SEARSPORT, Maine — This spring, motorists began honking as they passed Bayview Manor on Route 1 in Searsport to show support for the facility’s older residents during the coronavirus pandemic.
More than four months later, the honking hasn’t stopped.
Drivers are still beeping and tooting — sometimes at a rate of 144 honks an hour — as residents of the facility line the side of the road in chairs and wave back to them. This video compilation captures just some of what neighbors heard Friday afternoon over a roughly 20-minute period.
Neighbors who live near the older adult-care facility know the gestures are aimed at buoying the residents during this stressful pandemic — but they’re begging drivers to stop.
“The honking of the horns is annoying, and it has not gotten any better,” said Richard Horowitz, a chiropractor who lives and works in a home next to Bayview Manor. “I have patients in my office that say, ‘What the hell is going on next door?’ We just sit here hoping that it rains.”
Since shutdowns began in March, older adults who live in care facilities have largely been isolated from family and friends who might inadvertently bring coronavirus in with them.
It has been a lonely and frightening time for many. Less than 8 miles away from Bayview Manor, the virus ripped through the Commons at Tall Pines in Belfast, one of the disease’s early epicenters in Maine. Thirty-two residents and 11 staff members at the facility tested positive for the virus. Thirteen residents died.
So early this spring, when Searsport residents recall seeing a handwritten sign placed outside Bayview Manor asking drivers to toot their support, it seemed like a socially distant way to encourage residents to stay strong during the pandemic.
Now, it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle, according to Searsport Town Manager James Gillway. The town recently erected electronic signs that asked drivers to wave — not honk — he said.
But that backfired.
Irate people took to social media to accuse neighbors of being buzzkills. Some said they would just honk more.
So the signs came down.
Efforts this week to speak with someone from Rockport-based DLTC Healthcare, which owns Bayview Manor, were unsuccessful, but a woman who lives nearby with two young children said the constant beeping has ruined the family’s peace and quiet. Another neighbor said while Route 1 has always had a lot of traffic, it has never before sounded “like a train yard.”
“It’s our own little mini Vegas strip,” said the woman, who didn’t want to share her name because of the criticism neighbors have endured. “It’s kind of a polarizing thing. You’re either one of the people who wants to ruin their good time, or one of the people who wants to make the old people happy.”
Neighbors are pleading for drivers to find better ways to support the people who live there, including waving at them, giving them the thumbs-up sign or even becoming penpals with them.
If that doesn’t work, legal action could be on the horizon. Both Bayview Manor and the town of Searsport bear some responsibility for the incessant noise, Horowitz said — and they’re not doing anything about it.
“The only way to do something is for us all to chip in and get a lawyer to get an injunction against them and the town,” he said. “This is all day long, sometimes. They sit there and cars go ‘beep beep beep, beep beep beep.’ It is getting to be a little too much.”