Just what is a ‘bad wine?’

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Wine sales people, writers or just an aficionado will talk about bad wine but it’s not a topic anyone wants to wallow in for a lengthy time.

So what is bad wine? A bad wine may be defined as simply as one you don’t like. But perhaps your neighbor likes it. A wine gone bad is a whole different story.

A rule of thumb to start with, never store any wine in a warm spot. Never. No, you can’t leave that wine you just purchased in the car on a warm day even for an hour.

Always store your wine on its side in a cool, dry, and dark spot. That’s an easy first suggestion to avoid bad wine.

But there are other culprits in bad wine, primarily oxygen. I tell retail wine customers, almost daily, oxygen is wine’s best friend and most lethal enemy. Opening up almost any bottle of red wine to decant it or just air it out will almost always improve the drinking experience. If you don’t have a wine decanter and you drink a good amount of red wine, go buy one. Most home stores have wine glasses and decanters. A cheap one works as well as an expensive one.

Conversely, oxygen will quickly kill red wine once opened. An ever-puzzling challenge is what to do with that half a bottle left over at evening’s end. If not sealed up properly, you will probably have an unpleasant experience when re-opening. If the wine smells overly musty or tastes like vinegar or cider, it’s likely gone bad.

Here’s an over-simplified couple of clues to bad wine. If you think it is unpleasant from your previous pour a day or more earlier, it probably has oxidized.

There are all sorts of devices to save wine and I’ve tried most of them. There are expensive options to cheap alternatives. The best I’ve found is the simple rubber stopper with a little hand pump to suck out the excess air.

If you’re really serious about wine you need a Coravin. The device pierces the cork with a needle-like projectile. Proponents say it will keep the wine for weeks if not months. The solution isn’t cheap though, ranging from $200-$300 models. But they do work well. You’ll see the Coravin in better restaurants and even wine shops in use every day.

But oxygen isn’t the only enemy. There are several chemical reactions which can happen in the bottle which will make it undrinkable. Going into those problems would make this column as unreadable. These flaws are much more noticeable than too much oxygen. The smell and taste will be terrible – and that’s not a wine geeky term.

Let’s tackle one other category of bad wine – a wine you strongly dislike. It’s a fun and challenging task to recommend wines to retail customers. It’s hard sometimes to recommend a wine that fits a customer’s desired description or price point.

I don’t like to recommend a wine I don’t like but that’s not fair – what I like you might not. I’ve learned through the years to judge a wine for what it is. Does the $9 bottle pass the same test as a $50 bottle? Is it balanced across your palate, reasonable acidity and just the right alcohol level? If any wine meets those standards it’s probably a decent bottle.

Many customers are looking for the cheapest bottle they can find and there are good well-made wines around $10 in a decent wine shop. You’re rolling the dice at that price point in a liquor store or grocery.

Everything still comes back to your personal tastes and budget. You want to upgrade your wines, don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek help from a wine professional. But you may need to up your budget just a few bucks to avoid those bad wines.

Contrasting wine visits

McMinnville, OR. – After a long Sat traveling to Oregon, we kicked off our Willamette Valley visit with a wonderful day of tastings with dramatic differences.

A note about the travel – two flights, Indy-Minneapolis and Minneapolis to Portland. I don’t recall seeing much of any one in either airport and none on the flight without a mask. It’s refreshing to see that level of cooperation to end this terrible pandemic.

None of the three wineries we visited required masking.

Our first stop was Knudsen Vineyards and it was my favorite of the day. Knudsen planted grapes back at the start of the Oregon wine industry in 1971. Those vines are now gone due to root disease but sprawling vineyards is one of the valley’s best.

For years Knudson sold grapes to Erath and then Argyle. They still sell a lot of their growth to Argyle for their sparkling wines.

We were greeted by Page Knudson, second-generation family member. She was delightful and answered lots of our questions.

The Knudsen Chardonnay and Rose were terrific. The Rose’ is made with some of the oldest vines on the property. The selection of dynamite Pinot Noir — from blends to designated blocks in the vineyard were all terrific and different enough to match any tastes. The Pinot’s ranged from full bodied and full fruit to the popular more light and delicate mouth feel Oregon has made popular.

