COVID Connections by Ginger Keller Gannaway
In March I started 7:20 a.m. walks through my eclectic neighborhood.
Early mornings I pass subsidized apartments, an elderly elementary school, a head shop, a short strip mall that includes a convenience store with an impressive mural of Ice Cube on its side wall, a local take-out pizza joint, a Mexican restaurant, and a hair salon. A mental health hospital is a few blocks away, and a very unpopular Sonic is across the street from us.
I begin my walks down a sidewalk-less street with mostly trailer homes. I turn onto a shady street of duplexes and small houses. Later I follow a busy street towards a tiny park with lots of trees and a few backless stone benches. I pass a Korean Catholic Church before I head back home down a wide street with bike lanes on both sides. After I pass the elementary school, I turn onto my own street of apartments where people work on their cars and hang out after work. I hear music and conversations more often in Spanish than English.
Lots of cats roam my street, and one cat gives me the willies; I call it the opossum cat because of its weird white face and its pointed nose and menacing stare. A black dog with huge balls and stubby legs appears some times. He wears a frayed grey collar without tags that was once blue. He’s a curious guy without menace. His walk is brisk and reminds me of Tramp from the early Disney movie; he’s resourceful and scrappy and free.
After I’d been walking for several weeks at the same time each morning, I began connecting with some people. Brisk Walking Woman was my first connection. She lives close by, makes fast laps around the streets, and wears a wide-brimmed orange floppy hat.
Near the park I pass Scraggly-bearded Man in a motorized wheelchair with a small white dog on a leash. He is often barefoot, and I once helped him untangle the dog leash from his wheels while the dog sat in his lap and barked at me. The man and I both wore face masks; I was equally fearful of his dog biting me as I was of catching the virus.
In July after I’d said hello to Young Gardener tending her raised bed of flowers and vegetables, she offered me fresh tomatoes! Score!! I later gave her blueberry muffins, and after swapping names, we now swap fresh produce and baked goods.
There’s also Wonderful Woman who carries a cane for protection and has a sunny smile to match her bright disposition and bold colored wardrobe.
I also wave to Tie-dyed Lady who wears her dog leash around her waist and Tall & Handsome Guy who walks a hyper black and white puppy that gives my hand puppy-nips when I pet him.
Recently I encountered Tiny Woman who has grey and black curls and walks her dachshund near the elementary school and waves at me across the street.
Waving to my walking friends reminds me of a Dan Hertzfeldt’s cartoon: “Billy’s Balloon.” In the cartoon, a stick figure kid gets lifted into the sky by his red balloon, and while he’s floating into the clouds, he sees another kid being carried upward by a yellow balloon. They wave at each other from across the distance. They smile. Then an airplane ploughs right through the kid with the yellow balloon.
My walks connect me to others, and when we wave hello and make mundane comments about the high humidity or the welcome breeze, life seems almost normal. Yet underneath the brief bits of friendliness lie the uncertainty and fear that never fully go away.
My face mask hangs from my left ear when my sidewalk is empty for blocks ahead. About fifty percent of early walkers I see have masks.
Last week Wonderful Woman was on my side of the street, and after I said, “Feels like fall,” when I passed her, she pulled down her mask and said, “ What? I can’t understand you.”
So standing a few feet from her, I pulled down my own mask and we had a one minute conversation as I shoved worry and fear into a back room of my mind next to paranoia and uncertainty. I feel the need to connect to others as much as I feel the desire to stay safe. May we handle our connections with equal amounts of compassion and safety.