How to Be a Good Neighbor Now – The New York Times

We walk the dogs across the meadow in the rain. We dont talk much. We say the same things over and over, and yet somehow theres comfort in the repetition. Yesterday someone wrote on the town listserv that certain dog owners had been spotted in the meadow less than six feet away from each other. Suddenly, everybodys a cop, yardsticks in their minds.

People are scared, and with good reason. But distance the idea of distance. Were we so close to begin with? How far will we be from each other after this is over? The dogs, off leash, circle back to us. Ive got the sense they know whats going on, if not the particulars. But something is most definitely up. For starters, how come were all home all the time?

Other rituals emerge, some old, some new. Sitting on the porch in Phoenix. Picking the citrus trees of once-anonymous neighbors in Los Angeles. The poles are built-in social distancing. No need for the measuring tape.

Below are 13 American scenes, snapshots of neighbors finding original ways to reconnect.

Its good to walk in this rain. Im not saying everything has become so precious these strange days. Only that you notice more, how the winter grass comes in so many shades of brown, the netless soccer goals upside down like lonely parallelograms (badly, I try and teach my kid math). And the way our talk goes nowhere but even empty words have a little more weight now, like the stones we throw when we pause at the brook.

Peter Orner, from Norwich, Vt.

Michele Grey began noticing them in early April: citrus trees ripe for the picking but out of arms reach. They studded front lawns and backyards in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, where Ms. Grey, 53, has lived for 20 years, and which she, her husband, Joaquin, and son, Lucas, have been exploring on daily walks since stay-at-home orders closed many local parks and trails.

Surely, they thought, someone could benefit from this bounty of oranges and lemons, if the owners of the trees didnt want them themselves. They bought two 12-foot fruit pickers think back scratchers, but bigger and Ms. Grey went on Nextdoor, an online community message board.

She wrote that her family would be happy to pick your fruit, at no cost, supply you with some, donate to neighbors, and then provide some to nearby food banks. We would wear masks and gloves and keep strict social distancing, she added.

Over the past month, the Greys have collected about 1,000 pounds of fruit, most of which theyve donated to food banks. Their newfound hobby has had an unexpected byproduct regular meet-ups with strangers turned friends, like the Nilsson family, who live near the Greys.

They kept to themselves, and we never socialized much with them, besides an occasional hi, Ms. Grey said. We asked if we could pick their very full tree of tangerines, they said yes, and now were talking about seeing more of each other after this is all finished.

Then theres the young woman who lives up the hill from the Greys. She was walking down the street when Ms. Grey drove by, oranges practically falling off the back of her pickup truck. I could tell that she was super-sad, Ms. Grey said. She pulled over and found out the woman was fresh off a breakup.

We started talking and now were taking oranges to her house, Ms. Grey said. Weve become friends.

Though the Greys initially used the internet to connect the citrus haves with the have-nots, theyre increasingly having more luck offline. On our walks, Im having massive interaction, said Joaquin Grey, plucking mandarins off a 30-foot tree belonging to another new acquaintance, Naomi Wong, on a recent Saturday. Before, he said, I never wouldve gone up to someone and asked if I can pick their tree.

The chance meetings take many forms. While her husband and son tackled the mandarin tree, Ms. Grey sorted oranges into buckets and bags on the back of the truck, pausing anytime someone walked by. Take as many as you want, she said to a man in a white face mask (he took three).

Theyre a little sour, Ive been told, she said to a man with a purple bandanna around his mouth, so maybe con tequila. He left with a bag.

Sheila Marikar

On a cool Saturday evening during Easter weekend, car enthusiasts and other stir-crazy Kansans resurrected an old-fashioned drag route through the middle of town.

During the late 1800s, Douglas Avenue was the final dusty stretch of the Chisholm Trail, along which cowboys drove cattle from Texas to Kansas stockyards and railroad hubs. In the 1950s, teenagers drove Fords and Chevrolets back and forth over the same flat road through downtown and the historic Delano District, where outlaws and houses of ill repute once raised hell.

