The Sunset in Quarantine

By Becky Lee

The heart-shaped sign pictured above is one of many messages of hope and thanks that adorn a fence at Ulloa Middle School. Sunset District neighbors have come together in many safe, symbolic ways despite the restrictions put into place in reaction to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Photo by Becky Lee.

It has been more than six weeks since the city of San Francisco issued its shelter-in-place mandate. The rush to stockpile resources has slowed, most skeptics have secured homemade masks, and self-isolation has become the rule, not the exception. 

There is no doubt our lives have radically changed, yet much of the minutiae of daily life remains the same. Mostly, we wake in the same beds, drink the same coffee, raise the same families and text the same people. There’s somehow a simultaneous sense of impending doom, and a sense of normalcy. We are living through history, and we are also just trying to make it through the week. 

Our houses have become our gyms, our schools, our offices, and our restaurants, all in one.  Our neighborhood has become our whole world. The walls between our homes have always been thin, but we’ve never had a more intimate look at each other’s lives. We have conversations on the front steps, we’ve converted our garages to exercise rooms, and we walk our dogs thrice daily just to get out of the house. 

With schools closed for the rest of the year, families are taking to their driveways as makeshift playgrounds. Sidewalk chalk has made a full blown comeback, and hand-drawn rainbows have been taped up onto windows, transforming the streets of the Sunset into colorful art galleries. 

In between rainbow drawings, teddy bears of all shapes and sizes peek out from behind curtains so kids can count the number of stuffed animals they see on walks or drives around the neighborhood. Communities around the world have set up these  “teddy bear hunts” as part comfort, part math class.

At Ulloa Elementary School, a tall fence overlooks the empty soccer fields. It is impossible not to think of the kids who would give anything to be back at recess (and their parents who could probably use a recess, too). Look up, though; there’s a row of painted wooden hearts hanging on the fence. Each heart has a handwritten note of gratitude and encouragement for those who need it: the school’s graduating class of fifth graders, Cesar the mailman, healthcare workers, grocery store clerks, and the face of the nation’s medical community, Dr. Anthony Fauci himself. 

Along the beach, the Great Highway has been shut down to vehicles since early April, creating extra space to jog, bike, stroll and skate while maintaining the mandatory six-foot social distancing space. It is at once liberating and apocalyptic to walk right down the middle of the road, ignoring the red lights that seem eerily leftover from another time, a time when we moved so fast, we needed to be told to slow down.

Thanks to a “supermoon” on April 7 causing extra low tides, it is also sand dollar season at Ocean Beach. At first glance, it may only seem like a few, but walk closer to the water and suddenly there are tens, maybe hundreds, with every wave surfacing more. There are tiny ones, furry ones, some the size of your palm, and a handful with dark spots marking where barnacles once made their homes. 

Despite the benefits of our beloved coastal lifestyle, the challenges of shelter-in-place still exist. Whether trying to keep a small business alive or caring for a loved one, learning to homeschool or weathering back-to-back Zoom meetings, it needs to be acknowledged: this is hard. The days are long. The future is uncertain. 

At the same time, there’s something about being in a neighborhood that feels like a family, where people are taking care of each other, albeit from afar. We may not know when this will end, but we are all in it together. 

Every evening at 8 p.m., many Sunset residents throw open their front doors or lean out a window to let out a chorus of howls, cheers and the occasional cowbell, in honor of the healthcare workers risking their lives on the front lines. It is equal parts celebration and release, yelling into the void, disrupting the otherwise quiet street. Any other time, the neighbors might have shut their windows or even called the police. Now, they howl back. 

Becky Lee is a Sunset District resident, a freelance writer and photographer, and a contributor to the Sunset Beacon Newspaper.

2 replies »

  1. Becky your writing is a joy to read. Thoughtful and uplifting – a snapshot of a unique moment in time in the Sunset District.


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