The calendar flipped, the weather turned and the birds came out.
Cars zipped through a local shopping center parking lot on this sunny Saturday, pulling in and out of spaces, sometimes with abandon, successfully avoiding the pedestrians toting food and home goods and other purchases to their vehicles. Entrances and exits and the roads leading to them outside this bustling center of commerce hadn’t seen this much action since the Ides of March, or thereabouts.
Welcome to the first weekend of May on the East End. Aside from masks on most faces, you’d hardly know this was the age of the new normal.
It was a scene playing out across Long Island as hints of summertime revealed themselves. Backups of cars at the stop signs controlling flow within the parking lot were longer, and tempers at these intersections, it some cases, shorter. There were a mix of smiles and waves, to be sure, along with those aforementioned birds, flipped in roughly the same proportion to the friendlier gestures as one might expect from ghosts of holiday weekends past. Civility and random acts of kindness and helping others still reign as the order of the day here, so the flying fingers actually came as something of a surprise.
A green Range Rover slowing to a stop sign. The white Kia behind it thinking the caution and safety measure inherent in that red, octagonal order was optional. The birdie flip out of the Kia’s driver-side window accompanied by a long honk and a rev of the engine as he swerved around the Range Rover in the requisite I’m-going-to-speed-by-you-just-so-you-know-how-pissed-off-I-am maneuver that so often punctuates these exchanges.
“What’s the f—ing rush?” the driver in the Range Rover shouted out his open window as the Kia blew right past the stop sign. He then sped through the intersection himself and headed for the exit, where he slowed but did not fully stop for his right-on-red departure.
I typically try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe there was an emergency and this guy in the Kia needed to move quickly. Perhaps he was late for work or needed to pick up some urgently needed supplies. So I watched. The man pulled into a spot, got out of his car…and picked up a pizza. He carried it from the curb to his car, put it on his passenger-side seat, sat there for a few moments on what appeared to be a phone call (unless he was talking to himself) and then drove off.
The rush, it seems, was simply that he didn’t want to wait.
It had nothing to do with whether either or both performers in this one-act play were from “here” or “there.” Kia Guy wasn’t the only one moving at a get-the-hell-out-of-my-way pace last weekend, and Range Rover not the only one pushed to go a bit faster than he might normally have gone. This is no doubt a scene that will be replicated, in one way or another, as the days and weeks go by.
You can feel the sense of rush building all around us. A building pressure to open up, to get out there, to do. You see it not just in parking lots but on the news, you read about it in countless stories and hear about it in more and more conversations as summer approaches. Anyone who has been on a line for coffee or bagels or an outdoor table at name-your-restaurant on a summer weekend night here knows that patience is not everyone’s strong suit.
Our local officials have spoken with reason and calm these recent weeks about “the opening” addressing the safety concerns and the sense of urgency that underlies businesses getting back to business and more people getting out into the world. This must be done right, in the right timeframe, whatever that is. Experts are right when they say we need to have a plan in place for increased testing, for thousands upon thousands of contact tracers to be ready to act, for how to handle isolation and treatment for new cases if and when a new spike occurs.
However and whenever “the opening up” arrives, let’s be ready for changes and challenges, locally and beyond, that will accompany this move. There is no going back in time. The old status quo is history. Curbside pickup and contactless delivery are not going away when that first door opens. Social distancing will define every interaction for the foreseeable future. Healthcare workers will remain on frontlines, seniors and those at higher risk will still need our help. Masks will be the must-have accessory of summer—not to keep you safe, as doctors have said time and again, but to keep others safe.
Things will be different, but we can succeed. Governor Cuomo used the term “reimagine” in conjunction with “reopen” a few weeks ago, and that idea remains apt. Patience, planning and doing things differently while moving ahead.
You, all of us, are not alone in feeling the lure of that rush to reopen. And there have been signs of hope, here and there, for that to happen. It will. In stages. Under scrutiny and within serious parameters. When it does, there will be an urge to rush for, well, just about everything. But that doesn’t mean we should go barreling through stop signs, disregarding safety, flipping the bird to new regulations, common sense and the sense of civility and social awareness that has, throughout this crisis, shone here on the East End.