It was a hot, sunny weekend in Columbus, and lots of German Village residents and visitors were out and about. I did a lot of walking around the Village and around Schiller Park. With the temperature touching the 90s, it’s not surprising that nobody was masked up; wearing any kind of mask in that heat would have been unbearable. And one other change in behavior was readily apparent, too: people were sharing the sidewalks and walking past each other, shoulder to shoulder, without veering.
It was incredibly refreshing to walk the pretty streets of German Village without having to veer around parked cars or use the roadway to achieve at least six feet of social distancing. No one was consciously trying to maintain the buffer zone, and no one seemed to mind being in close proximity with other people, either. It struck me as another good sign of returning normalcy.
We’ll all carry our own memories of what it was like for us, personally, during the COVID shutdown period. One of my memories will be dodging traffic and other pedestrians and getting annoyed with people who hogged the sidewalk without yielding or moving over to help achieve social distancing recommendations. I’m glad they are just memories now.
Many businesses are going to have challenges when they return after the state shutdown orders expire — a process that is increasingly occurring across the country. People who have been lectured repeatedly about social distancing and who have refrained from shaking hands or having any close proximity interactions with anybody who isn’t already living in their house may be skittish about throwing that all aside and, say, sitting right next to total strangers and sharing a public bathroom at a basketball game.
I think one business may have the biggest challenge of all: bowling. When you think about it, it’s just about the most communal activity for the general public that we’ve got. It’s indoors. You bowl on a lane right next to people you’ve never seen before and will never see again. And– get this, germophobes! — you share alley balls and their hard surfaces with other members of the general public, and you stick your fingers into the same finger holes that other unknown people have used. All of those balls travel on the same lanes and go through the same ball retrieval devices. Even more, you share shoes with total strangers, too!
In short, bowling has a potentially dizzying amount of communication vectors. It makes you wonder if Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx, dazzling scarves flying, have ever gone out to the local alley to try to throw a strike or pick up a spare.
Bowling isn’t alone, of course, Any bars that have communal games — like bocce, or cornhole — are going to see the same issues. How are people going to react to going to the community swimming pool and jumping in the water that’s also occupied by some germy-looking kids and that dubious guy lurking over at the pool’s edge? Will people go to concerts, or participate in that fun trivia night at their local tavern? Are cheering parents going to be maintaining social distancing in the stands at their kids’ baseball and softball games, and are they going to insist that the kids can’t give each other high fives?
The health experts want us to remember these social distancing rules and continue to adhere to them, even if coronavirus goes the way of the dodo, because it will help to prevent the spread of the flu — a yearly occurrence that is deadly for some but that we’ve all come to accept as a risk. Lots of businesses, on the other hand, hope that we promptly forget all that and get back to having fun with people in crowds. Something’s gotta give.
How many times has this scenario happened to you over the past few weeks? You’re out of the house on a walk, enjoying some fresh air and a much-needed change of scenery. But in the distance, at the end of the block, you are acutely aware of a couple walking their dog heading your way and seemingly committed to hogging the sidewalk. So you’ve got to make a decision — do you pop out onto the street and circle around them, or do you jaywalk to the sidewalk on the other side of the street where you hope you won’t run into other pedestrians?
In German Village, there’s often a third option: many blocks have a little alley positioned at about mid-block, providing you with a new route to avoid the dog-walkers. Sure, the alleys are quaint and picturesque and interesting, but more importantly right now they have turned out to be very handy walking alternatives that permit you to maintain that six feet of clearance from the other potential virus vectors that might be out for a stroll. And our neighborhood is honeycombed with them, all ready to accept turn-ins by pedestrians who are trying to follow governmental guidelines and avoid unnecessary exposure. It’s almost as if German Village was designed with pandemic social distancing in mind — or the need to occasionally dodge a process server or veer around that incredibly talkative neighbor.
As a result of these weird times, Kish and I have been spending as much time walking in alleys as we have walking on main streets. We’re not going anywhere as the crow flies anymore, and if you mapped out our walks they would look as indirect and rambling as the roaming of a loose dog who is easily distracted by squirrels. And we’re getting to know every inch of the neighborhood a lot better.
Who knows? In the future, savvy realtors who are always eager to find something positive to say might just build pandemic preparation into their set speeches, and tell potential buyers that German Village is an ideal place to keep that social distance.
At our house, we’re taking this instruction very seriously. We want to do our part in the collective national battle against the coronavirus. COVID-19 has had a huge impact on people’s lives, and jobs, and we are eager to do whatever we can to bring it to an end at the earliest possible date. Really, it’s the least that those of us who, thankfully, aren’t infected can do to help in the fight and to get things back to normal as quickly as possible. And I admit there’s also a healthy sense of self-preservation involved. Why run the risk — even if it ultimately turns out to be only a modest one — that a random encounter in the produce aisle on a grocery run that you really didn’t need to make transmits the disease, and you then bring it into your home? And if fewer of us go to the grocery store, that allows those people who absolutely must be there, for whatever reason, to maintain better social distancing — and also will help to keep the grocery store clerks and checkout people who are doing such important work during this period safe and healthy, too.
So we’re going to eat what we’ve got, until the cupboard and refrigerator are bare. That means eating every last can of soup, the brown rice that you bought because it’s supposed to be healthier before you discovered its pretty much tasteless, the ramen noodles, the can of stewed tomatoes, the oatmeal and the grits, and every other item of foodstuff odds and ends that you’ve accumulated. We’re in “waste not, want not” mode, and we hope other people are taking the instruction seriously, too.
So this week, we’ve got Campbell’s bean with bacon on the menu, and we’ll figure out how to make something involving the brown rice, too. And when our cupboards are bare and this all is over — and it will be — we’re all going to go on the greatest grocery store run in the history of mankind.
If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s that most people are pretty resilient and adaptable. Bad things happen to us all, for sure, but generally people cheerfully bounce back — and, more importantly, they consciously find a way to bounce back.
I thought about this yesterday when the B.A. Jersey Girl started a text message chain for those of us who are working together on a particular matter. With the B.A.J.G. kicking things off, we all shared pictures of our home office set-ups to be used during this work from home period. There was a wide variance in the home office work spaces shown in the photos, with some people rigging up impressively elaborate arrangements with multiple monitors and printers. (My kitchen counter arrangement is decidedly at the spartan end of the spectrum, I might add.) And we got a peek at some dogs and cats that were intrigued that their human friends were home at times that they usually weren’t, and apparently decided to just check things out. It was funny and fun at the same time.
There’s a social element to work, whether it’s somebody ducking their head into your office to chat about the latest news or family developments, casual greetings in hallways. or friendly banter in the elevator or around the coffee station. When you work from home, obviously, you’re not getting those in-person encounters — but people are resilient and will find a way to make up for that. And with technology offering various alternatives, there are work arounds for just about everything.
My guess is that cell phone providers are seeing a real surge in text messaging, face timing, and phone calling to establish that element of human interaction during this period of social distancing. For office colleagues, it’s a way to make up for lost time around the proverbial water cooler.