The new normal has changed things - some perhaps for the better

June 16, 2020 | Payton North

Over the last few months, we’ve all been doing our best to stay home and stop the spread of COVID-19. On May 18, Gov. Charlie Baker announced his reopening plan, discussed the phased approach, and as the weeks have passed, he has provided more clarity on which businesses are allowed to reopen, and when.

Along with the reopening plans, businesses are provided with strict guidelines that they must follow. Signs must be hung up alerting customers of cleaning procedures and social distancing guidelines, masks must be worn, markers must be placed on floors, and more.

The new normal is strange for many.

Within the past two weeks, I had two “new normal” experiences – one, getting a haircut, and two, the altered experience of buying a new car.

Following Baker’s announcement that hair salons and barber shops would soon reopen, I received a text from my hairdresser a few days later, offering me an appointment on May 27 – just one day after she was allowed to accept customers again.

I, rather excitedly, took the appointment. Like many people who color their hair, my roots were about an inch and a half long on either side of my part, showing off my natural light brown color next to an (unfortunately) brassy blonde, due to not seeing my stylist in months.

I’m not complaining – I’m just painting readers a not-so-pretty picture.

Immediately after I accepted the appointment for my salon visit, my hairdresser sent me a list of all of the rules I must follow to be able to get my hair done.

“You’ll have to wear a mask, no bags, coats or anything other than keys, phone and money. If paying in cash, it must be exact. You have to stay in your car until I wave you in [to the salon.] You will be asked to wash your hands as soon as you arrive. Try to keep six feet away from others to the best of your ability. If you are sick or exposed you will need to cancel. You will have to log the day and time you are at the salon, and the best number to reach you at. The rest, us stylists will have to do. It will be good to see you!”

Whew – that’s a lot – but I happily told my hairdresser I would follow her marching orders.

When I arrived, I did as I was instructed. She waved me in, I placed my exact cash on the counter, and immediately washed my hands. I took note of my surroundings – signs were hung, chairs that were formerly a waiting room were removed, markers were on the ground, shower curtains were hung between washing stations and more. She wore goggles, a mask, gloves and scrubs. I wasn’t surprised she was doing everything right – I wouldn’t expect anything less.

Other than the fact that I was fiddling with my mask for three and a half hours while she colored my hair, my experience at the hair salon was great. I left still feeling clean and happy to have seen my hairdresser – not only because my hair looks nice for the first time in a long time, but also because I enjoyed the interaction with someone outside of my immediate family.

My hairdresser also confided in me, sharing that she actually enjoyed wearing the scrubs to work and changing them between clients. She said she loved the feeling of being clean, and also enjoyed going home at the end of the day not covered in hair. She said she thought she might continue to wear them, even when she isn’t being mandated to do so.

Another experience I recently had that has been changed by the “new normal” in the wake of COVID-19 was my purchasing of a new car.

I have been saving for a few years to buy a new car. I had my former Nissan Juke for seven years, and while it was a fantastic car and could have kept going for a few more years, the timing was right for me to take the leap and purchase a new vehicle.

When I was younger, I went along with my parents a few times for the car-buying experience. I was there when my dad purchased the family truck in 2011, I sat in on the financing discussions when my parents helped me buy my Nissan Juke in 2013, and I sat at the table in 2017 when my parents helped negotiate for my brother when he purchased his own truck. It was always a tension-filled experience that took hours sitting in the showroom working on paperwork – my dad wanting to make sure we get the best deal possible, and the dealers wanting to give us a good price without taking a hit themselves on profit.

Needless to say, car buying wasn’t an experience that I relished.

My communications with the dealership that had the exact vehicle I wanted, located in Manchester, NH, began in mid-May. I contacted the dealership and asked how they were conducting test drives. Essentially, a test drive had to be scheduled ahead of time to allow for sanitization before and after the drive. In addition, the salesperson would not be joining the buyer on the test drive, to allow for social distancing.

My boyfriend and I made the trek up to the dealership, gave the car a spin for about 20 minutes, and were done at the dealership in under 30 minutes. I didn’t buy the car on the spot – I wanted to look over the numbers with my parents – but it was fantastic getting in and out in such a short period of time.

From there, negotiations were done over the phone, which was also an incredibly quick process. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that the dealership was so quick to put out their bottom-line price in the effort to make a sale during a time where sales are down, but wow – I’ve never experienced such ease in negotiating.

A few days later, my mom drove me up to pick up the vehicle. All of the paperwork that normally takes at least an hour to go over was done within 20 minutes. The process was all electronic, I signed the paperwork virtually on an iPad, and it was subsequently printed for my records.

My mom commented to the general manager we were working with that it had been the least painful car buying experience she had witnessed. The manager said that the dealership’s owner was looking into keeping the process as simplistic as it was operating during the pandemic for good, as he wanted the car-buying experience to be “less of a time-suck” for customers.

I handed over the check, they handed over the keys, and I was on my way home with a new car.

While COVID-19 has hit the world hard in the past several months in many ways, with the unfortunate passing of hundreds of thousands of individuals, jobs lost and more, we have now begun the strange process of venturing back out into the world.

My experience at both the hair salon and car dealership were different than they would be in a COVID-19 free world – but not necessarily different in a negative way. I wonder how many of the new practices that are being enforced now as guidelines will be adopted for the long-haul when the pandemic is less of a concern?

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