I just spent an irritating and relaxing week in San Clemente, the southernmost city in COVID County and a town every bit as pseudopatriotic as its northern neighbor Surf City, aka the Florida or Texas of California, where freedom is best and most boisterously expressed by joyous mobs of maskless partiers, liberated from their consciences and dismissing warnings as fake news while happily inhaling air of dubious quality and exhaling a fine viral mist over the celebrating throng.
My wife and I have been coming to this town twice a year for almost 30 years to enjoy the quiet, the beauty and small-town feeling of the stretch along the coast with its touristy main drag of Avenida Del Mar, which winds past antique stores and surf shops before landing at the San Clemente Pier.
This was our first visit to The Clem since the virus hit and at check-in we were advised to stay away from Avenida Del Mar, because, well, this is Orange County and not everyone is quivering in terror in their homes fretting over something so tiny as a coronavirus. Which is pretty much what we did in our condo for the week if for no other reason than trying not to disappoint our daughter back home worrying about us catching the COVID.
Jane made a trip to the local grocery store—one place where people were behaving as one might behave in the midst of a pandemic—and after that we lived on what we bought, supplemented by orders from Grubhub.
Sound like fun? Well, it was, cloistered in our room reading a lot (David Mitchell’s mystical and magical 1960s rock and roll novel “Utopia Avenue” and Charlie Kaufman’s utterly indescribable—”Pynchonesque” is a term reviewers use for it—“AntkInd”) watching a few movies (nothing to recommend), enjoying earlyish cocktail hours on the balcony watching pleasure craft scampering along the coast and pelicans surfing on the updraft from the faces of waves before dusk sets in, and then…bats and skunks.
Adele’s, a restaurant adjacent to our complex, had been there for as long as I can remember. Adele herself was, sadly on this trip, holding a liquidation sale after being closed for the usual reasons, so no more Saturday night drag shows that always packed the place a lot more than the calm weekday breakfasts.
“She got what she deserved,” one guest told my wife. “Holding those queer parties every weekend.”
On the weekend, people, presumably of a more hetero bent, gathered in (sigh) maskless celebrations and barbecues in large numbers on the grounds, boom-boxing shallow-cut classic rock, forcing me to go to my AirPods and Spotify for a more carefully curated playlist.
We left for home on Sunday, with the coronavirus drifting up like snow against the sides of the barbecues.
The trip, in a way, was almost as dispiriting as it was relaxing, witnessing people in the county casually dismissing COVID and treating the disease as if it were a proud political statement. If “Governor Gruesome” says be careful, doing the opposite must be the smartest and bravest course of action.
And of course, it’s not just people from Orange County. They’re just the ones locally who take the most pride in recklessness. But some of the sentiment oozes across the border into Long Beach, finding a comfortable and vocal home among some people, with an especially easy target among certain moneyed conservatives who have their own unstated figure of acceptable losses in the battle to reopen businesses.
On Monday, Kelly Colopy Long Beach’s Director of Health & Human Services pleaded once again—she’s a long way past blue in the face—for people to wear face coverings, maintain social distance and follow health orders.
“These are not hard steps, they are easy to do,” Colopy said. “They are maybe inconvenient, but they are easy.”
Yes, but for too many people they’re too inconvenient, and they’re not easy enough.
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