Along the coast of New England the demarcation between Summer and Winter is often the closing of businesses related to the seasonal tourist trade. The same holds true for the transition in the other direction, from Winter into Summer, except that the ever cold Spring in which businesses begin to open is a longer warming process which seems to take forever. The Northeast Atlantic Ocean holds the Summer’s warmth for a long time but it takes an long stretch before the turn from cold back into something that tourists might want to even consider.
Usually businesses begin to close after the October 12th long weekend but there are exceptions where the fried fish, clam and lobster shacks often stay open stretching their final few weeks a bit longer because they know that is when the locals will find their way to eating the last of the season favorites, the beloved food they forgo while the tourist traffic is still heavy. I live in a house connected to such a business and the transition from “Open” to “Closed for the Season” is a clean break: the cars from the young staff workers who stay the season cease roaring into the parking lot; the metal sculptures that spin in the wind come down, tucked away in storage, not meant for icy blasts with frozen blades. Winter seas are fierce things to behold. Paint peels off buildings especially on corners facing prevailing winds. Anything that can be covered or battened down will be a part of the closing process, anything left out and uncovered will not be suitable come Spring.
This pandemic year was a particularly tough challenge but these eating places made out better than most when their real estate involved lots of outside tables and ocean air. People felt safer eating in such environments. As this was a drought summer and fall there was lots of sunshine with few rainy days in which there was no shelter for keeping french fries warm and dry. Those were the days when diners stayed away.
The last still open day comes and is then followed by the next day flurry of thorough cleaning, wrapping stove vents in tarps anchored by bungees or rope. Picnic tables are tilted and stacked. The parking lot feels vast and lonely and the fishy-potatoey smell of grease ceases to be carried on the wind. The gulls continue to hang out until they realize there will be no more dropped food, then only a few of the strongest stalwarts stay to fish from the sea to fill their bellies in the sparse season. The feel of the place drastically alters. Emptiness seeps around the corners and a sense of isolation descends. It’s like being the last person standing, thinking that finally, you have the place to yourself, but the feeling is more hollow than you remembered. The faint whiff of abandonment is in the now colder, saltier air as the winds blow more fiercely from the North.
Another summer has come and gone, with winter to be faced without a clue as to how cold or how wild or snowy it will get and whether the inevitable nor’easters will do real damage. Spring is a very long way away.