Andrew Buckley: Pre-plague Equinox

It’s raining today, a light spring shower that was creeping into the air all morning with the spongy ground and the milk-gray sky. They’re still working on the road, putting the sewer line down and leaving cracks in the pavement where the heavy equipment sat like a ponderous dinosaur over the gash it made.

It is the sort of morning one would get something warm to drink to get going. I went to Cumbies for coffee yesterday. But I won’t today. That’s how things have changed. Yesterday I used a coffee stirrer to hit the button on the sugar dispenser and the coffee machine. Today—today, I will just make tea. And I will have to remember to wear gloves to pump gas.

Those are the accommodations I am making in the middle of March 2020 for COVID-19 here in Chatham, this little corner of a corner of the country.

I shop at night. But then again, I almost always did. That’s how I get through summer and it is a habit now. Besides, no one can figure out how to get to Stop and Shop in East Harwich during the daylight construction anyway.

I haven’t been buying a lot more than usual. Last fall, through a mixup, I double ordered a lot of toilet paper by mistake. But I also saw quite a bit available in stores yesterday. It makes more sense to buy frozen vegetables, ice cream and bottles of smoothies. If we do get sick, the last place I want to be is in a checkout line. It is the last place anyone wants me.

Working outside, this time of year is when late winter cleanups happen. They are happening earlier this year because of the lack, well, of winter. Grass will start growing earlier, due to all that rain like today. This keeps me away from people. From offices. From public transit.

And on the one hand, the fin fishery, being export-dependent, is called into serious question. But the shellfishery, serving mostly local suppliers and restaurants, should be OK. There could be more people chasing clams this spring and summer than dogfish. For consumers who may—or may not—be around.

Maybe not from Germany or France or Holland. But from the UK. Perhaps that is optimistic. We could be looking at a different economy here in Chatham. One that beckons back a few decades. More home rentals, fewer hotel bookings. Less dining out. Anything where people congregate.

Were things to continue into June or July, social distancing could truly make a different tourist season. No Fourth of July parade. No Friday night band concerts. No Mondays on Main.

No weddings. No birthday parties. Memorial services will have to wait.

We may have to survive on our own this year. It’s been said for some time that if a young person cannot make a living here, they should go off-Cape. Will that be an option? I don’t mean travel bans. But it is not as if we will be the only place affected economically. In fact, we may be better positioned than most.

Our housing supply is double the need of the current year-round population. And rather than apartments, with shared ventilation systems with people living in close proximity, our houses are spread out. It may not make for a great social fabric, but it sure makes it easy to isolate.

Of course, yes, this could be just a spring scare. In a month, the worst of it could have passed, with limited if any effect on our elder population. Travel ban from Europe lifted, mackerel headed off to market. Perhaps society will retain a few lessons learned about hand washing and the three-second rule.

I will continue, more or less, to arrange my life to avoid a lot of this, incidentally at least. Avoid regular contact with buildings full of people. Get outside. Do other work at home. Stock food and toiletries.

Plan for unexpected detours.