Back in the days when “social distancing” was something you practiced with people you wanted to avoid, before hand sanitizer became worth its weight in gold and when Zoom was just a bait company, I remember going to tackle shops and looking forward to meeting new people there.

It doesn’t happen quite so much anymore, but I still try to get out and see what’s going on in the world of brick and mortar tackle retail.

Before I head out to explore a new shop, I usually check out the website or Facebook page of the establishment to find out when they’re open, to get the address and put it in my phone. For most of the past year, I also check to see if there are any special rules about going inside the store. After all, there’s a pandemic out there. My wife cringes every time I leave the house. She’d like me to wear a mask when I watch TV in our living room.

Last Saturday, I was looking forward to checking out a tackle shop about an hour from home. The store’s been in business a long time, but I’d never been there because it was off my usual well-beaten path. I love checking out the retailers I come across, but unless I happen to be in their area, I don’t often go out of my way to get there.

I was really impressed with this shop. It was clean and well organized. It carries a lot of products that I can’t find anywhere else around home.

But one thing bugged me, and it bugged me quite a lot. When I looked at their website, right there on the homepage, they posted a “COVID-19 note” that read as follows:

“Please be courteous to each other and the staff by wearing a mask while shopping. It is not mandatory, just preferred. Thank you for your cooperation.”

Pretty reasonable, right? I mean, most of the retail shops and grocery stores around me require a mask if you want to go inside. I figure the least I can do is comply with their policy, especially when it’s so clear and politely stated.

So I was pretty surprised when I got there — mask carefully covering my face — that none of the four staff members and none of the six or seven other customers I saw walking around the shop were wearing a mask.

None.

Just me.

“Really?” I thought. “Did they not see their own homepage? What about being ‘courteous to each other and the staff’? By their own logic, doesn’t this mean the staff is not being courteous to me?”

The answer to that last question, by the way, is “Yes. That’s exactly what it means.”

For the record, I generally try to respect rules … even “preferences” — and I certainly respect the rights of business owners to establish them. But, when the people who establish these rules choose to ignore them, my first thought is not that they’re laid back or easy-going. My first thought is that they’re hypocrites.

Who among us has not seen a dozen or more videos of politicians laying down the law on COVID restrictions only to be seen violating their own rules a few hours later? It’s maddening. I hope all of these “leaders” are voted out of office, but I also hoped such hypocrisy was restricted to politicians and other invertebrates. No such luck. I’ve now seen it in a nice retail tackle shop close to home.

Say it ain’t so!

Ultimately, my only problem with the shop was this mask “preference” thing. I spent money there and will do so again. I did not introduce myself to the owner only because I didn’t trust myself to be discreet about the issue that was as plain as the mask on my face.

Next time I go, I’ll check their website again before I leave. If the same “COVID-19 note” is there, I’ll wear a mask … again. Maybe I’ll introduce myself to the owner. If I get to know him better, maybe I’ll ask him about it.

Maybe I’ll say, “Hey! How come y’all are hypocrites?”

Maybe he’ll punch me right in the mask.