In June my girlfriend and I took a much needed vacation to New Smyrna Beach, FL. It was our first vacation and first real, prolonged exposure to strangers and crowds in public since the onset of Covid-19 in February 2020.
We had a fantastic week except for one unfortunate episode. It is metaphorical to the Covid response exhibited by some people who act as if their personal liberties are license to infringe on the liberties or lives of others.
Our days in FL comprised waking early, just after sunrise, to grab coffee and a quick breakfast in the hotel.
We then walked to the beach less than a half mile from our room, where we spent the first cooler hours of the morning lying in the sun with our feet in surf.
My girlfriend and I suffered a bout of Covid in April, despite taking every precaution. We felt lucky to have come through our encounter relatively easily. Others have not fared nearly as well.
After spending a couple of hours in the sun, we walked to a small, friendly open-air bar/restaurant right on the beach. Frequented by locals, the place has the easy-going charm and unpretentious real-world vibe we both love. A regular beach dive.
Wooden picnic tables spread around a sand floor covered by pavilion type tents make up the outdoor “dining room”. On some mornings we happily occupied bar stools at the well-worn bar, enjoying the best Painkillers in town along with our BLTs and French toast.
On our third morning, we got there a bit late, and the bar stools were all taken. No worries. We meandered to a picnic table along one edge, propped up our beach chairs and prepared to enjoy a cold drink, a delicious breakfast, and beautiful scenery made comfortable by an offshore breeze.
Freedom, a Bulldog, and a Cigarette
Four people sat at the table beside us on this morning, along with an English bulldog, like the UGA mascot. It nosed around the ankles of the people seated at the adjacent table, its obnoxiously loud owner oblivious to it. The dog kept nuzzling and licking their legs while the uncomfortable diners tried to push his ugly head away.
The dog’s owner was a loud-mouthed lady with maroon hair, a leathery, scowling face, and sinewy, sun-baked limbs peaking from her cut-off denim shorts and her Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt. She ignored her annoying dog while loudly pontificating about the weather, the town, her love life, and her impatience with the service.
My girlfriend and I rolled our eyes at one another, focused on the good, and put her, the dog, and her noisy play-by-play out of our heads.
After waiting a few minutes, our drinks and food arrived. We shared a quick “Grace” over the meal, sipped at our drinks, and began to salt and pepper our eggs and grits.
It was then that we smelled the smoke.
The dog-owner had lit up, and the breeze was wafting the second-hand smoke directly into our faces, our food, and beyond. It incensed me.
My impulse was to jerk the cigarette from between her fingers and put it out on the table in front of her and her friends. But I restrained myself.
Still, I was livid. My girlfriend was equally distressed. She suffers from migraines and we are careful to avoid her most egregious triggers. Cigarette smoke being one of the worst.
I spoke a little too loudly, “Can you fucking believe the nerve of some people?”
“Greg!” my girlfriend shot back at me, careful to avoid an eruption or confrontation.
I demurred, swiveling my head to scan for our server. Catching his eye, I motioned him over and asked about the smoking policy. He said in Florida they allow smoking outdoors at restaurants.
“Even when outdoors is the dining area?” I asked. He sympathized but said he really could do nothing.
I was trying to be just loud enough to catch the inconsiderate smoker’s attention. No dice. She held her cigarette at arm’s length. Directly towards our table!
“Can we move?” I asked the server, motioning with my head to a table further away but in the sun with less shade from the covering tent.
“Of course you can move,” he said.
My girlfriend and I got up, moved our gear, moved our plates, and finally retrieved our drinks.
The thoughtless smokestack never even looked up. She just kept up her steady banter of noisy banality, self-content in her own boorish world.
Once away from her, we were fine. We proceeded to enjoy our breakfast. I didn’t assault anyone and avoided jail in Florida.
What’s Wrong With This Picture?
Who was wrong in this scenario?
Did the woman have the right, the liberty, to smoke?
I concede that, of course, she did. It was both her personal and legal right. The same right she had to bring her dog to this restaurant, which permitted both smoking and dogs.
I’m a libertarian at heart. Hell, she could have shot up pure cocaine and heroin speedballs in the privacy of her own sad little bulldog world. That’s her business.
But when she used her liberty to encroach on mine, she crossed a line. An invisible one, no less real for being so. She could have been considerate to me, my girlfriend and the other patrons and moved to an area where the breeze would blow her secondhand smoke away from, rather than onto us. We had the right to enjoy our breakfast free from her secondhand smoke.
The Covid Situation Is Exactly The Same
Substitute Covid for smoke, and the woman’s secondhand smoke is a great visual of an airborne pathogen. The smoke, its density and intensity representative of a “viral load”.
Are you free to not wear a mask? Of course.
Are you free not to wear one around me when you’ve also rejected a vaccine? Hell no!
Where Liberty Ends and Responsibility Begins
Liberty exists right up to the point when the only possible negative effect or consequence of your actions affects you and you alone. As soon as your “free action” affects someone else, or has the potential to affect them negatively, liberty shifts gears into responsibility. That seems to be an easy and a reasonable test to conduct to determine the limits of your personal liberty as a member of society. Your lame-ass claim of freedom ends at the extent of the consequences your actions can cause to yourself alone.
You aren’t free to drive drunk, or point a loaded gun at someone and pull the trigger, or let your GD cigarette smoke pour across my face and food… or infect me with the Covid you’re carrying (possibly without even knowing it.). Because those actions have potential consequences for others.
Who does that?
Who thinks they have the right to do these things?
The Takeaway—Are You The Burning Cigarette?
This story serves as a metaphor if only because the cigarette smoke, like Covid-19, is an airborne pathogen. The Delta variant is more contagious than any known version so far. If you have it, there’s a high likelihood you’re spreading it.
Would you want that done to you?
Or are you one of these idiots who thinks it’s “fearful” to avoid a sickness which is completely, totally, well,… 99% avoidable; if you’ll give up your pathetic, ignorant selfishness and think for one minute about someone besides yourself.
And if you ever smoke next to me, exercising your freedom, then I’m certain you’ll have no problem with however I choose to exercise my freedom to put out your cigarette, right?