Living in a tourist town like Myrtle Beach usually means there’s crazy weekend traffic, the rumble of motorcycles, and packed beaches. But since the governor shut down nonessential businesses and closed public beach access, this has been the quietest spring break season I’ve ever seen. It’s made me appreciate all the things I considered too touristy for my refined local taste: the mall, the mini golf, the kitschy seafood restaurants. Right now, I would give anything to play one safe round of putt-putt or order a hot dog at the grimy beach diner by the pier. But those places are abandoned and some of them won’t survive this year.
The quiet has brought out both the good and the bad. The other day, everyone in my neighborhood put a stuffed animal somewhere in their yard. Some set teddy bears on their front porch, others got creative and hung monkeys from trees or hid geckos in bushes. On my walk, there were dozens of parents with their kids peering out of car windows or riding by on bikes trying to find the hidden animals. Neighbors have banded together, and yards and common spaces look better than they ever have, as people lend their gardening tools and exchange tips on Facebook.
But there is also the flip side. Houses with a suspiciously large number of cars out front receive dirty looks. Teenagers are getting called out on social media for disobeying the rules of social distancing. People have become catty, staunchly defending their right to do as they please, and arguing with each other about the greater good. What used to be small neighborly transgressions—parking in the street, an unruly yard—have become problems that feel pressing. Some days Facebook is full of people hurling accusations at parents, complaining that too many teenagers were seen hanging out together. The parents fight back, citing their kids’ right to a normal childhood.
In many ways, our world has suddenly become so much smaller. Without the constant influx of tourists for us to offhandedly complain about—they can’t drive, they trash our beaches, the traffic is horrendous—we’re stuck looking at ourselves and our neighbors. Now, we can hardly wait until the tourists return.
Published on April 23, 2020