So, you’ve never heard of Knudsen? Well they didn’t start producing their own wines until start of the last decade and to this day are only doing 2,000 cases. it’s a gem of a winery …. small, family owned and operated and terrific wines.

Our second stop could not have been more different. I had been anxious to visit Resonance – the French-owned Louis Jadot operation that has drawn lots of attention due to the French icon’s investment. The tasting room is stunning with an ‘old barn’ feel.

The wines aren’t going to be for everybody. They self describe the wines as made with a Burgundian accent. Very true. The pinot noir is lighter, leaner and more acidic than much of what a visitor will taste in the Valley. The chardonnay from Hyland vineards was a wonderful Oregon take on white burgundy.

Zach Thom, Howard, Zach Bigg at Elk Cove

Last stop was long-time producer Elk Cove, also a big producer by Valley norms at 85,000 cases. Part of this trip is aimed to visit with friend Zach Thom whom worked at the wine shop in Indy with me. We also were joined my Zach Biggs who worked with us for about a year.

Elk Cove makes lots of choices from Chardonnay, Riesing, Rose’, sparkling and several Pinot Noir. The wines are consistently dool..

Elk Cove might just make the best Pinot Gris of any producer in the valley.

Today is our ‘something different’ day. I always go to the Gorge and Mount Hood on an of day but we’re mixing it up and are going to visit the rocky Oregon Pacific Coast

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What’s for dinner?

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EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m cleaning up my computer and finding a couple Magazine pieces I’ve written in past year an not posted here. In retirement, I work at a small boutique wine shop. The most frequently asked question is about food and wine pairings. Here’s my take written late in 2020 with a few edits.

Red or White? It’s the oldest question in fine dining and wine world when thinking about wine with a meal. The right answer is there is no answer – eat and drink what you like and don’t let anyone tell you differently. But there are plenty of people willing to make suggestions.

There is a humorous cartoon that pops up on social media occasionally addressing that choice. A caveman and cave woman are standing in a stone house. The caveman says, “Remember if it eats us. we drink red; if we eat it, it’s white.”

Having worked part time in retail wine sales for more than 3.5 years in retirement, customers seeking a good wine-food pairing are an everyday occurrence.

The best approach is to start with the basics and you’ll find delight. But then try new things and then try a few things that make no sense at all.

For years wine drinkers and restaurants have lived with the red meat/red wine and chicken/fish with white wine mantra. It works and it works well. Char a ribeye or strip steak and pop open a big Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and you’ll understand how good pairings can be. If you enjoy roasted chicken, you’ll delight in one of California’s big buttery Chardonnays or a leaner and crisp Chablis or White Burgundy from France.

But everyone wants tips and recommendations, so here are a few:

Barbeque or heavily spiced foods: Malbec, Shiraz, or French Cotes-du-Rhone wines will work well. Something different: Try a semi-sweet Riesling or Gewurtztraminer.

Tangy foods: Try Albarino, Spanish Verdejo, or a good Sauvignon blanc. New Zealand Sauv Blanc is acidic with bold citrus grapefruit flavors, California Sauv blanc is a more restrained wine with great balance, while French Sancerre is an elegant and soft version of Sauv Blanc. Something different: Try an Italian Vermentino or Garnaccia.

Salmon: One of the best traditional pairings is Pinot Noir or a Sauv Blanc. Try those other whites mentioned above for a change. Something different: Pick up a lighter red like a Spanish or Italian Barbaresco.

White Fish: The whites already mentioned will work with most white fish. If you have a firm white fish like Halibut, try something different like a Mourvedre or Grenache.

Pork Chops, roast or shoulder: Pork is one of the most flexible proteins in our diet. That also makes pork a perfect meat for wine pairing experimentation. Try reds and white with lower acidity and a lighter mouth feel. Something different: Get bold and choose a California Zinfandel to create a real contrast.

Hamburger: Lighter red wines like Beaujolais Cru or a Spanish Rioja.

Pizza, chili, simple pasta: Everyone drinks Chianti and it works great. But try the previously mentioned Italian Barbaresco or Barbera.

