News & Politics

Social Distancing Vindicates Large Umbrella Users

Turns out those sidewalk hogs were on to something

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Coronavirus 2020

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There was once a time when it seemed selfish to use a large umbrella on a city sidewalk: “it is not a national priority that you stay dry at the expense of others’ comfort—namely the people with whom you share the sidewalk,” CityLab’s Kriston Capps wrote in 2014. Golf umbrellas are “Hummers of urban rain protection,” a commenter on the Straight Dope message board opined in 2007. “The DC sidewalks are not wide enough to handle you and your obnoxiously large umbrella and the rest of us who live here,” the Hungry Lobbyist declared in 2013.

But just like Supreme Court oral arguments, home delivery of cocktails, and unicorn art, the Covid-19  pandemic has forced a reconsideration of big-ass urban umbrella use. Via Intelligencer comes news that the Indian city of Alappuzha will make thousands of umbrellas available to its residents as a way to encourage social distancing.

It’s hard to beat an umbrella if you want to discourage people from getting too close to you on a sidewalk. Get too close and you may get poked–one emergency-medicine doctor told the New York Times in 2007 that he had encountered “facial lacerations and bruises and scratched corneas” from umbrellas wielded in a cavalier manner. We used to think of people who caused such injuries as unthinking boors, sidewalk hogs who, if they weren’t breaking actual laws, violated the tacit laws of urban living. Now they seem prophetic.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.