Under slate-gray skies the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend in Long Beach, they unfolded their umbrellas and chairs and sat on the cool sand, staring at the still sea. They jogged on the boardwalk or pushed baby strollers. But all it took to realize that this was an opening of summer like none other was to see the face-masks and the big blue signs warning of a danger that could not be seen.
"Stay Safe. Stay Healthy. Have Fun," the sign on the boardwalk just before the beach said. "If you don't live together, stay 6 feet apart. Wear your mask. No group sports. Respect your neighbor's space."
There had never been such a sign on the boardwalk before. But there had never been a coronavirus before, either, Most at the beach-goers on Sunday respected the signs and wore masks and kept their distance from one another. Many had not been out much in the last two months, and were enjoying what they could of the fresh sea breeze and the sun that occasionally peaked from behind mostly unfriendly skies.
"I'm very conservative about this," said Amy Langer, a facilities planner from Long Beach. "I wouldn't want to get on a plane right now. I wouldn't want to get on a subway." Her mask was snugly on her face.
Her friend, George Ridler, nodded in agreement. "We've been playing by the rules," he said. "I keep a rag soaked with alcohol in my car and rub down whatever I touch," like door handles. "It's a ritual."
But the rituals of summer were not here. Not yet. Largely, the beach was empty, but lifeguards were on duty. In what was decidedly un-seasonable, there were no hot dogs, ice cream or soft drinks, as concessions were closed.
The weather could seem menacing, and then there were all the newly-minted beach patrol officers in their dark blue uniforms, charged with seeing people maintain social distancing.
But ten-year-old Kennedy Lee was not afraid of any virus because, she said, she was wearing her blue mask. She was jogging earlier and was taking a break on a bench., "I feel good outside," she said.
Wayne Bennett and Katya Teygankovy had come out for the day from Manhattan, to take a break from the high-pressured world of their jobs in the commercial and residential real estate industry. Barrett was dubious about the strictures surrounding the re-opening of beaches.
"It's like an echo chamber," said. "First they say businesses have to stay closed. Then they let the big stores, like Wal-Mart, open. Who gets to decide on all of this? It seems like nobody knows what's happening." Nonetheless, both Barrett and Teygankovy wore masks.
Many, like Marianne Raisig, of Long Beach, just want to do the right thing.
"I go to the beach all the time," Raisig said. "I always wear my mask. I think it's the proper thing to do. Even with no symptoms, you have no idea" if the virus is in you. "The beach is for everybody, so you need to follow the rules.
She was with friends, Elizabeth and Bill Hicks, who are soon to be married. They were forced to postpone a larger wedding because of the coronavirus. Now, they will have a smaller ceremony and party at Raisig's house in Long Beach.
"What can you do?" Bill Hicks said. "It's the times."
There was some sense of more normal times. Four-year Tali Levine peddled her two-wheeler down the boardwalk, a broad smile on her face.
Two-year-old Booker Ngo grabbed his pail, shovel and sand sifter, and raced ahead of his mother, K.C. Ngo, and his father, Alan, to get to the sand. When he reached it, he looked back and waved bye-bye!