Salads and desserts: A good catch-all answer for a food group is bubbles. Traditional champagne is dry and refreshing but on the pricey side. Don’t overlook Italian Prosecco, Spanish Cava, and US made sparkling wines. Something different: A favorite is French Cremant. Cremant is made by the same process as Champagne but, per French law, cannot be called Champagne. Alsace, Burgundy, Loire Valley, and the Languedoc produce Cremant wines. There are great ones for around $20.

Final tip is an “oh-wow” experience. Get some nice salty popcorn and real French Champagne and enjoy.

Getting the alcohol right for you

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EDITOR’S NOTE: While I did shut down my regular newspaper column a couplel of years ago, I have continued to write a quarterly magazine piece for a targeted circulation in East Central Indiana. The magazine has a quarantine on these for my publication but these posts tend to be non dated. This is from Spring 2021.

A good argument is assured when oenophiles engage in any discussion on alcohol levels in wine.

To some extent wine is viewed differently than other alcoholic beverages, mostly as something for dinner or relaxed enjoyment. The truth is much of the world’s favorite wine is high in alcohol. That makes those wines more of a health risk, particularly more of a risk as we age, and sometimes even difficult to drink.

Traditionally, French wines are somewhat lighter in alcohol content than American or Italian. Now for a quick bit of education, riper grapes create higher sugars and higher sugars create higher alcohol. What are two of the warmest and sunniest regions in the world? California’s coastal region and the hot expanse of Tuscany and northern Italy produce high alcohol wines.

A glossary would be helpful: Low alcohol wines (under 12.5%): Italian Prosecco, French Vouvray, California White Zin; Medium alcohol wines (12.5-13.5%): Champagne, most French whites,  French Beaujolais and Burgundy, Spanish Rioja. High alcohol wines (13.5-14.5%): Many Chardonnays, Malbec, Shiraz, California Pinot Noir, Rhone Reds and Italian Barolo; Very high alcohol (more than 14.5%): California Petit Sirah and Zinfandel, some California Cabernet, Italian Amarone

That is not an all-inclusive list by any means but a good guide.

The drawbacks to high-alcohol wine should be obvious and you’ll find little disagreement from medical and health professional. Too much booze can lead to sleep deficiency, obesity, heart disease, fertility issues, and pancreatitis.

As an aging Hoosier I would add acid reflux, indigestion and low-grade headaches to the list. I became interested in this topic in the last six months when I started having adverse affects from higher alcohol red wine. And perhaps I should add I drink less wine now than in previous years. I’ve also heard similar complaints from older customers shopping in the wine store where I work part time.

I decided to do a little alcohol survey in that shop. Let me clarify it is more of a boutique wine shop with value wines but a bigger selection of premium wines than any liquor store or grocery aisle.  The wines I looked at, French and American, range from $50-$350 a bottle. But price has nothing to do with alcohol levels it was just a good test group. I chose a set of shelves with 24 random wines from Bordeaux and another with 24 bottles from California, mostly Napa.

The results are interesting to serious wine drinkers. Of the 24 Bordeaux wines, none were higher than 14.5 percent but there were 10 right at that mark. Half of the wines were 14 percent or lower with 10 of those in the 13 range.

How many people buy wine based on alcohol? The answer is very few but it’s starting to creep into the conversation. It’s also a bit of a national conversation usually centered around California and Australian reds.

How do you know the alcohol content in your wine? That’s really easy. The alcohol level in any bottle of wine sold in the USA must have the alcohol content on the label. Some wine makers make it tough to find but you’ll come across it on the bottom corner of the front label or buried in a bunch of small type on the back label.

There is also plenty of controversy about how accurate those measurements are, especially from California. Oddly enough, California liquor laws allow a 1.5% variance on wine below 14% and a 1% leeway for over 14%.

So an easy solution is to buy French wine, right? That is what I’ve elected to do in future purchases. But, for enjoyment purposes if you want a big, hot Napa Cab just have a glass of water near by and sip it alternatively with the wine. The simple glass of water is a solid solution that works and doesn’t dilute the enjoyment of a hefty red wine.

The point is not to drink more of one wine or less of another. The goal is to educate yourself and know what you are drinking. The risks are significant to heavy and moderate drinkers.

Enjoy your big red wines but be sure to mix in some whites and lighter reds for your health. And, always drink in moderation.

