On some days, Oxford seems deserted.
Along High Street, shops and restaurants lie empty; the warm neon of their “open” signs stand in stark contrast to their vacant interiors. On colder days, uptown park is devoid of life, its stone animal statues the only creatures to be found. Brick Street, the de facto hub of the uptown social scene, greets visitors with shuttered windows and a sign that reads “We miss you. Stay safe.”
Across the country, the desire to return to normalcy is growing, and some groups of people are protesting the ongoing quarantine by breaking the state-mandated rules and taking to the streets, signs and megaphones in hand. There is no such resistance in Oxford, but nonetheless a sense of restlessness is palpable —on days like this most recent Saturday, the town is anything but empty.
When the sun shines, Oxford emerges, and the would-be ghost town is strangely full of life.
Strolling through the residential areas of town, it’s difficult to go a block without seeing a group of Miamians out for a walk or a mini-darty spread out on someone’s lawn. Students in shorts and tank tops welcome the warm weather by tossing frisbees and sipping beers in the sun.
On one street, two adjacent houses have set up hammocks on their porch. Their collegiate inhabitants call out periodically to one another, engaging in socially-distant conversation.
“I’m so glad the sun’s back,” one porch-dweller calls.
“I know,” comes the reply. “I’ve missed seeing you out here.”
The park uptown, bathed in warm sunlight, looks almost as it did pre-quarantine. People dot the landscape, dining at the picnic tables and meandering through the fountains. As a couple of dog walkers pass each other, their pets strain against their leashes, pulling toward the other dog, clearly unconcerned with distancing rules.
Although Oxford’s restaurants are empty of dine-in customers, plenty of people make use of their takeout services. Among those populating the city’s sidewalks, many groups are laden with brown paper bags packed with food. Their rich aromas mingle with the spring air, filling High Street with savory scents.
As a group of girls ventures away from uptown, they encounter another group, all boys, on the other side of the street. They wave at each other, and as one of the girls notices the packs of beer the boys are carrying, she calls out to them.
“You guys having another party today?” she says.
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“Yeah,” one of the boys shouts back. “We’re gonna see you there, right?”
“Oh, we shouldn’t,” the girl says.
The boys all howl at once, pleading with the other group to win their attendance. Each girl shouts something back. It’s hard to tell what the consensus is, but both groups walk off laughing.
With all this activity, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume this weekend was like any other, free of social distancing and quarantine. Despite the signs of the isolation’s impact like the shuttered shops and copious takeout, people are laughing, interacting and having a good time.
Officially, Ohio’s shelter-in-place order lasts until May 1, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping many Miamians. The roads are filled with cars, and the streets are filled with people.
Late one Friday night, a group of girls roam those streets in a large black SUV. Shouting from their windows, they encapsulate some students’ feelings toward this isolation.