I’m a walker. Mornings between 7- 9 am, I walk before work, walking to clear my head, walking to increase my oxygen intake after sitting at a computer for 2 hours, where most of my circulation centers around my head, while my fingers pound away, tackling job tasks. Oh yeah, my creative work too. Yep, I’m a walker.
When the Covid restrictions came crashing down, I took a whiff of smugness. I already had a walking routine. I already knew the ropes, the “rules,” as few as they were. I never thought about walking having “rules.” But in retrospect, I can name some of them: Be polite, nod, say hello to the neighbors, smile at the dogs, the babies, “oh, so adorable.” Keep going. But stop and smell the roses, cringe at the cliché, notice the seasons changing, the leaves falling, the lawns, the weeds. Tell a neighbor, “I love your garden.” It’s the truth. And it’s polite, even loving, a morning gift.
I walk so that I can muse. I need to free myself from all that early morning cognition and caffeine buzz. Most of the time I listen to “old” music, remember an earlier self; sometimes I sing along.
It’s different now.
Today, I’m out for one of my regular walks; I pass pretty houses and gardens in my neighborhood. Yes, my neighborhood has a decent “walking score.” Yes, this missive describes a 1st world problem, yes yes yes, So shoot me now. Stop reading. Protest.
I head for the tall trees in an old, small city park.
3 raggedy guys are parked right in the middle of the path. No trace of masks; they don’t even have scarves around their necks. They’re yakkin…good for them, being social.
They don’t budge. Do they see me? Yes. They still don’t budge.
I walk around them, clearing them by 10 feet, at least. 6 feet feels way too close. The distance between me and others is growing. 6 feet feels almost intimate. I give them their space. It’s polite, it’s polite, it’s the right thing to do. They do not budge, they do not lift their heads or nod, no “thank you.”
I see a young man with a dog. So many dogs these days. And strollers. “Oh, so adorable.” He has stopped at the edge of the grass. He glares at me. What did I do? I’m just walking. He pulls out his phone and starts talking, still glaring at me. He holds still. The dog poops. The young man ignores his dog’s business. He’s on his phone, still glaring at me. Okay okay, don’t worry, I’m going around, I’ll cross the street. One of the rules seems to be that if someone has a dog, let them stay on the sidewalk, don’t make them go out in the street. Make room for dogs to stay safe. Makes sense.
I want to walk under the trees, but it’s way too crowded under the canopy—4 people! A pretty pregnant woman is walking, yakkin on her phone too. No mask, but I see she has the requisite scarf around her neck, and I see that it matches her lovely maternity exercise wear. Maybe she’s talking to Labor and Delivery. Maybe her water broke at home. She lifts her chin to notice that I’m sharing her pathway. I give her extra wide berth.
I leave the park and resume walking past houses. There’s a lemon tree with a dangling sign that reads, “DON’T STEAL MY LEMONS!” Okay okay…sorry for thinking about it. Really. I’m so busted.
I approach a father and his toddler on a mini-wheel vehicle. We’ve seen each other before on this block. I nod. Smile. (did I smile? I hope so, I usually do.) I pull my bandana up over my nose and mouth, I walk into the street. I think, “no kids in the street, keep them safe.” Makes sense. Kids and dogs. “oh, how adorable.” The dad does not wear a mask but looks at me and rolls his eyes, smiles, gestures to his face as though he is apologizing for his naked chin? We don’t speak, of course. This is not the old days. We’re safely away from each other.
I keep trying. I turn up the volume on my oldies. I try to find a stretch of sidewalk that doesn’t have any other humanoids. I turn left. Nope, the old man is taking in his garbage cans and he’s slow slow slow. I’ve seen this old guy before…I think I’ve offered to help him with his big cans. Not anymore.
I turn right. Ahh, ahh…open. Free. I start singing. I’m good now. I’m walking off my life. I’m almost lost in reverie. Wow… five whole minutes.
Oh dear, here comes another woman walking toward me– she looks like me. Same yoga pants, light sweat jacket, light vest with cozy pockets. The uniform. She’s wearing a mask. I pull up my bandana. We’re within 50 feet of each other, so we say “hello,” which means our eyebrows lift, just a tad. We don’t speak. We slow to a stop. Oh no! who’s going to yield? “Go ahead.” “No, you go.” “No, that’s okay, you.” “No…that’s okay, I can walk into the street. There’s a bike lane, it’s fine, really.” None of these words are spoken.
We’re stuck there on the sidewalk for split second. It’s an eternity. Completely apart. Completely incapable of making a decision.
I finally walk into the street. I think I hear her laugh a little. We’re all good.
But I am not good. I look at my watch.
I have to get to work! It’s time to go home. To. Work. To Zoom.
I have not gotten my walk at all today! My feet moved. I was outside.
But my mind….my mind…