Cayucos’ pandemic takeout nightmare

Dell Franklin

Editor’s Note: The following series, “Life in Radically Gentrifying Cayucos by the Sea,” to be posted biweekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin. 


I ran into Patrick down by the pier one morning, and he said, between puffs of a cigarette, “I got a new headline and story for you–‘The Cayucos Coronavirus Take-out Nightmare.” Patrick, supposed captain of the town’s reputed ne’er do-wells, and the most perceptive observer in town, had a point.

Central Valley and north SLO county tourists are surging in Cayucos, like an onslaught, and, since doors to restaurants and cafes are closed, they are eating everywhere—along the seawall, on picnic tables dragged out from the Lion’s Club, on the beach, on the pier, in parks, and on sidewalks and alleys and streets and parking lots, and in the back of pickups and SUVs and in vans and cars, and while walking, and on portable tables planted helter-skelter anywhere near where take-out food is dispensed.

It’s like a sprawling, monster picnic on cement, asphalt and steel.

Long lines from Ruddell’s Smokehouse, Duckie’s Chowder House, Ocean Front Pizza, Schooner’s Wharf, Hidden Kitchen, Cafe Della Villa, The Cayucos Deli (best sandwiches in the county), The Sea Shanty, Martin’s, Brown Butter Cookies, the Candy Counter (ice cream) and all three coffee haunts, clog the downtown area and along Ocean Avenue. Some in masks, others bare-faced, all of them appearing tortured by hunger and impatience; like a bunch of GIs in basic training forced to wait in long lines at chow time because drill sergeants relish inflicting minor torture on them.

One Sunday morning, as I walked Wilbur along the sidewalk adjoining the seawall, a family had installed, at 7:45, a large tent, tables, chairs, coolers, pots and pans, dishes, glasses, spatulas, cutlery, salt and pepper shakers, some sort of gas grill, and tons of bagged food wedged up against the wall, along with every manner of beach paraphernalia imaginable.

An extended family of some 15 to 20 people, from toddlers to geriatrics, all fairly rotund, milled around anticipating a hearty breakfast doubtlessly leading to an all day emperor’s feast.

Nothing stops the eating. Not sand-blasting gusts of wind or dense fog or uncomfortable positions of consumption.

Come mornings, when trash bags are overflowing and chunks of overnight rotting food, like pizza and burgers and fish sticks and whatever clutters the beach, my dog Wilbur pounces, and is now suffering from diarrhea. I have to leash the poor glutton, a 13½ year old Brown Lab, while walking, and am dragged and jerked along as he lunges toward some of the most unholy appearing scraps these eyes have ever seen — slabs of garbage so repellent that only a rapacious Lab will eat them.

At one overflowing trash can, a large plastic trash bag obviously owned by a family, was ripped open and its ingredients were scattered about. I held onto Wilbur as he pulled me toward them, though it appeared the good stuff had already been eaten by other dogs.

I ran into Doug and his three legged dog, Achilles, while coming up from the beach. Doug usually scours the beach mornings, and scoops up and bags scraps as a good citizen, but said, “I don’t come down here from Friday through Sunday anymore. It’s not healthy.”

“Well, I come early, before the feeding frenzy hits,” I said.

“It’s not too bad during the week, but I don’t pick anything up anymore.”

“You could catch the Covid.”

“Right.” said Doug, one of the most cheerful, optimistic people I know, tugging at his mask.

Later, along the seawall, I ran into Nick, Greg, Robert and Tim, all sipping coffee. As Wilbur quickly gobbled Nick’s biscuits, I explained how Wilbur had a bad, painful case of the runs from eating overnight leftovers of take-out food; but I did not describe the fly-laden hunk of something indescribably horrendous he’d snagged the day before, and which I could not dislodge from his teeth as he growled at me as I kicked at him, growling and chomping at the same time and temporarily resembling the madhouse consumers now advancing on our tiny beach town like a starving motley army in full retreat.

We all agreed that we’d never seen anything like it before, the amount of people, this eating frenzy, all caused by the Coronavirus. It wasn’t a subject anybody wanted to talk about. We’re sick of talking about the tourists and the gobs and streams of garbage the masked county workers have to contend with each morning.

I know we’re amid a catastrophic pandemic, but also the greatest financial depression in almost 100 years, since 1929 and all through the 1930s, a time when people starved and waited in long lines for free food, a time my parents described as so desperate you never knew when your next meal was coming, and people literally fought over food, worried over their children starving, were forced to steal food if need be, and never recovered emotionally from such an experience IF they survived.

Where these people today are getting their money I don’t know, but not one of them looks like they’ve missed a meal ever, do not possess that lean and hungry, wistful-eyed and sometimes emaciated look of Depression survivors.

I guess it’s a good sign, though I do wonder how bad we will get if a time comes when there’s no money for food, and we’re mostly all in bread lines.

Maybe it’s time for everybody to read or reread John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”