About online reviews

CLEARWATER, Fla. – A strong case can be made that Google Reviews, Trip Advisor and more can be strong research tools when planning a trip.

I read them and I write them. But they need to be taken with a grain of salt, or in this case maybe a pebble of sand.

I used a booker, as I often to for this last minute relaxation trip to Clearwater. A booker is simply one of those online aggregators which can book your flight, hotel, and even car rental. I’ve had great success with them.

I had one book this trip I got a round-trip flight for under $200 booked on Spirit Airlines. The AIRBUS jet was new, great smooth flight – had to pay for a bottle of water. The 300-plus seat aircraft only had 100 passengers so that was comfort in avoiding COVID, etc. But stewardes said a morning flight wa sold out.

The booker found a couple motels in Clearwater on special wih too-good-to-be true prices. (Yes, I know better.) I avoided the beach and jus wanted located in the city. The beach hotels are rightfully costly $300-$400 a night. So we booked this older smaller motel near the Philadelpia Phillies’ spring training complex. The booker’ best deal on a car was $100 a day. So I used a different booker and found a car for half that cost.

But the night before this trip I got curious about my motel booking. So I read a ton of online reviews and best characterization might be ‘Ahh-oh.” The reviews were mostly all terrible to horrible.

I called the booker Tuesday morning, hours from departure, and learned they could cancel but no refund on a pre-paid six-night stay. So there is one useful tip – check the cancellation policy dammit if someone else is booking your room.

And read the reviews anyway. Here is how it played out – I went to the motel and checked it out, epecting to find what I had read. It could use a coat of paint outside.

I was honest with the young man at a regrettable check in window. He checked and the reservation was canceled but no refund. The young man showed me what would be my room. It smelled fine, linens looked new, and bathroom was spotess. The room was okay for less than $100.

I stayed and next morning (today, Wed.) found the manager, who could only roll her eyes when asked about the online reviews.

“You know people book us because of price and get here and see we’r not on the beach,” she said with a smirk. “And then if one little thing is wrong they trash us. We’re not the Ritz-Carlton but we do our best for the rate.”

I also talked to some guests at the pool last night and none had anyhing bad to say about their room one woman said she and husband switched rooms because of noise in parking lot betweenn here and another value motel next door.

I had a quiet night – a little bit of a noisy air conditioner. Bed was fine even if bit too soft for my personal preference.

I checked out the free continental breakfast which did not appeal. But went next door to one of Clearwater’ iconic breakfast joint Lenny’s. More on Lenny’s later in week. The ladies waiting tables oozed southern charm. My greeter had a huge Dolly Parton-style blonde hairdo. I knew I was in the right place.

So on day one I was reminded to read online reviews skeptically. I told the manager that if my stay remainder of my stay is as good as first impression and first night, I’d write her a good review – not from guilt but because it would be earned.

Off this morning to checkout path to beach… it’s crazy out there … maybe grab a Ron-Jon shirt or hat and a grouper sandwich. Then it’ back to motel pool with my wine stash and a book.

All that matters – it’s not here

INDIANAPOLIS – I write a lot (brfly) about wine, food I make and food I visit restaurants to enjoy. I also have written through the years when I travel, usually wine related.

I’m about to make a short trip south for pure relaxation and to soak in the “get away from it all” mindset. And I’ve decided to write a bit. I thought upon retirement I might pursue travel writing but that would really have required connecting with some travel magazine or blog. I just like doing it sporadically. I figure lots of people travel to Clearwater, Florida for the white-sand beaches and ocean. I’m headed there for relaxation and mind-clearing boredom

My agenda: reading at pool side with a funny hat I’ll buy at one of the famous Ron-Jon Surf shops, and a bottle of white wine, maybe rose’. Then I’ll get crazy and actually walk the beach in the afternoon a time or two – maybe – it’s hot, smelly, and packed. And to get to the real beach, Clearwater beach, you have to navigate a highway from Clearwater. I’m not sure that’s walkable – especially for a retired guy with a touch of plantar’s fasciitis.  An left leg mushiness from a mild stroke three week ago.

But there’ always the rental car!

I like an amuthentic experience. Anyone who has ever visited Clearwater knows it still has an abundance of old Mom-n-Pop motels. I’’ve booked one for five nights. It’s rated three stars so I’m hopeful. I just think it’ a less sterile, not literally, than he big chain knockoffs for three times the price closer to the beach.

