- The Washington Times
Sunday, May 24, 2020

ORANGE BEACH, Ala. — Kylie Lynch steadily scooped shaved ice and brown bourbon butter truffle ice cream this weekend inside an Airstream travel trailer converted into a whimsical Frost Bites food truck.

Condensation from the air conditioner trickled down the gleaming polished aluminum storefront. Summer had begun, after all, coronavirus and social distancing notwithstanding.

“It’s almost like we didn’t have a shutdown,” Ms. Lynch, co-owner of the shaved ice franchise, said happily.

But a shutdown they have had in Alabama and adjoining Florida. Memorial Day weekend provided a more subdued summer kickoff on the Gulf Coast than usual, with revelers largely mindful of COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines.

With much of the nation shaking off the economic slumber of imposed shutdowns, Ms. Lynch and others are hoping the worst is over, even as the number of reported COVID-19 cases in Alabama climbs while casinos, churches and beaches reopen.

Health officials say it’s impossible to determine whether the rise is linked to additional testing or an increase in illness.

Still, the Alabama condos and resorts were packed, said an Orange Beach police officer on buggy patrol along the Gulf side of Perdido Pass, though the holiday crowds were low-key.

“This is supposed to be a busy weekend, but today hasn’t been anything like last weekend. We were packed then,” said Adam Gremillion, 21, who sets up the umbrellas and chairs for Ike’s Beach Services at Perdido Pass and elsewhere. “We had umbrellas three rows deep. I had to put some people all the way back by the dumpster, and you can’t even see the water from there.”

Taylor Freeman and his wife, Allison, weren’t sure whether they would have their annual summer launch in Orange Beach. Along with a couple of dozen friends from the Birmingham area, the 28-year-old couple made a Memorial Day getaway a tradition. The group kept a close eye on the spread of the coronavirus and the impact it had on business closings.

Members of the group were delighted to spread out on the Gulf’s impeccable white quartz sand with cold beer under a blazing sun.

“We weren’t thinking about it at all when we made our reservations in February,” Mr. Freeman said. “But by late April things were trending in a really good direction, and I think for the most part all of us are really stoked that we’re able to be here and we were able to keep our tradition going.”

Such traditions are facing patchwork conditions along the nation’s beaches for the first Memorial Day since the coronavirus outbreak.

New York City has closed its beaches at Rockaway, Coney Island and elsewhere, but the rest of New York as well as New Jersey and Connecticut have largely opened their shorelines with some restrictions. In the rich enclaves of Long Island, where much of Manhattan’s upper class fled the coronavirus outbreak for their summer estates, many beaches are open for residents only.

In Southern California, beaches are open to what authorities dub “active users,” such as joggers, surfers and volleyball players. Simple sunbathing is out at most California beaches, and face masks are required in Los Angeles County.

Face masks were rare at the beach along the Alabama-Florida border, though many retail spots posted signs asking patrons to use them. That request was enforced sporadically.

At the big outlet malls that usually draw holiday crowds, some of the top international brand stores remained closed.

The Flora-Bama Lounge, the popular clapboard labyrinth of 20 bars and five stages that straddles the state line, was partially opened. Just three live acts were playing simultaneously Friday afternoon, and only six bars were serving drinks for seated customers. The mingling of people at the bars and around the stages was noticeably absent, although there was a steady line of customers waiting for tables.

“This is the hardest thing: turning a five-star honky-tonk into a sit-down restaurant,” one harried host said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, mocked journalists last week who had predicted catastrophe for his state and others that have not imposed severe lockdowns, but business remained far from usual in Florida.

The beaches remained closed in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Florida’s COVID-19 hot spots, and the state screened motorists entering from Louisiana, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The Interstate 10 run from Santa Monica to Jacksonville came to a jarring stop at the Florida-Alabama border. State troopers motioned every car into a maze of traffic cones. At night, emergency lighting gave the scene the look of a natural disaster.

Drivers from Louisiana were pulled over and had to fill out a form listing their driver’s license, address and phone number, and attesting that neither the driver nor any passenger in the car had shown any COVID-19 symptoms over the previous 14 days.

“I’m upset because I feel like they are singling out my state,” said Ebbi Kennedy, who was traveling with four family members from Lafayette, Louisiana. “That’s not fair, and it’s slowing us down.”

Ms. Kennedy’s group also pointed out that a motorist could simply lie and head into the state with the virus, or be infected and not know it. Other Louisianans echoed her frustration, although they acknowledged that the COVID-19 outbreak was more acute in Louisiana than Florida.

Troopers and workers at the interstate stop, which was under the control of the Department of Health, declined to comment on the proceedings.

The snarled traffic at COVID-19 checkpoints was only on the federal interstate highways as the holiday traffic picked up Friday. At the beach, a couple of Escambia County Sheriff’s Office units were stationed at the Flora-Bama, but cars puttered up and down Perdido Beach Boulevard regardless of their license plates.

It looked like the season had opened.

At Frost Bites, Ms. Lynch handed out Blue Hawaiian and Tiger Blood snowballs to barefoot beachgoers who hopped up and down on the hot pavement.

On the beach, Mr. Gremillion carefully stacked his chairs and rolled umbrellas for an anticipated crush.

“It’s been a busy season so far because I think people are just so tired of being cooped up they can’t wait,” he said.

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.