Coping with COVID: Islanders detail their pandemic lifestyle strategies

Lance Shearer

When we look back over our lives, the coronavirus will be a watershed event. Once the pandemic is relegated to the past – and that day can’t come soon enough – the events of 2020 will be a marker, with other milestones and occurrences placed as happening before or after COVID-19 turned the world upside down for a while.

In the meantime, we are left dealing with the situation as well as we can. With many ordinary pastimes out of reach or fraught with peril, Marco Islanders, along with the rest of the nation, have had to develop new routines and adapt new coping strategies to stay healthy, energized and connected.

In talking to several Islanders about how they are spending their time these days, a few themes came up repeatedly. The same things are important to people now that were important to them back in the halcyon B.C. – “before COVID-19” period. Family, friends, and nature were regularly mentioned as priorities, with the only difference being in how to approach them, while keeping everyone safe.

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Chris Curle, Kathryn Hunt and Mary Zachrich regularly get together with some friends including Tim Sykes and Nick Campo at the Seabreeze West garden apartments for some chardonnay and social distance, with emphasis on the “social.” This isn’t that different from their pre-pandemic pastime, but they are staying a little further apart, and having their get-togethers out in the fresh air.

Dianna Dohm and her friends go a step further, taking out a flotilla of boats and rafting them together to enjoy lunch or dinner afloat on the BYOE – “bring your own everything” – plan. They will have up to six boats anchored side by side, but “it’s okay, we’re loud talkers,” said Dohm, who is executive director of the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce.

She has also been getting together virtually with far-flung family, regularly “zooming” on Sunday mornings with her two sisters and assorted nieces over coffee. Husband Kevin Dohm, a retired airline captain, has started a bicycling group with friends including Jim Richards and George Abounader. “They call themselves the FOGs – it stands for fat old guys,” said Dianna.

Abounader, who displayed impeccable timing in retiring as principal of Marco Island Charter Middle School at the end of the previous school year, also likes to get out jet-skiing with his wife, Greater Marco Family YMCA president Cindy Love, and passengers such as grandson Nick Abounader, 10, down visiting from New York City.

Jared and Elsa Grifoni took advantage of the pandemic to put in a garden. They started early on, and now are seeing the literal fruits of their labors, in the form of a crop of beans, peppers both sweet and hot, and San Marzano tomatoes.

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“It’s become a family project,” with their children contributing according to their abilities, said Jared, who serves as vice chair of the Marco Island City Council. “The kids are digging holes,” and Lorenzo, age two and a half, has found his favorite garden-related activity – dumping the watering can. “My wife has more of the green thumb,” he admitted. As a side benefit, reports indicate that persuading children to eat vegetables becomes much easier when the kids have been part of the growing process and take ownership.

Laura Owen, general manager of CJ’s on the Bay, has also found herself digging up dirt – not prepping for a second career as an investigative reporter, but putting in a garden of her own.

“I am attempting for the first time to grow cherry tomatoes – little ones, very like candy,” she said. “Keeping up with the weeding keeps me busy.”

She is also indulging her passion for woodworking, using a miter saw, planer, and “old table saw” in her garage, creating a series of shelves with the intent of giving her cat a walkway to traverse the house while well off the ground.

Owen also participated in a beach cleanup with the staff of CJ’s, in which groups started from Tigertail Beach and South Beach and met in the middle. Walking the beach is surely one of the most universal Marco Island pastimes, with or without a bag to pick up trash.

Photographer Joey Waves is likely to be carrying a camera when he walks the beach, or as he has done repeatedly since the coronavirus hit, the wild areas surrounding Marco, including the Picayune Strand, Fakahatchee preserve, Big Cypress and Fish Eating Creek. He and his wife Erin Mia Miclhman, president of the Marco Patriots, also like going to the Crabby Lady on Goodland, where live music has returned, sitting outside to have a beverage and relax.

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Capt. Meaghan Blackman, along with her husband Capt. Carlos Escarra, take shelling tours out to area beaches as a business, Nautical Life Shelling Tours, but contacted by phone on a day off, were out there on the boat on their own anyway, enjoying what used to be called a “busman’s holiday” and doing what they love even without someone paying them.

Dianna Dohm, who said she is working on staying more active and connected, is hoping that even a wind as ill as the coronavirus might end up blowing some good. “I’m hoping COVID helps us get a balance overall, to stay fresher and more creative,” she said. “This has us stepping back and reinventing ourselves.”