I shouldn’t be this excited about returning an old DVD of a documentary on Philadelphia’s gun violence to a man I only met by phone a few months ago.
Yet here I am — vaccinated, caffeinated, and (almost) liberated.
Of course, I’m also masked, sometimes doubly so, because the pandemic isn’t over.
But for the first time in a long time I’m doing something I haven’t done since lockdown: wandering around the city and into serendipitous meetings that used to define my workday.
These were the connections that I ached for in the early days of COVID-19 as I struggled to come to terms with losing a big part of the identity that has always been my work as a journalist, the kind of work that put me in neighborhoods and inside people’s homes for face-to-face interactions.
I found workable workarounds, though even the best ones still felt oddly transactional.
We’re not free to move around our planet just yet, but as Pennsylvania plans to lift all coronavirus limits on Memorial Day — Philly hasn’t yet set a reopening date — last week’s wanderings seemed to be a sneak peek of what may be to come, if most of us can just do right by one another.
It actually started the weekend before, at a slimmed-down festival on Germantown Avenue where it felt downright daring to grab a beer and a socially distant seat to listen to a band that looked just as excited to be playing in front of us as we were to be in front of them.
The music was good, though what was better was the easy sense of community that many of us took for granted before it was suddenly gone, those small moments that barely registered in the Before Times that were suddenly the big moments.
Like taking the long way to North Philadelphia on a rainy weekday to drop off a long-overdue DVD. Donnie Andrews, a community activist, had mailed it to me way back when, with a promise that I’d mail it back. And I tried, only to have it enter the postal service vortex for months before inexplicably being returned to me, where it and I languished at my WFH desk.
When I got to Andrews’ house, I was told I’d just missed him. He was around the corner at a neighborhood COVID-19 clinic. I decided to check it out — but not before stopping at a building on the corner of Belfield and Wyoming to finally see in person the blackboard that he’d affixed there for his daily messages to the neighborhood.
That day’s message: Don’t waste time learning the “tricks of the trade.” Instead learn the trade.
“Not bad,” I said aloud, as a young man walked past.
He shrugged, less interested in curbside motivation than the snacks he’d just acquired at the corner store.
Dawdling meant I missed Andrews at the one-day clinic held at Front Step, a faith-based, neighborhood nonprofit. But I did get to meet 79-year-old Ethel Little and her 28-year-old granddaughter as they left the West Courtland Street site.
Little’s doctor had advised her to get vaccinated, given her health issues. Her granddaughter, however, hadn’t yet decided on getting the vaccine.
Upon hearing that, Little leaned on her walker and asked: “Why!? Is something wrong with it?”
“No!” came our assurances in unison.
Inside, it was a lot quieter than I expected. R. Wesley Tink, the nonprofit’s executive director, said they’d gone door-to-door and found a lot of seniors had already gotten their vaccines, and others who had expressed hesitancy. Including, I discovered, the 34-year-old woman who was signing people in. When I asked why, she said she just wanted to wait a little longer, though an upcoming move and increased anxiety over the virus might change that.
In an attempt to put her at ease, I told her that I’d gotten vaccinated and that, if anything, I’d noticed it had actually taken the edge off my personality.
It was a joke, and she laughed, but when I thought about it, it wasn’t completely untrue.
As more people get vaccinated, I am finding myself feeling increasingly hopeful, as if we might actually be closing in on the end — if only we can take the long, hard lessons of the last 14 months and not take so much for granted.
Even if it’s just a day that feels extraordinarily ordinary.
Look, over there, a woman and her chihuahuas, all in raincoats. That’s Champ, in the red coat, and that’s Trixie, whose bright yellow raincoat belies a moody girl after my own heart.
And check out these two aspiring curbside commentators, the ones I had hoped hadn’t noticed that I mindlessly parked in a huge puddle and are now offering play-by-play analysis of my attempts to navigate the water.
“That’s a bad spot to park,” they concluded just as my foot drowned in the puddle.
“That can’t feel good.”
In the Before Times, their banter might have annoyed me. But on this day, I was happy to laugh with them and drive away, past a weathered Germantown mural I’ve passed a thousand times:
“For today: We have no way of knowing/ What fate may bring our way/ Make your world a better place/ Find peace within today.”
For today, I thought as I drove under a rainy, gray sky, it feels as though the sun might soon find its way out.