On Oct. 29, 2012, my neighbors up and down the Jersey Shore and I went to sleep nervous and fearful. We would wake the next morning to a different reality after Hurricane Sandy hit our small, beachfront communities.
Sandy’s impact was felt far and wide. It made then-Gov. Chris Christie a quasi-celebrity. President Barack Obama sped to the Shore just two days later. It even drew a visit from Britain’s Prince Harry, who stopped in the Borough of Mantoloking in Ocean County just a few minutes south of my small town, Manasquan. You might remember the infamous photo of a large house completely separated from its foundation being swept through an inlet. That was Mantoloking.
But Sandy also did something besides destroy things: It unified the communities it impacted like nothing else ever had.
We waited for power to return and invited over neighbors still without it as soon as ours did. We spent weekends helping friends muck out their homes and businesses. We collectively pulled together to rise from a bad situation. Nearly a decade later, there are still some scars left behind if you know where to look, but our towns have been back to the business of welcoming regional summertime tourists for years.
I expected that kind of communal unity against adversity when, earlier this month, I said yes to my first trip since March 2020. I thought my fellow passengers flying back and forth between Newark and Orlando would be diligent in wearing masks in the airport and on the plane more in the spirit of solidarity than owing to FAA rules. I expected some brief maskless moments to eat or drink but thought that, otherwise, we would remain masked the rest of the time.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The worst offenders were in Orlando’s airport, perhaps encouraged by its state government’s laissez faire attitude toward Covid, but Newark was hardly free of bad actors. In both, I couldn’t look at a crowd without seeing multiple noses and at least a few full faces.
On the planes, flight attendants repeatedly warned passengers, over the PA system, to keep masks on. I finally snapped when deplaning in Newark after an older man had his mask completely under his chin but grumbled about people taking too long to get off the plane. My, “How about you put your mask on, bud?” was just met with averted eyes, a shaking head and more grumbling.
We don’t wear masks to protect ourselves, we wear them to protect others. We’re 13 months into this pandemic. Wearing masks shows respect for humanity, even if one is vaccinated. (And it’s still not clear whether vaccinated people can’t spread the virus.)
To me, it comes down to a question of personal responsibility to protect society. The fact that there are people unwilling to comply speaks volumes.
And it doesn’t help the bigger-picture dilemma facing those who want to see the travel industry recover more quickly.
After flying this month, I won’t set foot on a plane again until I’m fully vaccinated in three weeks. It’s a short period of time for me, but others are just getting their first shots.
Call me naive. I anticipated a community pulling together and doing the right thing. I wanted a post-Sandy world to bring about a post-Covid world. I didn’t see that. I worry about what that says about the future.