After Hurricane Ike, there was a clear psychological effect on the general population. Right afterwards, there was this sort of heightened manic cheerfulness that slowly seemed to turn sour in a number of different ways.
A psychologist friend told me that he felt like we were all suffering from group post-traumatic stress that was not acknowledged. Several months into the COVID-19 pandemic and standing on the precipice of an economic recession/depression, there seems to be a number of different social-psychological forces at work simultaneously.
While much of the population has been sequestered in their safe places and have developed some kind of mild agoraphobia and/or depression, an entirely different thing seems to be happening on the beachfront. Enormous crowds have inundated the island each weekend, and even the weekdays are pretty crazy.
The crowds, in true Galveston fashion, are really diverse. But there’s definitely a segment of the beach-going population that has this sort of manic/hedonistic energy. No masks or social distancing, and traffic rules seem to be seen as weak “suggestions.”
Once on the beach, it seems like many people are on edge. What would normally be a small issue often explodes into something major. Things as simple as asking people to not swim in dangerous areas such as at the ends of the islands or near rock groins turn into huge arguments.
Same thing for the usual litany of things we enforce such as dogs on leashes, littering, campfires, alcohol in some areas, glass containers, etc. It seems a crisis brings out the worst in us at times. But it can have the opposite effect.
My staff, for the most part, has been exemplary. Not that they’re perfect and we definitely make mistakes, but they’ve suited up, showed up and handled everything with grace. We’ve been through the beach closure, extreme budget cuts, staffing shortages, enormous and sometimes rowdy crowds, and extremes in weather.
Sure, some have fallen into blaming others for their anxiety over the coronavirus or fear of being overwhelmed by the call volume. But generally, they’ve all made me so proud. Particularly one person.
Capt. Tony Pryor has been here for more than two decades and oversees our operational side of things. Day after day without pause, he sits in the vortex of the storm, calmly assigning placement of guards and supervisors creatively to make up for our staffing deficit. He also makes the schedule, organizes maintenance details and generally takes care of business. These are all in his scope of job responsibilities.
But because of staffing issues, he is also starting every day at 6:30 a.m. and preparing equipment to place on the beach and to drop to the towers so guards don’t meet at headquarters. He patrols until midday when the troops come in for the busy afternoon, then picks up anything that needs to be picked up or done from the bottom to the top, including the inevitable crisis.
All with grace and all without ever losing his sense of humor. Because he’s 100 percent lifeguard and because he cares.