That custom fell out of fashion in the 1990s, but in recent years local breweries, boutiques, restaurants and commercial storefronts have reinvigorated the thoroughfare. Now they sit closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, casting quiet upon the economic lifeline that turned Wichita into a boomtown 150 years ago.

As the sun set on April 11, though, a procession of cars, trucks and motorcycles packed the old cruise route. Muscle-car engines revved, fire truck horns honked and small packs of bikers throttled their Harleys.

Hundreds of humble sedans, minivans and S.U.V.s rolled along quietly with their windows down, drivers and passengers of all ages waving at one another and shouting hi from a safe distance. At least one pair of spectators emerged from their apartment on Douglas to set up lawn chairs on the sidewalk and drink Bud Light.

It all started with a public post to a Facebook group devoted to bringing back dragging Douglas an isolated yet communal form of entertainment perfect for the times. SOCIAL DISTANCING CAR CRUISE? the post read. People in neighboring small towns had recently done just that, circling their own streets as if they were teenagers free after the last school bell.

A Facebook event, Cruise Douglas Quarantine Edition, soon circulated, encouraging the community to go old school. Organizers emphasized public health: Due to COVID-19 we need to maintain social distancing so everyone MUST stay in their cars.

The event went smoothly in that regard, and Wichita police officers reportedly abstained from handing out tickets when a handful of riders aboard high-speed motorcycles illegally popped wheelies. Police ultimately blocked the street after a handful of bad actors street-raced and did burnouts.

Everyone is scattered out now, someone posted to social media as the crowd dispersed just before 8 p.m. No well known new spot.

Sarah Smarsh

All too often, the condition known as mom brain gets a bad rap. Sure, its a survival technique that can cause sensory overload, a result of too much multitasking. But sometimes it comes in really handy, like when a parent is trying to work and raise a family during a pandemic.

Take as Exhibit A: Christina DeHaven, 40, who found herself trying to keep her video producing business afloat from home while also overseeing Jack, 9, and Annie, 7, while giving her husband, Matthew, who works in videoconference engineering, space and time to get his work done, too. (Anyone who asks why this was Christinas task has been living in self-isolation long before the coronavirus struck.)

The idea that gave her family much-needed breathing room came from cardboard boxes the ones her children often use for school projects. And from their multiple stuffed animals. And the fact that the family lives in Woodland Heights, a kid-friendly and slightly eccentric Houston neighborhood where it was virtually impossible to stay inside when the sky was crystalline and the air was still cool and jasmine-scented.

What Ms. DeHaven came up with was: Hey kids, why dont you build a zoo for all our neighbors to visit?

The result took about three days. Jack and Annie researched their animals and posted signs containing five facts next to every display box hanging from the fence in their front yard.

There are cardboard cages for furry, glassy-eyed foxes, cats, dogs (Three dogs survived the Titanic sinking!), horses, penguins, bunnies, bobcats, wolves, leopards, cows and kangaroos. (Kangaroos are strict herbivores, however they release methane like most cattle.)

There is also a live exhibit: tadpoles swimming in a plastic storage bin, gathered from puddles after one of Houstons typical downpours. People keep coming back to check on the tadpoles, Ms. DeHaven said. They want to know if they have legs yet.

So far, the visitors have been enthused but also well-behaved, observing social distancing. An art board for drawing more animals has been added, with disinfected Sharpies provided. We dont leave things out because of germs, Jack explained.

There was mild distress when one of the bunnies went missing. Lets make signs, Ms. DeHaven told her children.

There was some discussion about the word stolen Jack wanted to use it, but his mother thought that was a little harsh. They settled on Missing, Escaped or Poached, Ms. DeHaven said. The original bunny never turned up, but a neighbor brought a replacement.

He and his girlfriend put it in the bunny habitat and didnt even say anything, Ms. DeHaven said.

