I see the sign near the skate ramp parking lot in El Granada: “Stop the Spread. Locals Only.” I find myself nodding my head and muttering an unprintable affirmation.
I see a long line in front of Barbara’s Fish Trap and mutter that I doubt they’re all locals.
The young woman handing me my to-go fish and chips at Old Princeton Landing says she got stuck in Surfer’s Beach traffic coming to work from El Granada. I mutter some more about interlopers.
I have trouble finding a parking spot at the El Granada Post Office because determined surfers have parked in all but the few 20-minute-zone spots. More muttering.
I’ve seen the electric sign at the intersection of Highway 92 and Main Street in Half Moon Bay admonishing drivers to turn around if they’re more than five miles from home. I mutter, “Why aren’t San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputies just stopping every vehicle that enters town?”
I seem to be muttering a lot lately, and I’m not proud of myself for it. But I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
I wonder why I am being so critical and sour. And I’ll tell you — it won’t be a secret to many of you. The shelter-at-home policy has a silver lining: Tourism is down. Roads are open. You can hear the birds. The sea lions. The crash of waves. The bees from the neighbor’s side of the fence, for goodness’ sake.
I can drive down Highway 1 in the middle of the day in minimal traffic. (So what that I have to stand outside Safeway for 15 minutes to get in?)
I drive up to the Miramar Beach Restaurant and line up behind other locals forming a horseshoe queue in the parking lot for my takeout dinner of rack of lamb delivered to my car. And I feel good about being a local supporting a local business, with a generous tip, I might add.
I can breathe in all the quieter, emptier, six-feet-of-separation space.
I feel like I’m back in a time when there was a locals’ season on the Coastside, when we’d have it to ourselves for some weeks between the pumpkin season, the Christmas tree season and the summer season. It’s really, really nice. I feel like we’re a community again, when most of the faces I see are people who live here. And now with the shelter-at-home mandate extended through May 31, I’ll get to enjoy it for several more weeks.
But guess what? It’s not reality. It’s an illusion. And like most illusions of comfort, it has a painful underside. The economic impact on our little community will have lasting ramifications on all of us, and most of all, on the people in our community who depend on visitor traffic. The reality is that we are a visitor-dependent, beach, agricultural and fishing community, employing hundreds of people and generating millions of dollars in taxes.
Our local employers have laid off or drastically reduced hours for their staff, many of whom are like family to them — and to us. The owners and staff of the restaurants we’re patronizing and supporting with our juicy tips are desperate for more business. Sheri Lewis, the general manager of the Miramar, perspires as she hustles back and forth from kitchen to car with bags of food. I’m pretty sure that’s not in her regular job description. Our visitor-dependent neighbors and businesses are not enjoying the shutdown. They’re desperate for it to be over.
So, that quiet emptier space that I am loving? It is also a vacuum, sucking the vitality out of too many of our neighbors. Although the measures we have taken are necessary for public health, don’t forget the cost this shutdown is having on the Coastside. The reverberations of it will be felt for months — and in some cases forever — on some of our friends, neighbors, business owners and employees we count as locals. So, stop muttering about the interlopers — I’m talking to you, Sanborn -— and focus on staying well and looking forward to getting back to normal — even with the traffic.
Katie Sanborn lives in El Granada. She is a regular contributor to the Review.