This is part of our special Coronavirus Dispatches series, featuring personal essays and local reporting from WONDERLUST editors and writers about our individual communities around the world.
Spring Break is this week, so most students are catching rays and making bad decisions in Florida, or back home with their families, or all of the above.
When they’re gone, locals emerge from their homes and enjoy less traffic, quiet dinners out, the ability to sit at a bar… and we all nod and raise our glasses at each other in public, as an acknowledgement that yes, this is the life. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Half of Oxford’s residents are students. As an SEC powerhouse in sports (come at me), Ole Miss home football games bring tens of thousands of visitors to town each weekend, and at least double the town’s population. We have one Walmart, one Kroger, one locally owned grocery store, a meat market and a small store with local produce and organic groceries. That’s it, for 40,000 people.
In the time of coronavirus, I started thinking about the implications of 15,000 people returning from God knows where. I didn’t want to do my weekly grocery shopping amongst them, so I ventured out early in the morning for essentials. As I made my way down each aisle, everyone had overflowing carts of milk, cereal, canned goods, toilet paper, etc. Whole shelves were empty. Everyone was remarkably calm (realistically, a numb state of panic), and what most surprised me about the bizarreness of the situation was how many people spoke to me without prompting.
“Not gonna find any Lysol!”
“What’s a keto-friendly snack? My daughter is coming home from college and I don’t know what to have for her.”
“Stress baking. Are you stress baking? I’m stress baking.”
A very generous elderly man with kind eyes wordlessly put his extra coupon for fancy name brand toilet paper in my cart, which remarkably, they still had in stock. (He will forever be one of my most vivid memories from this.)
I went to our meat market, LB’s, for a visit with the owner and a dig through his frozen meats. We talked about what would happen to his business if athletic events were cancelled. He feeds the sports teams on Fridays, and counts on that revenue. And it’s baseball season. Not only is his business a huge sponsor, but everyone buys his sausage and burgers to grill in the outfield. “I’ll be OK as long as I have the teams,” he said.
By the time I got home, the announcement had come that all SEC athletic events had been suspended through March 30. Followed by Ole Miss’s major decision to extend Spring Break by a week, and, following that, hold all classes online, with the encouragement for students not to come back to Oxford.
With only a handful of cases diagnosed in Mississippi (so far), reaction is mixed and all over the map. Some people are practicing common sense social distancing. Others seem not to care. I personally know people who think it’s a hoax by the liberal media to spread lies about the President. (And every single one of those people shared that they had toilet paper.)
Local businesses have started offering free local delivery as a way to keep business going. And not just food! This being a college town, we already have a large network of restaurants who contract delivery services, which I regularly use at least once a week anyway (because some days I want Volta and real pants are hard). Square Books, our world-famous independent bookstore, is offering free delivery in town and free shipping. Boutiques with cute pajamas are also offering free delivery to locals.
Many people with second homes here are beginning to descend into town and staying for the long haul. Most of them live in much larger cities (like Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans), and I suppose they think that since we have no reported cases of the virus here yet, they’ll be much safer here. Time will tell if that theory pans out.
My husband and I were delighted this morning that our sweet 2-year-old neighbor’s birthday party went about as planned. The houses on our street are fairly close together, like townhouses with yards, and we peeked out the window as the children played out front, each one wearing a different type of hat. One small tot in a football helmet danced in circles, her smocked dress catching the wind with pure joy on her face — a sweet reminder that while the world is uncertain, it’s still spinning. Same as always.
We’re not sure of the impact this will have on our town’s economy, but fear the worst. Hopefully soon, we’ll fully emerge from our homes again, raise our glasses, nod at each other, and say, “This is the life!”