Like the majority of folks in our country, and possibly the world, we’re spending nearly all of our time at home. We’re very lucky in that with fast Internet, and Internet-savvy friends from around the world we have been able to stay connected. Two to three times a month we meet with different groups to talk about the books we’re reading. Every weekend day we play ridiculous games on Zoom inspired by Richard Osman’s House of Games. Sage is the host and all of us contestants compete for 1-2 hours each day. I’ve had virtual coffee hangouts, virtual lunch with my colleagues at work on Zoom. Over the past few weeks, Sage and I have “traveled” to see (and Sage to sometimes perform in) storytelling shows hosted in Toronto, Newfoundland, and Pune, India. And in those shows there have been performers from everywhere from Australia to the US to India to Iran. When I exercise I get on my bike in my living room and ride with people from nearly every continent, sometimes racing, sometimes training together and often ending with the new goodbye of the current era: “Stay Safe”. In many ways I’m more socially connected and active now than I have ever been in my life.
But if I look at my calendar, the last time I saw another friend in person was February 29th. That’s 50 days ago! Last week, in a virtual coffee meetup I learned that a friend of mine needed an e-reader. As I had an extra one and she doesn’t live too far from where we do, I decided I would bring it over to her. I wiped the reader down, tossed it in to a pannier on my bike and headed out.
When I got outside and felt the weather I instantly questioned my decision. There was a strong wind coming from the west – where I was going. Also in the west were stacks of dark clouds. There would be rain. But I’d already said I was on my way so I headed out. Maybe I could get out and back before the worst of the rain.
I was wrong. By the time I got on the road, drops were already falling. The wind was so strong that I was only able to manage about 17 km/hr instead of my usual 25 – and this with lots of effort. But I noticed a strange thing. I felt an immense sense of gratitude and happiness at being able to be out in the world on my bike. My legs felt strong, the temperature was warm enough that I was comfortable. And so, instead of feeling grumpy with the weather as I often do, I was just so pleased to be outside.
Traffic was not only light, I noticed another really strange thing: Drivers were really kind and courteous. At one point on the ride, I need to turn right on to a usually-busy street then make an immediate left without a light to help. Though there were only a handful of cars, when I went to signal my left turn, the oncoming traffic stopped and the driver flashed his lights at me, telling me to go ahead. They didn’t need to stop for me as there was no traffic behind them but the gesture was so wonderfully unexpected that I turned and gave them a friendly wave. At the same location on my return trip another driver would do the identical thing at the same intersection. What beautiful thing has entered our zeitgeist to make this happen?
There were a few people out jogging, couples and individuals walking, sometimes with dogs, sometimes on their own. A rainbow caught my eye and I saw a decorated window:
Another block later I saw another beautiful thing. There was a Little Free Library. For those who don’t have any nearby their own homes, they are a lovely idea. People build a small house or container to shelter a few books from the weather. Then they put a few books they’re willing to part with in there. People who want to come and browse what’s there, take those they want to read and put a few others there if they have them. Books are not attached to any one “library” so they can freely circulate throughout the world. I found A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout. I hadn’t heard of it before but it sounds fascinating. I put that in my pannier with my e-reader. As I was packing it the owner of the home hosting the library came out and said a (distant) hello as he was going out for a run. I thanked him for hosting the library and he said that they loved having it and seeing what books come and go and who comes to see them.
Soon I got to see my friend. There were no hugs, just a distant exchange of the e-reader for an unexpected (and delicious) wrapped snack. We exchanged a few words as we each wiped our new treasures with sanitizing wipes before waving goodbye.
As I was near several grocery stores and had my panniers with me I decided to make a quick detour to the grocery store. I decided to try the main road, Eglinton Avenue. Normally this road is choked with traffic and too stressful to ride on. Not today. I got on the road and for about a kilometre was not passed by any other cars. Along this way I passed a bit of a sign of the times.
Sadly there would be no coffee from there for me today. A few coffee places are open but the days of sitting in a cafe and enjoying a leisurely cup while listening to music and people-watching are temporarily over for a while. I realize now that much of why I buy coffee out in the world is for that experience of having coffee while watching people. The idea of buying a Starbucks coffee from an app, picking it up and walking home with it just isn’t the same.
I am shocked that though I have to make a left in to the parking lot of the grocery store, there is no waiting. I might as well be in my small Vermont town for all the traffic that’s here. I lock my bike up, grab my panniers and toss them in a cart I find and roll toward the door. Once there I’m told I can bring neither the cart nor the panniers in. I apologize and tell the door attendant that I can’t shop then and will have to go. She calls out to me as I leave and offers to watch my bags (they’re relatively expensive touring bags) and I go inside, grab a cart and go.
Shopping feels almost normal except for the fact that many of the staff are wearing face masks and some are even wearing plastic face shields. I notice that this no longer surprises me. It’s part of what shopping is these days. There’s one other way that things seem different in the grocery store today: there are absolutely no eggs at all. It’s OK, though, I find a carton of egg whites and decide to make do with that. Otherwise nearly everything on my list is there. Not only that, there is someone making take-out sushi. I grab a big family size pack of it and take it home to surprise Sage who loves sushi and hasn’t been able to have any since before the pandemic.
I take my bags back outside and as I go out, I am scolded in a friendly and concerned way by the attendant at the door. “You have to shop!” she tells me, “Don’t worry we’ll figure out a way to make it work for you.” She then points out a sheltered area where I can load my groceries in to my panniers away from the rain which is now steadily falling.
Once packed, I start on the 20 minute ride home. As I ride I think about how different human interactions are these days. Whether in a blog comment thread, a grocery store, with a passing stranger, or even just through a window there’s something different. I notice that every interaction I have with someone has a sense of mutual concern for one another. Wherever we are and wherever those we are interacting are, we’re recognizing the interconnectedness and fragility of life. Be well, we tell each other. Stay safe. You matter. I hope this aspect of our new reality never goes away.
When I got home Daegan started unpacking my panniers and he and Sage peppered me with questions. Who’d you see? What was the grocery store like? Did they have everything you wanted? It reminded us all of something and Sage was the first to point it out.
How have your interactions with humans been both virtually and in person since the pandemic?