Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Strangers Among Us

The Woman in the Yellow Hat first appeared on a Saturday morning in the early days of The Great Sequester.

I spotted her from our dining room window, striding purposefully around the cul-de-sac. After lunch I ran some errands and drove by her, arms pumping briskly as she ascended a hill about a mile from our house. I passed her along a different street on my return an hour later. As the sun descended behind the tree tops, she appeared again cruising around the cul-de-sac without any apparent loss of stride.

I see The Woman in the Yellow Hat regularly now, though never as frequently on a single day. Usually she’s walking, once in a while jogging. At all times, she’s wearing that ballcap — a glowing lemon beacon -- and not a trace of the exhaustion I feel just thinking about her seemingly perpetual motion.

She’s part of the new cast of characters in my life. COVID-19 may be keeping people home and out of their cars but not in the house or off the roads off my neck of the burbs. Where in the past my dog and I, on our twice daily rambles, would only fleetingly see folks as they whizzed by at some rate well above the posted limit, now we are having to cross the street to safely and politely avoid the increase in casual strollers and side-street athletes.

They pop up like weeds through the asphalt cracks whenever the sun shines brilliantly or the temps tick above 60. There’s The Woman in Harry Carey’s Eyewear. The People Talking Too Loudly on Cell Phones. The Ladies with the Constant Chatty Giggles. I’ve never seen most of them before, and I’ve walked my pets around here for nearly 16 years. Sometimes they are alone, sometimes in pairs. Sometimes, they turn out to be my actual neighbors.

This was the case three weeks ago. I spotted a woman just around the corner from our house. She had two small children zipping around her on scooters, and a weariness in her eyes. We had met only twice before: at a neighbor’s holiday party shortly after she moved in a few years ago, and then days later I delivered a container of homemade eggnog to her and her husband at their doorstep. This latest appearance would prove to be just another cameo. Days later, she and her whole brood moved out of town.

Most of these new encounters consistent of a passing head nod or brief pleasantry. A few required feats of physical daring for these contagion times. One day I helped chase down two canines who took to exploring when their master didn’t leash them before opening the door. Another time I prevented a crime against my fellow walkers and the environment by handing an extra bag I had to a man whose spirited Golden Retriever had a little more in him than expected. So if I come down with the crud, tell my canine-loving family it was for a good cause.

Of course, I haven’t met or even seen all these newbies cruising our area but I know some of them by the trails they’ve left behind. Empty cigarette packs, dip tins and spent vaping cartridges appear under my feet more than usual of late as do drained nip bottles of Fireball. I guess these folks suspect the apocalypse is near, so why worry any more about health or taste.

So you can argue in circles about whether this pandemic is bringing out the best or worst in people. It’s definitely bringing out more people going around in circles through my neighborhood, for better or worse.

Photo by jurien huggins on Unsplash

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