The other thing i like to do is research the old restaurants which have served smelly and loud midwesterners for decades.

I’ve already located several eating spots and two wine shops. For good measure I’m near a Costco too – but having to go there seems like failure.

I remember going to Clearwater a time of two as a kid with family, several times since and 2-3 years in row around 2000 – to sit and do nothing. And, that’ how I’ve described this trip to friend.

I’m hoping the motel has a hot tub or whirlpool which will probably be closest I come to getting in the water, other than my shower.

So I’ll pen a few odes to tourism …. The pure joy of not being at home, the smell of the sea, the disgust of what some people wear to the beach and the unbridled enjoyment of lots of grouper and mahi mahi.

I’ll post a few photos here probably more on Facebook and Instagram.

I’ll do my best to keep it anything but serious – factual observation, a bit of whimsy and snark. It’s what I do.

People teach you about wine

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You can learn a lot about wine by reading. Read Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast, in print or online. There are hundreds of wine blogs though many seem to be disappearing.

You can visit wine country – any region and talk to tasting room people or even winemakers and you’ll learn about wine. Better yet, try lots of wines and you’ll learn about them and google them while discovering your personal tastes.

I can’t say that Jill Ditimire was the driving force in getting me started on my wine journey. There were others with a bigger impact. What I can say about Indy-based wine enthusiast and arts reporter is she made wine cool. Now that’s no flippant or cutsie remark. Jill, intentionally or unintentionally, was a living embodiement of Robert Mondavi’s philosophy that wine should be served with your evening meal and served in every home.

She didn’t talk about wine or sell wine in geeky terms and wine gobbledegook. Sure, Jill could talk about wine with anyone. She had visited many of the wine world’s great regions and had significant knowledge. But her warmth and charming smile stripped wine sales of its pretentious snobbery. You didn’t have to feel like a walking and talking wine encyclopedia to understand Jill or buy wine from her Indy Mass. Ave. shop.

I met Jill when she was a teenager. She was bright and engaging, smart and driven. She broadened her career into television and then covering the arts in Indianapolis. We often toss around the term “Renaissance man” describing someone quite worldly and well-rounded.

We all lost a Renaissance woman this week in Jill Ditmire.

The Garage welcome, risky addition

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Food courts seem like such an 80s – 90s thing but a new one in Indy seems to have a great mix.

Entrance is midway down between the two main buildings

The Garage Food Hall at Bottleworks opened today, Jan. 5. I’m retired, I had nothing to do today so I checked it out. They’ve done amazing work inside and outside on this historic old Coca-Cola Bottling plant. When near Mass Ave, check out The Garage and at least walk through the hotel’s lobby. The art deco look and Coca-Cola nostaliga is really welcoming to this new high-end hotel.

The garage is about 50 percent occupied for the opening week. There were plenty of signs for “opening soon” other eateries. I saw a working barber shop and casual clothing store. The area is certainly set up for live entertainment as well.

The big hit on opening day, well most of the food stands were busy, at 1:30 was J’s Lobster – lobster rolls anyonoe? Afterall this is landlocked Indiana. Plenty of ethnic choices and one old friend. Clancy’s hamburgers – something of an icon from the 50s and 60s in the Hoosier state.

Another busy spot was Herculean Meal Prep – frozen, high-quality, single-serving meals normally selling for $9.99. I bought a couple and will have to report back.

There were lots of spots for adult beverages with more to come. Besides the hotel, the complex will feature a theater. It’s wonderfull to see that beautiful building brought back to life. I must admit I had flashbacks of horror to the Union Station food court on its second floor. But that place didn’t have near the quality of food I saw here. A new food court for a new decade – a welcome addition to this corner of downtown.

Clancy’s burger

For journalistic integrity and thorough reporting I took a trip down memory lane with a Clancy’s burger. Maybe next time I’ll have Poke.

How About Some Soup, Friends?

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Baby it’s cold out side and the soup is steeping in the pot.

I used to post occasional recipes in the second-half of my previous wine writing career, 2007-2017. Most, but not all, of those recipes were wine relatedI stumbled accross a good one a few weeks ago and finally made it today. There is more than a good chance you have most of these ingredients in the kitchen already.

