A Minnesotan walks into a bar.
Orders a beer and takes a seat at a table crowded with friends and happy dogs and covered with bingo cards and takeout tacos.
An ordinary game night at Lakes & Legends Brewing Co. in Minneapolis' Loring Park neighborhood. But after a year of sacrifice and social distance, there's nothing more extraordinary.
Minnesotans who did everything right — masked up, vaxed up, cared whether their neighbors lived or died — are ready to have fun again.
We're planning trips. We're buying movie tickets. We're strolling around outside without masks, trying to remember what to do with the bottom half of our face.
We're returning to the people, places and pastimes we've missed.
Places like Lakes & Legends were waiting to welcome us back — carefully, cautiously, safely and joyfully.
"We'll never forget the love and support our customers gave us through the toughest time," said Derrick Taylor, co-founder of the Minneapolis neighborhood taproom. "A sincere thank you to folks who supported us when things weren't great."
During shutdown, neighbors lined up on the sidewalk to place takeout orders. In bitter cold, they bundled up and gathered at tables on the patio. They logged on to virtual game nights. When Lakes & Legends started offering beer delivery, orders poured in. Staff weathered furloughs and took on extra work to get the company through.
"The pandemic put us through really tough times," Taylor said. "But I think it made us better. It made our businesses stronger because we were forced to evolve and we were forced to innovate — we'd never delivered beer before — I think that spirit of innovation will be with us forever."
And when it was time to open the doors again — Minnesotans walked into the bar.
We're still in a pandemic that has killed thousands of our neighbors. Millions more are still at risk.
But enough vaccine has gone into enough arms to make the impossible feel possible again. By the end of the month, most of the state's emergency orders could ease. By July, we could be walking around the grocery store unmasked.
Life's not back to normal, but we're coming back to life. Back to playgrounds and concerts and festivals and that mini-fair they're planning at the State Fairgrounds for the end of the month.
At Lakes & Legends, marketing manager Jason Ma was working on plans for the return of the Loring Park Art Festival at the end of July and the return of the company's festival beer garden.
Each step back the company takes, they bring others in the community along with them. The local farmers who grow the ingredients for some of their brews, the food trucks setting up shop on the curb outside, the employees who spent lockdown perfecting Lakes & Legends' first hard seltzer. The nonprofit Firefighters for Healing, which is counting on the bingo profits from game night to help patients and families in local burn wards.
Not every Minnesotan is ready to walk into a bar, or a barbershop, or a movie theater. But for most of us, there will be a moment when life starts to feel extraordinarily ordinary again.
For Ma, the moment came one night as he looked around the taproom and realized every one of tables they'd carefully spaced out around the large room was full.
"This is the new normal," he said.
When you're ready, when you're comfortable, when it feels safe, the places you've missed have been missing you, too.
"Come out," Ma said. "Be safe, be kind to everybody."