When we had to scratch our big summer international trip due to the pandemic, I got busy and reserved a spectacular oceanfront beach house instead. We anticipated having to turn friends away. Turns out, not so much.
North Carolina has over 300 miles of barrier island coastline, and I’ve seen almost all of it. My love of sea, surf, and sand developed early in life and remains strong as ever today. I can’t get enough of the beach, which is a good thing during this weird shut-in period because Raleigh is only 2-3 hours from the ocean, and many beachfront properties are available for rent.
When the plague shattered travel plans to celebrate our 25th anniversary in Morocco this summer and suddenly imprisoned us and our two kids—one in high school, the other in college—at home together, we rapidly pivoted to plan two weeklong family vacations at the beach, directly on the ocean, on Topsail Island just north of Wilmington.
We opted to rent two different cottages, as big oceanfront houses are quaintly called in North Carolina, and we decided to plan trips in two different weeks, one in July, the second over Labor Day. Both houses (“cottages”) are directly on the beach, but for the latter week, we splurged and leased a gigantic 5-bedroom, 5-bath mansion that sleeps 14. Three of the bedrooms face the beach and ocean, boasting lots of glass to soak in the gorgeous view, and two have private balconies. What a place!
Why room for fourteen when it’s just the four of us? Our thinking was, if we can’t get to Morocco this year, then we will deliver plenty of extra rooms for the kids’ friends and for our friends to come stay a few nights and enjoy the ocean with us. I mean, just look at the monster, huge and beautiful and directly on the surf!
Excited and looking forward to seeing everyone, we invited friends from New York and from New Orleans, friends from Wisconsin and tidewater Virginia, friends from Raleigh and Winston-Salem, even friends from California and the state of Washington. They were thrilled to receive our invitation, too, and promised to think it over after checking their calendars.
One by one, though, friends from near and far got back to us with glum news: We can’t come. We want to, but we can’t because…well, for a lot of sound and varied reasons, but at base, always the specter of Covid-19 was the culprit.
Some friends are long in the tooth and felt the risk catching the virus flying or driving outweighed the fun they’d have browning in the sun and catching the salt spray in their hair. The uncertainty of all the people they’d inevitably have to be close to at airports and on planes if coming by air, or at gas stations and in hotels and restaurants if traveling on wheels, was scary. Prudence won out in light of indeterminate medical facts regarding how one might get sick.
Others live in states like New York that enforce strict 14-day quarantines for visitors and returning residents alike. Understandably, they felt the joy of a North Carolina holiday would be dashed when they couldn’t leave their home for two weeks.
Even those from NC who didn’t have to travel far or suffer a quarantine once back home sheepishly admitted that one of the great joys of such a gathering, the socializing among friends sharing each other’s company, also presented one of the greatest hazard of becoming infected. And if we couldn’t laugh together, then what’s the bloody point?
The caution extends to our kids’ friends’ parents. They are naturally wary of letting their children, who are just as naturally eager to get out of their houses to be with friends at the beach, expose themselves to the possibility of picking up the easily transmissible sickness. Since the contagion danger can’t be accurately quantified and measured, parental judgment is to deny the threat by keeping their kinder segregated from associates.
All reasonable and logical decisions, of course. Hence the irony that we have never booked a bigger or swankier place with so many oceanfront bedrooms with such lovely views of the water, and yet…no takers. Harsh proof that you don’t have to come down with the coronavirus to experience its mean impact on the American quality of life.