Coronatine, Day Sixty-seven (Social Distancing Applied to Poverty)

So we don’t have a beach in Colorado, not a real one anyway. We do have immigrants from a hundred countries and out-of-state transplants from all fifty states who have come to live here for one main reason: to be outside.

It’s true. Colorado has one of the highest rates in the country for outdoor recreation, and in general, physical activity.

So, after more than two months of being trapped indoors, of ski areas being shut down too soon, of gyms being closed, of mandates that tell us we shouldn’t drive more than ten miles to enjoy the outdoors, this happened: a crowd of just-out-of-school teenagers, more than two hundred of them, ignored all social distancing mandates and managed to get all of the state’s beaches closed indefinitely.

Now, I am a high school teacher, AND I have four teenagers in my house. Are they crazy? Yes. Are they self-absorbed? Yes. Are they reckless? Absolutely.

But must we all, all of us outdoor fanatics, suffer a summer without our “beach” because of a crowd of adolescents?

Because let me tell you who is affected by this new mandate. All the poor people everywhere who crowd into Cherry Creek State Park, conveniently located in the center of the city, on any given weekend because you can fill a car full of people to enjoy the water and sun for a measly $11. You can pack a picnic or a barbecue, relax under a cottonwood, dip your toes in the water, and pretend that the world outside of this sanctuary doesn’t exist. For a few hours, a day, you can have a sense of peace.

I have lived within fifteen minutes of this park for most of my life. On summer weekend days, you have to stake out a spot by 10am if you want the perfect combination of shade and sun. And you will see people from all walks of life enjoying its proximity to the city. Every language you can think of, every tone of skin, every belief system, all enjoying the splashes and sun.

And now we’re in a pandemic. And now we’re supposed to stay home. And now we’re social distancing.

Most of us are.

But guess who still gets to enjoy the water at the fourteen parks with closed swim beaches?

People with boats.

Guess who gets to enjoy the lakes and campgrounds owned by counties in northern Colorado? Lakes like Horsetooth Reservoir with its crystalline turquoise water, surrounded by mountains?

People with hard-sided campers that contain their own private bathrooms.

And guess who those people are?

People with money.

So, in the midst of a pandemic, when the privileged are allowed to storm the streets brandishing military-grade weapons because they want everything open, those same things ARE open. To them.

And to those who can just gather up the $11 entrance fee? They can social distance from home. They don’t need to play golf or take out their speedboat or enjoy a luxurious camper that costs more than they’ll ever make in a year. They can go back to their cramped apartments with no yard space while the rich can back their boats into their third garage and pay their gardeners to perfectly maintain the 10,000-square-foot lot that they COULD be enjoying instead.

And no matter what, don’t you ever forget it, this is the Land of the Free.

Free for everyone with a million bucks, and ever-so-costly for those who can just afford $11.

(I will miss those cottonwoods).