partying begins and the bars are hopping it’s even worse.
Overall we’re glad we were able get away for a couple of days to break the monotony, and we may do it again before this summer is over, but it is clearly only a shadow of what leisure travel used to be. This is now simply a fact of life we’ll all have to get used to until there is a vaccine and/or better treatments for COVID19.
As always, please feel free to write to me with comments or items I should add to a future Not Traveling blog (or if you just need someone to write to.) Stay safe, be well, hug those you’re sheltering with (but no one else) and do your best to stay positive. We’re going to be in this for a long while.
September 4th Update
In the first week of September, New Jersey’s Governor Murphy announced that indoor restaurants in the state would be allowed to open at 25% of capacity as of the 4th (in time for the long US Labor Day weekend.) A number of restrictions were included in that announcement, including keeping windows and doors open to allow for fresh air and ensuring that large distances between diners were maintained. The Atlantic City casinos have interpreted that permission to include beverage service for seated gamblers in their casinos. So now, a patron wearing a mask can walk into the casino, sit at a table or machine, order a beverage, and then completely take-off their mask to consume it. The casinos have also interpreted this to allow for smoking for the seated gamblers as well, providing yet another excuse to remove a mask in the casino.
Clearly indoor restaurants opening – even at 25% capacity – is more of a risk of COVID19 infection than with outdoor dining, but the governor’s team assumed that the low transmission rate in the state and the mitigation steps of table distancing and open doors/windows for fresh air made that risk acceptable. Having the Atlantic City casinos interpret that to permit maskless people all over their resort (as long as they are seated) is a ridiculous foolishness that voids all of the safety that was achieved by making patrons wear masks in public places to begin with. I believe this move is a concession to the covidiots that refused to wear masks in the first place. As such, I can no longer recommend these places as a safe place to travel to during the pandemic – which people again may forget is hardly over.
September 5th Update
On the day the new rules were to take effect, New Jersey’s Governor Murphy announced that he was rescinding the permission for smoking in the casinos. He said the science was overwhelming that this activity would increase the spread of the Coronavirus. What remains in place is the permission for people seated in the casino to remove their masks to sip a bar-staff delivered drink, then put their mask back on between sips. I reiterate my feeling above that this is a foolish move that the casino staff will never be able to effectively police. Once we’ve given permission for people to remove their masks in a “mask only” area, the safety achieved by people wearing masks in public essentially disappears.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.
All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.