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Sign that states "NO SHIRT/SHOES/SERVICE."

Back in the late 1960s and 1970s, hardly a store did not have a "No shirt, no shoes, no service" sign. And even more uncommon was any disregard for the arbitrary rule. 

“Kids,” my Dad said from behind the checkout counter of our grocery store back around 1972, “Didn’t you see the sign on the door?” He was pointing to a nicely printed sign taped right above the push handle that declared, “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” Dutifully, the three would-be entrants turned around and put on tee-shirts before entering the store. No harm, no foul. No kick-back or tantrums about “infringed upon rights.”

I didn’t realize it at the time, but “no shirt no shoes” was never a Federal law or even a state governor’s mandate. A cursory look into the history of these signs points to a conservative kick-back at “hippie culture” of the late 1960s and 1970s. Store owners started posting the signs as way to poke at the free-spirited youth of the era. Society simply adopted it as a sign of respect for personal authority over privately owned businesses.


Thankfully, after a year of pandemic cancellation of military relic and vehicle shows, these popular venues are returning to our world. But, like most things in this post-pandemic world, they come with new rules — the most common of which is “Wear a mask.”

Now keep in mind, I am not writing this to provoke an argument. I am writing this because our hobby — not our personal liberties — are at stake. In fact, I don’t care if you wear a mask or not as far as your health is concerned. That’s up to you. But, if a show promoter says, “You have to wear a mask to be in this show,” I am going to follow the guidelines and encourage you to do likewise, not because you or I agree with it, but because we want to protect our hobby. 

Lincoln impersonator wearing a mask depicting a nose, mouth, and beard.

In compliance: Honest Abe get's the "Most ingenious mask" commendation for his attendance at the 2021 Mansfield, Ohio, Civil War Show.

Why do I write that having just stated, “I don’t far as your health is concerned?” My answer is one word — and just one word that can change the viability of a show in a second: Litigation.

If anyone willingly defies a show’s posted health guidelines, they aren’t “making a stand for liberty,” but just being darn short-sighted and outright stupid. As for the show promoters, those signs aren’t about covering our faces, but rather, covering their a$%es.

Consider this very real possibility at the next, open-to-the-public show: Someone walks out of the show with a camera full of photos showing vendors and customers sans masks. They provide that to a lawyer suing the show on behalf of a client who claims they contracted COVID at that event (see a scary explanation of liability for transmission here). The show promoter, the venue, and anyone or any business associated will be named in the suit

And frankly, the show promoter isn't interested in "promoting a public health or political agenda," but rather, just following the rules of the venue, the county, or the state. I could deviate into a rant about the benefits of centralized versus decentralized government, but again, that just doesn't matter. As far as you or I are concerned, it's about hosting and attending shows, not changing the world.

So join me in not making an issue out of masks at the shows we attend this year. If a particular show says, “Wear a mask at all times,” that’s their rule. Our role is to either abide by the rule or stay away. Just like Dad's sign on the store back in the 1970s: “No shirts, no shoes, no service.” 

We do have a choice in this: Wear a mask or go home. We do NOT have the right to defy the rule, argue with the organizer about the rule, or try to make a "last stand" against the rule — let's leave that to the activists, not members of our own collecting communities.

If a show says, "masks required," let's not play games.  No claiming that "I have a medical issue," or "I have a right to NOT wear a mask." Let's just put the damn things on — not because of the scientific evidence or community pressure— let's wear them at shows that require them because we want to preserve the hobby.

Jamie Farr as Maxwell Klinger in the television series, MASH, eating oiled bolts and nuts.

Like those oily bolts Klinger swallowed in his quest to eat a Jeep, the restraints of COVID will pass. 

After all, a show that gets sued over violations of COVID protocol will discourage all other show promoters across the nation from hosting any more events. I don't want be the person who toppled the first domino, and I am guessing you don't want to be that person either. So, as my big brother would say to me, "Just suck it up and put on your mask — or stay home."

No matter what the circumstances, through all of this, I can't help consider Col. Sherman Potter's sage advice after witnessing Klinger swallow a heavily oiled bolt in an attempt to eat a Jeep. His only comment was, “This too, shall pass.”

And so, too, will the pandemic. 

Preserve the Hobby,

John Adams-Graf

Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

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