If Rod Serling, TV legend and creator of The Twilight Zone, were alive today, he would have a lot of new material upon which to spin his stories and scary themed presentations. I can see it in my mind as the show begins, “Imagine if you will, a tiny island in the Gulf of Mexico…” This how the episode would start with Serling offering up his dry and foreboding dialogue regarding a small island that has been brought to a standstill by an unknown monster — a virus!
There is an old saying that states “you don’t really miss something until it is gone” and, boy, is this true for all people these days, especially on an island where a huge LGBTQ population lives, plays, works, and enjoys island life. Though the folks are still here, the onset of the coronavirus and preventative precautions has put a huge dent in the activities of community members. This is not unique to Galveston, as everyone around the globe has to make adjustments and alter their lives in various ways.
In a worldwide effort to slow the growth and spread of the virus, communities are taking drastic measures as mandated by their local and government leaders. Galveston Island, which is known for being a very social place and one that welcomes all, has essentially come to a grinding halt. The first week or so of Spring Break 2020 found the island once again full of young people doing their best to have a fun time and enjoy the island. Restaurants were full, the beaches were packed, and the famed Seawall was loaded with revelers and visitors.
After the first week and as word of the Corona Virus began to spread and be taken seriously, things changed and fast. The term “social distancing” was being touted on every news broadcast and in just about every publication. There was no sudden panic-like one might see on a Twilight Zone episode such as “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”, but almost overnight everything changed; an eerie silence and stillness fell across the windswept island. The monsters had indeed landed!
Galveston will survive, like all places, but the fear is the toll the virus might take before it is under control and its devastating effects reduced. The powers that be, such as they are, assure all that vaccines are on the way and things will improve. Currently, the battle is an uphill struggle being witnessed by all. News pundits tell us “it will get worse before it gets better” — strong words and not very encouraging. On the island, folks are trying to maintain and operate as usual, but this is difficult given all the stores, restaurants, and service industries being closed. A few community members have organized online board game groups and puzzle parties, and some have hosted two or three friends over for meals.
It is scary. A drive down the Seawall reveals just how seriously residents are taking the virus. The beaches are virtually empty, the sidewalk may have one or two walkers or joggers and occasionally a biker rolls by. Some wear masks, some wear a bandanna tied around their nose and mouth. The grocery stores are another scene that quickly reveals the severity of the coronavirus and its spread of fear and uncertainty. Though grocery items continue to come, they go even faster. Long aisles are reminiscent of hurricanes times — empty, save a can or two. Dairy products are gone as soon as they are put on the shelves and paper goods are impossible. Some say it is unnecessary hoarding, others say it is just being prepared and cautious. Many harken back to post-Hurricane Ike days when nothing was available. So far, the real monsters have been fear and greed; both are very common reactions in the face of such a mind-boggling event.
In the past, the Island has weathered hurricanes, fires, and other life-altering events. Galveston will weather this “storm” as well. Citizens are united and working together to combat the virus. For the younger, “Spring Break” population, it took a little longer to realize that group parties on the sandy beaches were not really a wise thing. Understandably, they are young, “invincible” and wanting to have fun. Slowly the message got through and the crowds dispersed to home communities.
It is difficult to find any bright side or silver lining as the infection numbers and death tolls climb daily. However, people are finding creative ways to “be home” and make good use of their downtime. Many in the community work at UTMB and other health-related businesses. A vast number of LGBTQ community members are on the front lines. They are the cooks, wait staff, clerks, and many others that rely on tourist dollars and daily business in order to “make it.” Some fundraisers have been activated and those businesses that can offer curbside pick-up, takeout orders, and some deliveries are stepping up to the plate. Business owners struggle to keep their employees working and provide some income during this trying time. Locals are tipping and supporting when and where they can. Sadly it looks as though a “shelter in place” scenario is not far away.
On the humorous side, I recall the movie, Support Your Local Gunfighter and think now is the time to support our local community and work staff. Those critics that say, “It will never happen to us” are seeing it happen.
Let us have hope and faith in each other and in our combined belief systems. Goodwill wins out. I’d love to hear Mr. Serling say “…a tiny island in the Gulf of Mexico, where the monsters did land and the spirit and resiliency of the locals defeated the unwelcome invaders.”
Now more than ever, be safe, care for each other, and check on those you don’t see. And remember: This will eventually pass.