Cayucos in the time of the coronavirus

March 25, 2020

Dell Franklin and Wilbur

Editor’s Note: The following series, “Life in Radically Gentrifying Cayucos by the Sea,” to be posted biweekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin. 


8:45 in the morning and the beach is deserted, the sky somber and gray. A lone figure stands on the balcony of a second story room at the Shoreline Motel and looks out at an ocean, calm and smooth as a bowl of jello. The parking lot of the Shoreline, the busiest inn in town, almost always full up, has only a few cars.

The south lot, usually occupied by a few pickups and vans and SUVs, is empty. Nary a surfer rides a board. In the distance, near the pier, I spot Doug and his dog Achilles, a three-legged Queensland Heeler.

Doug is a long time local, now retired, who comes down to this section of the beach every morning with Achilles and polices the sand, snatching scraps of paper and plastic and whatever, filling a small bag — usually a poop-bag, while Achilles hobbles behind him. When Doug can’t make it, his wife substitutes.

We stop and talk while Achilles, who seems inspired to become “King of the Beach,” barks at Wilbur, who ignores him. Doug, once embroiled in the business rat-race to the point where stress was getting the better of him, is now as relaxed and mellow as anybody in town and savors his days.

We’re both near speechless at the spectacle of Cayucos, perhaps the quietest, slowest beach town left on the coast, now at an utter standstill. Not a soul even walking the pier. Everybody is missing.

We say our goodbyes and when I finally arrive at the area near the beginning of the pier, I spot Mike who sits on a bench against the defunct Vet’s Hall every morning, no matter the weather.

“Last man standing,” I tell him.

“Yup.” He smiles, hooded and grizzled, a man who’s been here longer than I have and is liked and respected by everybody.

We talk about the mad scramble for certain goods at the supermarkets and outlets.

“I got everything I need,” says Mike, who doesn’t drive, and has worked concrete most of his life and still does when his expertise is called upon. “Canned goods. I didn’t have to change one thing.”

“We’ve got the local market.”

“That’s all I need.”

“And the liquor store.”

“Yup.” He grins.


Advice? Get out the Scrabble games, Monopoly, trivia games, whatever is needed. Go to the local drug store and buy a book of crossword puzzles. Read. Now’s the perfect time to read detective stuff.

To all my friends and associates and those I run into at times and know where I am, here, or in Morro Bay, I welcome you to my personal library. I have hand wipes. Or bring your own and browse. I’ve got all of Raymond Chandler and most of Elmore Leonard and the complete Charles Willeford, snatches of Walter Moseley, Jamie Lee Burke and Ross Thomas and a Chester Himes somewhere around here And I just found three George V Higgins masterpieces: “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” “The Digger’s Game,” and “The Patriot Game.”

Most of these books are old, faded paperbacks, but the words are still there and you can always use Scotch tape to keep them from falling apart. I just might reread “The Long Goodbye” by Chandler, and “City Primeval” by Leonard.

And for those with a more literary bent, there’s everything by Steinbeck and Hemingway, a bunch of Fitzgerald and Faulkner, and 20 books by my favorite contemporary writer, Jim Harrison.

I have pot boilers. I have oodles of Bukowski, Tobias Wolff, Raymond Carver, Jayne Smiley, Flannery O’Connor…it goes on and on…

We want to pull together? Help each other out? Book sharing can be a savior. To those who haven’t had time to read from being too busy trying to make ends meet, calm down, sit back, hoist your feet, and read. When somebody calls me and tells me they love a book I’ve loaned out, I feel like a good coach who has worked with a young baseball player — straightened out his swing and seen the joy on his face when he hits a line drive double off the wall.


To you shameless hoarders, well, since Trump hasn’t talked to you, I will. Leave a little bit for the rest of us so we don’t have to scramble around, and I don’t have to walk to Jack or Matt’s house a few doors down and ask for toilet paper.

And, while you sit around trying to think of something to do while surrounded by stacked 12 and 24-packs of toilet paper and paper towels and bread and rice and pasta and potatoes and…shove a copy of “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” into the TV and sit back and watch the stupidity and selfishness and greed perpetrated by the likes of Jonathon Winters and Phil Silvers and Sid Caesar, to name a few, and have a good laugh at the mirror image of yourselves.


Nothing is open on the main drag but the bank and corner liquor store. Cayucos Coffee, the meeting place for locals, a sort of who’s who, including Greg and Nick and Pete and the geezer bicycling crew and so many others who come and go, is deserted, locked down. There’s nobody to say hi to, to stop and talk to. The little silver bowl of water for Wilbur and other dogs to sip from—a pit stop–is gone.

Ghost town. I leave Wilbur off the leash because there is no traffic, and he follows me across the street.

A lot of us here complain about the tourists, but I never will again, because this sucks.


We all, like cats and dogs, and cats especially, aspire to the ultimate comfort zone. Life has always been hard. My parents survived the great Depression and could outwork anybody, including me. Their world made them tough. The world they provided me made me softer than them, but these days, I look around, and a lot of us are soft. The country, society, has become soft, spoiled, over pampered, petulant.

We have aspired, and come close, to finding the ultimate comfort zone for too long. The party has ceased.

So now we’re up against it, getting our comeuppance, so to speak. But we’re tougher than we think we are. We’re more heroic when we help each other, not hoard. We can defeat boredom and we can survive on near nothing. For these next few months, and longer, we just have to get used to it, like we do everything else.

Hell, what’s happening now just might be a rehearsal for what’s to come. This will certainly make us tougher.

Time to reread “Cannery Row.”


Another great piece. Always look forward to reading your articles.

Very sad to see Cayucos like this. I hope this all subsides soon, I have trip planned for end of July and hope Cayucos is back up and running by then. Even with the current circumstances, I rather be there right now.

Jack Smith

Thanks Dell.