How about a little Hambuger/Macaroni soup?

Ingredients

1 lb ground beef
2 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoon minced garlic (I used powder)
4 14.5-oz cans of beef broth
2 28-oz cans of diced tomatoes
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 cups dry macaroni
Garlic salt and pepper to taste
Cheddar cheese (optional)

Preparation

In large sauepan, add ground beef, garlic and onion
Cook until the beef is browned, drain fat
Add broth, canned tomatoes, Worcestershie sauce, brown sugar, ketchup and Italian seasonings
Add the dry macaroni
Cook for 15 minutes
Garnish with cheddar cheesse, if desired

It’s like meatloaf and mashed potatoes, simple and comforting. I made a bunch to freeze for quick easy meals. One note, be sure to have plenty of beef broth – the macaroni really soaks it up duing the 15 minute cook. And I use salt-free broths – a cleaner taste. It’s easy to over-salt. It’s simply yummy.

(Update 01/3/21) ) Now that I’ve made the soup, I’d back off a little on the macaroni and use perhaps a pound-and-a-half or maybe even two pounds of ground beef.

It’s soup kids, dig in!

** Recipe from tipsandcrafts.net

#KrogerLinwood: A Virus Nest

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Wear the damn mask! (stock image)

A quick run to the nearest grocery, Kroger at Linwood,(#KrogerLinwood) was alarming this New Year’s morning. There was a combination of 19 employees and customers not wearing a mask at all or improperly. The store was just modestly busy.

I complained to Kroger corporate a few weeks ago. For whatever reason, it did seem to be better for a few weeks. There still were a few folks not covering up but the numbers were substantially reduced. This morning things were back to previous examples of bad mask etiquette and worse.

Why raise such hell? Who made me the mask police? Well, there are five seriously contributing factors for developing Covid-19. One, over the age of 65? Check! Second, a pre-existing condition? Check, I have a compromised immune system from a stem cell transplant.

Sadly, this store seems to be most frequented by low-income citizens and senior citizens. – certainly among the vulnerable.

Mask wearing should no longer be a debate. Those not cooperating should be pulled aside. Kroger hires off duty cops to stand at the door. I’d think a reminder from one of these officers would motivate most people. Of course, the same officers never seem to take a stroll through the parking lot either where I’ve been approached by panhandles numerous times. And I do occasionally give people a buck or two. You just never know another’s situation.

But some people need to read again the seriousness of wearing a mask. These guidelines from the Mayo Clinic should clear up any doubt.

As a former journalist, I’m observant. I do the mask count almost every visit. This morning, Jan. 1, was appalling.

Kroger workers: Four employees were not wearing a mask properly. All four had masks covering their face but not nose. Perhaps the most reckless was a bakery employee leaning over food products with who know’s what germs or matter decorating the baked goods.

Customers: And this was the worst-ever example. I counted 14 people without or not wearing a mask properly. Incredibly half had no mask at all. That’s by far the worst I’ve found it. I was astounded when leaving the store, strictly with pre-packaged products, to watch an older gentleman select a cart, wipe down the handle with a sanitary wipe and proceed into the store with no mask in sight.

I heard back from Kroger corp in December and appreciated its pledge to talk to the store management team. But this isn’t brain surgery here – it’s a management issue. The store manager says you wear your mask throughout the day and you do not remove it unless you’re on break or in a private space. If you cannot follow that work place rule you’re unemployed.

Admittedly, customers are tougher. Should they turn their security cops into the mask police? Well the hire-a-cops seldom seem to move from the front exit door or take their glance away from their cellphones. I’m not suggesting cuffing the offenders. But a polite reminder from a police officer would probably go a long way.

And, maybe a sign on the door that masks are required? Customers without a mask will not be given service.

And a personal note, I work in a small retail shop and we have the Indiana guidelines on the door. Anyone coming through the door without a mask is told they must wear one. We keep surgical masks on hand to give anyone without. I think during my average 15-18 hours a week since March I’ve had to remind a customer a handful of times and everyone quickly complied. We have a policy we have not yet had to implement, but if no mask we will not sell product to that customer.

This isn’t complicated friends. Wear the damn mask!