Sydney Baran and Alisa Vance were first in line to party.
They were waiting for Regina’s Gabbo’s Nightclub to open at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, the earliest possible time to host a festival of excess without any public health restrictions to get in the way.
Baran hadn’t been to the Dewdney Avenue nightclub since March 2020, the night before the province began to shut down. It was her birthday. She remembers thinking, “this is the apocalypse.”
She wasn’t sure she’d ever be back. But 15 months later she was waiting outside, an hour early, the line growing behind her. There were more than 50 people by 11:45 p.m., and well over 100 as the doors opened right after midnight. The revellers packed together tight. “No masks, no problem!” Only a few covered their faces, but even those masks came off at the dance floor.
“It’s just like a ray of hope,” said Baran. “It’s so great, and not just to get out, but to see people without a mask on. I feel like I can tell what the stranger next to me is feeling.”
One young woman said it was the first time she’d ever been to a club — at least with genuine identification. It was not a good year to turn 19. Baran, 24, considered that with some foreboding. Even the 20 year olds are novices here. “They don’t really know the ropes,” she said.
The dance floor filled up within minutes, amid smoke, lasers, wild shrieks and the smell of close-pressed bodies. Social distancing was unknown, indeed impossible. For a young man who would only give his name as Nathan, it was about time.
“Tonight I get my freedom back,” he said. “I had some cigarettes — I shared them mouth to mouth with other people. Now, I’ve danced with people, two inches away. Not six feet; two inches. It feels fantastic. Feels like a thousand bucks. It feels like a million dollars.”
Public health experts have cautioned that it is “not just open season” as restrictions lift, calling the next few months a time of transition as normal life slowly resumes. They worry that clusters of cases are especially likely to emerge among the young, who have lower vaccination rates. Many public health measures — like masking in close quarters — remain good practice even if not required.
But for Nathan, the transition was instantaneous. Sunday was like a time machine. “Within 20 seconds, it was now back to normal,” he said.
Nathan’s group of friends were among those gawking as two young women began making out in the smoking area behind the night club. At this point, he said, there’s no going back.
“The pandemic is (expletive) done! It’s over,” he said. “I don’t give a (expletive) about your variants. I don’t give a (expletive) about your Delta variant. I don’t give a (expletive) about your tetra variant (not a real variant). All the variants can (expletives).”
Elsewhere on the smoking deck, Ian Hykawy wasn’t so profane, and generally more measured in his pronouncements. But he too seemed relieved by the end of restrictions. He hasn’t been to a club in 16 months. Isolation left him more prone to social anxiety. But it hasn’t taken long to adjust. He used to come here every weekend. “It feels like home,” he said.
Hykawy, 22, was fully vaccinated as of two weeks ago that past Thursday. He hopes everyone does likewise, so the party can continue.
“I do have a mask if anything does happen, so I’m always prepared,” he said. “COVID is still a thing. It hasn’t gone away, but by the time that herd immunity becomes a thing, that should all pass, and we should be back to normal.”
Baran, who was vaccinated with her second dose on Saturday, was also feeling cautious but hopeful.
“People think it’s over. Do I necessarily think it’s over? Probably not,” she said. “I think that there are enough people out there who have refused to get vaccines that there will still be variants and there will still be breakouts here and there.
“Fingers crossed: this is essentially the end and there’s not any more restrictions put in place after this,” she added. “But all you can hope is that people do their best and go get their vaccines.”
She thought Sunday morning would feel strange, like she was doing something wrong. But any such qualms were soon submerged under joy and nostalgia.
“It feels totally natural,” she said. “Like we never left”
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