It was exactly one week ago that Susie and I cut short our two months in Florida, and arrived home in Ocean City. To say it’s been a strange week would, I think, not be an exaggeration!
Our Country is still coming to terms with the Corona Virus, and what it means to us. Being a place where normally we’re asked to send money to some other part of the world to help them survive, finding this strange disease within our midsts is, to say the least, a new and quite uncomfortable position for many of us.Travel bans, having Major League Sports canceled, finding Disneyland and Disney World closed, and having fellow Americans hoarding everything from hand sanitizers to toilet paper, goes beyond even the Milk and Bread runs we are used to before a major snow storm. This is new and uncharted waters for us, and everyone of us has to come to terms with it in his or her own way.
Living here in Ocean City, New Jersey, a barrier island that is connected to Southern Jersey by four bridges, this past week, concerns were expressed that reminded me of an old episode of the Twilight Zone. Entitled “The Shelter” , it originally aired on September 29th, 1961 and the plot centered around a dinner party that was interrupted by the news of an impending nuclear attack. The problem looked at in the episode was that only one of the families in the neighborhood had installed a bomb shelter. It’s a great episode in which friends and neighbors keep trying to get the family to let them join them in their bomb shelter, but are all refused. In the episode, writer Rod Serling studies the effect that the closing of the shelter door has on both those living inside THEIR bomb shelter, and those outside who didn’t think there was a need for a shelter, but now feel they are entitled to access. As an 11 year old in 1961, I clearly remember having “Duck and Cover” drills weekly in school, (like there was ever going to be a way for us to survive a nuclear attack by cowering under our desks!) so this was not a random topic Mr. Serling pulled out of the air, but a real issue in contemporary America.
Here in Ocean City, this past week the current situation with Corona Virus and how we have reacted to it, has fostered discussion on Facebook and other places not unlike the situation depicted in “The Shelter”. As a bit of background, Ocean City is the northern most town in southern Jersey’s Cape May County. According to the 2010 census, there are just under 12,000 residents in our town, but for the busy summer months of June, July and August, that population soars to between 115,000 and 130,000 people. So for 9 months a small beach town, and for 3 months of the year, a full on summer resort, populated by second home owners, and daily, or weekly visitors. Many of the businesses in town operate as seasonal businesses, only being open during the busy summer months, but others, that are open all year, base their operations at this time of the year, on the smaller full-time resident levels of business. That’s where the problem has developed this past week.
It seems that many of our second homeowners have decided to come down to Ocean City from their full time homes in Pennsylvania, Delaware and even New York. This has caused some Ocean City full timers to go to Facebook and other places, saying things like, GO BACK TO YOUR HOME, SHELTERING IN PLACE MEANS TO STAY AT THE ADDRESS ON YOUR DRIVER’S LICENSE, THANKS FOR COMING DOWN AND EMPTYING OUT OUR STORES and worse things. These people are blaming the empty store shelves and the crazy atmosphere at local stores, directly at the feet of second homeowners and out-of-state visitors. What these people are calling on the City to do is to close the four bridges linking Ocean City to the mainland to anybody who’s driver’s license doesn’t show an Ocean City address.
Two of the four bridges connecting OC to the rest of NJ
This is obviously not a small issue, as Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian late this week issued a regular situation update in which he asked residents to “stay at home, limit travel to essential destinations” as the CDC suggests. He went on to say, “In order for this request to have any meaningful effect, it must apply to all unnecessary travel – not just to out-of-state visitors. It saddens me to see the divisiveness spawned by recent statements singling out this population.” Wow, sounds very much like those folks in the Twilight Zone episode. At his briefing today, NJ Governor Murphy even brought up the topic. He requested that second homeowners refrain from heading to the Jersey Shore, and he said, “The local infrastructure, especially in offseason, is not prepared for the influx of part-time residents.”.
I’m not sure exactly which side of this discussion I fall on. I don’t think I’m ready to join the folks blaming out-of-towners, for the shortages in stores, as honestly, it’s just as likely that the very people bitching about what the visitors have done, are the same people who have emptied the shelves! On the other side, carloads of folks from out of state, unloading bikes and boogie boards and kids, acting more like the Spring Break kids in Florida than responsible citizens doesn’t help our situation either! And then what about the folks, who split their time evenly between their shore house and another home? More questions than answers.
The bottom line is that many people are living in fear right now, looking for someone to blame for that fear. Some will take it out on the President, some the Governor, some Government in general, and, as has been demonstrated here in Ocean City, some will blame those folks who don’t call this place their year round home! I guess we all need to realize we are all now living in, “The Twilight Zone”…and who knows when we’ll get out! Welcome to our life in 2020, as the pandemic comes to a neighborhood near you! Let’s all be safe, do what we are suggested to do by the experts, work together, and get through this. Let’s not be jerks or hostile towards folks who may think differently than us. Who knows what our towns and country will look like when this is over, let’s just hope we’re all still here to deal with whatever we find!
Good luck everybody! Be smart and be safe!