Woog's World: Westport easing lockdown, but future unclear

On Friday, the Compo Beach parking lots and Longshore golf course open.

That’s not normally news. But in our new normal, pandemic-powered world, it’s stop-the-presses-worthy.

Westport schools closed on Wednesday, March 11. Three days later a perfect storm - the figurative kind - roared in, right behind the coronavirus. Mild weather and three days of isolation sent hundreds of Westporters scurrying down to the shore. Some practiced social distancing. Others did not.

Social media erupted. “Stay home! You’re endangering everyone!” some folks posted. “Don’t be silly! We’re outdoors on a big beach! Nothing can happen!” others responded.

Late that afternoon, town officials announced that the beaches would be closed. Some people may not have gotten the message. Others may not have believed it. But no one driving to Compo that Sunday, March 15, could get into the parking lots. Parks and Rec personnel, caution tape - and then large trucks and earthmovers - blocked the way.

So some Westporters did what Westporters do. (Of course, there were plenty of non-Westporters doing it too.) They parked up and down Soundview Drive, and all along neighboring streets. They walked the beach. They walked their dogs. They walked the familiar Hillspoint route, to Old Mill. It wasn’t quite the July 4th fireworks, but for mid-March it was quite a crew.

Police showed up, and handed out tickets - not for violating the quarantine, but for parking in a no-parking zone. Drivers saw or heard what was happening, and scrambled to leave. A couple of hours later, an entirely new set of beachgoers replaced them.

For the past two months, that’s been the status quo. The only folks walking have been those who live nearby, were dropped off, or have friends with driveways. The Old Mill lot has a guard. Even the tiny lot by Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve - a semi-secret spot for anyone without a sticker willing to walk the quarter mile or so to Compo - has been blocked off.

There is one other option. Around the corner, Longshore’s parking lots are wide open. It’s a pleasant walk from there to the beach. But people have also realized that the closed-to-play golf course is also a pleasant spot for a stroll. Folks who never picked up a club are meandering all over the links.

All that changes on Friday. The trucks and earthmovers will be gone. The beaches will open once again. Yet Compo will look nothing like before.

Parking capacity is limited to 50 percent. Picnic tables and grills have been carted away. Bathrooms will be locked, though port-a-potties are available. (The theory, I guess, is to discourage long beach stays, while also eliminating the need to frequently clean all those surfaces. I can’t imagine though a more fertile environment for a virus than inside a port-o-john.)

The announcement of the lifting of the “beach ban” sparked another spasm of activity on social media. “Thank God! At last, a return to some semblance of normalcy! We need to be outdoors, in the sun, where there’s room and we can have a bit of fun!” some folks trumpeted.

“Oh my God! What a disaster! Crowds are risky!” others howled.

“So stay home! Your fear should not impinge on my rights!” the first group responded.

“You’re crazy! This isn’t about you! It’s about the welfare of all of us!” the second crowd shouted back.

And so it goes. This weekend offers a test. Can Westporters maintain healthy social distance? Will they wear masks? (A separate argument bubbles along: Does the governor’s mandate mean that people “must” wear masks at a place like the beach, or merely that they “should”?) Will most folks follow guidelines, or flout them? Will the table- and grill-less beach be a beautiful balm for some, or such a bummer to others that they behave badly?

No one knows. My guess - after a lifetime of living here - is that the answers will be all over the big, broad beach.

Golfers, meanwhile, will probably adapt. Their sport is filled with rules, after all, and they are used to following them. They won’t enter the pro shop or halfway house; they’ll stay six feet away from everyone else; they won’t use carts; they won’t remove flag sticks; they’ll do without the practice range, putting green, ball washers, scorecards (and pencils!); they’ll rake bunkers with their feet. And they too will use port-a-potties.

Westport - and much of the nation - seems to be at an inflection point now. After weeks of stasis, we’re moving forward. The future is uncertain. What America will look like next is unclear. But in our town, at least, it’s beginning to take a little bit of shape.

We’ll have our beloved beach. We’ll venture back into familiar spaces. And we’ll get used to all those port-o-potties.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.