Words and photos by ambassador James Joiner.

For someone who naturally maintains space between myself and most everyone and everything around me, social distancing hasn’t been that much of a change. It has, however, made riding bikes spooky.

It’s funny how life can change in a matter of a week.

For the first few days of enforced isolationism, people here on Cape Cod were friendlier, the common cause of COVID-19 perking up their usual dour New England outlook. They smiled, made eye contact, even waved back as I pedaled past.

It’s easy to make jokes or wax ironic about the Corona Virus situation.

But where I live the median age is somewhere between ‘pretty old’ and ‘the Emperor from Star Wars’, not great places to land on the COVID-19 mortality bracket. The fear in senior citizen’s eyes has been evident and heartbreaking, and soon that newfound friendliness cracked under the pandemic’s pressure. Retirees may have come here to – eventually – die, but this definitely isn’t how they imagined it’d go down. 

Then, this past unseasonably warm weekend saw a new issue take shape – tourists.

We’re primarily a summer community, a place to congregate in warmer months for a few days of melanoma farming and seafood consumption. Tourists are a mainstay of our local economy. Now, however, with driving distance COVID hotbeds like New York seeing infection rates multiply dramatically day after day, those with the means beelined for the sandy environs and warm nostalgia of their summer vacation haunts. This didn’t just happen on Cape Cod: Similar situations unfolded in beach towns up and down the coast, straining already taxed local infrastructure. Most of these areas have a wholly separate businesses that open just to serve the influx of tourists, and thus are closed the rest of the year. An influx of potentially infected visitors who seemed to shirk any sort of suggested precautions was an unexpected and unwanted strain on local communities.

When health experts say to stay home, you should stay home.

Then again, I completely understand why someone would want to get their family the hell out of Manhattan. Imagine being locked in an inner-city apartment, praying the recycled air whistling out of your radiator isn’t more tainted than usual. I’d no doubt also make for a more remote location, but it’s hard not to take it personally. As a 44-year-old dude I’m right on the ‘you’re going to be fine’ and ‘this could not work out so well’ arc of the Coronavirus infection spectrum. I’m healthy, what I like to call middle-aged-hipster-dad-fit – not about to crush an Ironman, but more than capable of crushing a six pack while pedaling sixty miles – but I’m also not as young as I used to be. Plus, the majority of people who live around me are much older or much less fit, and that really makes me worry.

There’s a lot to worry about, these days.

So I ride my bike.

Cruising with a camera has been my favorite pastime for years. In a lot of ways, I owe my career to it. It eases the mind, distracts me enough from whatever is weighing me down to gain perspective. There’s a chemical reaction that occurs when you combine low-level exertion and high-level mental processing, a biological equation equaling creative output and positive mental attitude. With this apocalyptic weight in the air, it’s a welcome release. Pack a lunch and get some fresh air, responsibly leave the ulcerative dystopia of Internet news feeds and social media behind for a while.

It’s spooky riding past so many houses with cars in the driveway and window blinds shut tight. Apocalyptic. Today it felt like even the tourists were locking themselves into their Air-b-n-b’s. I imagine families coming together to play games and cook meals, as though COVID didn’t just halt the economy it also blasted away our glowing devices and somehow restored a Rockwellian sense of community. Sure, that’s just my own nostalgic fantasy – don’t call it a fever dream! – but times like these have a way of bringing people together, and my biggest hope is that that’s what happens now. A common cause fosters community, bridges social, political, and economic divides. You know, like bikes do. 

Stay safe out there, be kind, and, if you’re able, try to help those around you. Remember: We’re all in this together.