Jacksonville opened its beaches, and people immediately took advantage of it to go for a walk.
As soon as the clock ticked past 5 p.m. on Friday, signaling the reopening of beaches in Jacksonville, Fla., people flocked to the shoreline in droves, evidence of Floridians’ desire for fresh, salty air after more than two weeks under a stay-at-home order.
Like day follows night, outrage followed opening.
Some people criticized the sudden rush to the shore, saying the crowded beaches risked spreading the virus further. Friday was one of the deadliest days for the coronavirus in Florida, where more than 730 people have died and at least 25,000 have been infected. On Saturday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida’s public schools would remain shut for the remainder of the academic year.
Part of the outrage is that Republican Gov. DeSantis can do no right, and so anything that happens in Florida reflects his flouting the restrictions that good people would obey. But there’s nothing about people strolling on the beach, keeping safe distance, enjoying fresh air and exercise, that should concern anybody. Granted, Florida has a bit of a reputation for odd people engaged in odd behaviors, but walking on the beach isn’t one of them.
Since the order to shelter in place was issued in New York, we’ve taken long walks and the occasional ride to nowhere in the Healey. We have some lovely parks, arboretums and beaches around here, and it would be a shame to waste them. There’s no rule that sheltering in place required us to sit on the couch, but to avoid congregating in ways that could spread the virus. There’s nothing about a nice walk in a large open space that puts anyone at risk.
Stories have come out about excessive police zeal in enforcing social distancing or mask wearing. If we make rules, they get enforced, often mindlessly and with needless force, as that’s just the way some cops roll. But while others may not be as quick to punch or cuff, they are just as slavish in their adherence to rules.
“This can be the beginning of the pathway back to normal life,” Mayor Lenny Curry of Jacksonville said in a video address on Thursday, when he announced the reopening. He and other officials pleaded with residents to be careful and patient, and some warned that the privilege could be revoked if proper safety guidelines were not followed.
Is it jealousy, that people who live in Jacksonville get to walk on the beach when people who live in northern cities do not?
New York City has suffered more death than anywhere else in America. It’s the product of many poor decisions, circumstance and the nature of a large metropolis. One of the retorts to the New York Times being dubious, if not critical, of the opening of Jacksonville’s beaches is “what about the subways?”
To the extent they ever run, the subways continue to run, putting people who are constrained to go to work in a confined space, perhaps crowded together too close for comfort. NYC relies on mass transportation, and even if the streets and avenues are now uncongested as limos remain parked in their garages, its denizens have no cars to drive. The wealthy could afford a cab, though they’re inconvenient and expensive. The poor have no more options today than they ever did.
Subways, when they run, are surprisingly useful in getting around the City. But they were always a breeding ground for illness, and that includes the illness of the moment. People can keep their distance if the train isn’t too crowded. They can wear masks, now that masks are back in fashion after people were told that only dopes wore masks. If they have to get somewhere, the choices are limited.
This has nothing to do with Jacksonville, or Bailey Arboretum for that matter. Putting antagonism toward Ron DeSantis and Florida Man aside, it’s wonderful that the people of Jacksonville can stroll on the beach. It’s a shame the people living on 168th Street can’t. It would be snarky to say that people who don’t like it should move to Jacksonville, but then again, there are other times when the people of Jacksonville don’t get to enjoy the culture of New York City. This just doesn’t happen to be such a time.
The rules are created because we lack faith in others to behave in a relatively smart fashion, not engaging in risky activity that will spread the virus, suck up scarce medical resources and ultimately harm us or our loved ones. But too many people demand that others slavishly adhere to rules for no better reason than they’re rules.
Maybe it’s misery loves company. Maybe it’s that inside so many of you is a secret cop desperately seeking to command others. Lord knows the woke rush to scold their version of misbehavior as swiftly as the most conservative martinet. But what skin is it off your nose that folks in Jacksonville stroll safely on their beautiful beach?
It’s said that the rifts in society are exacerbated by the limits and demands placed on us in the effort to deal with COVID-19. Most of those rifts were there before and can’t be cured at the moment if they can be cured at all. But one rift is the intolerance of anyone not suffering the way you feel you are, the way you want them to suffer. It’s not that anyone should suffer, but to be outraged that someone suffers less than you, less than you demand they suffer, doesn’t improve your lot in life. It doesn’t help anyone to demand that everyone suffer as long as someone suffers.
Enjoy the beaches, Jacksonville folks. And if that bothers you, angers you, offends you, maybe you should apply for the cop test rather than write for a newspaper or spend your day on social media cursing the more fortunate. There will always be someone who isn’t suffering as much as you are. Begrudging their lack of suffering doesn’t improve your life at all.