Mimi Swartz

Behind a series of steel gates and doors sits a solitary barbers chair. The wall is covered in Los Angeles Lakers memorabilia and U.S. Marines swag like a missile launcher and some medals from the War on Terror. There are mirrors and tool boxes that have been converted to hold hair clippers.

For Angel M. and his loyal customers, this tiny trap house barbershop deep in the heart of Southeast Los Angeles makes do. Since the pandemic hit, the income helps Angel, 34, pay his mortgage and the rent on his boarded-up neighborhood shop.

I do a client every hour, and it takes about half an hour per haircut, he said. The hour gives me enough time to take my time with the haircut but also to clean and disinfect the whole area, my tools and everything that they touch. He works in a mask and gloves, which might slow most people down but not a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As a Marine, you can always adapt to anything on any level, he said. Youre just used to that. So thats the easy part.

He said the hard part has been making the makeshift barbershop welcoming and comfortable for his clients.

Three days before the official orders came down, closing all nonessential businesses, he was already planning for the worst-case scenario. He started taking parts of his barbershop home.

I had this man cave I liked to hang out in when I wanted to get away from the house, said Angel, who lives with his wife and 9-year-old son. So I just took out my couches and put in my barber chair. And then I put in two LED lights so I can get some good lighting in there. I got an air purifier to make sure theres constant clean air.

Though he began with select clients, Angel has expanded his list as the shutdown lingers. The more clients, the more income.

Most of them are his most loyal what he calls my weeklies. And even though he trusts them with the secret location of his converted man cave, he makes sure to ask them if theyve had any coronavirus symptoms. A few times hes had people cancel because of a cough or fever.

Its no big deal, he said. In the military, 99 percent of the time youre doing things without knowing what youre really doing.

Erick Galindo

phoenix, Arizona

They emerge as the sun dips in the horizon, ushering in the cool air that tempers the spring heat in Phoenix; the first 100-degree day is only days ahead. At the foot of the hill, two sisters, ages 8 and 11, draw angels on the sidewalk outside their home. Next door, a real estate agent sips a beer from the stone bench around a fire pit that isnt lit.

At the next house over, Kathi Marston, an educator, and her partner, Mike Neill, the chief financial officer at a credit union, celebrate their back-to-back birthdays. They just turned 51 and 54. A couple he is Mr. Neills best friend joined them on the front porch, on foldout chairs that Ms. Marston had carefully placed eight feet apart. She left the measuring tape on the floor to prove it.

A neighbor up the hill rolled past the birthday party on her bike. Happy birthday, she said, a guest in an intimate party that the coronavirus pandemic has forced into full view.

Until routines and lives were upended, these were the people who smiled and waved from inside cars that disappeared behind automatic garage doors. Widespread shutdowns and social distancing have forced them out on to front yards and sidewalks that double as canvas and playground for their children and themselves.

Neighbors get to meet neighbors they had seen before but with whom theyd exchanged few if any words. There is the couple with two daughters, known until recently by only the sparsest of details: Theyd moved into the big house that replaced the old house that was razed after its original owner died.

The bike-riding neighbor pulled up outside the real estate agents home and walked to the spot where the sidewalk meets her yard. That line of demarcation, once comfortably breached by familiar faces, is now a line that everyone knows not to cross.

They make small talk; the drawing girls mother next door joins in from the other side of the knee-high wall that divides their properties. Let me go grab a drink, she said, returning shortly with a glass of white wine.

The neighbors sipped their drinks, talked and track the financial adviser who walked by holding his younger daughters hands. The bike-riding neighbor introduced everybody; theyd never seen one another until then. Nobody comes near. Nobody shakes hands. Thats OK.

A few houses over, the birthday party carried on. Mr. Neills best friend brought his own paper plates and cutlery in a picnic basket. Ms. Marston provided plastic cups. They raised their glasses in the air, far from one another, in a neighborhood that now feels closer than ever.

Fernanda Santos

Downtown Carrboro is an especially strange place to be so quiet. Crowds of families, friends and co-workers arent gathering outside the food co-op or hanging out at the coffee shop to say hello, to catch up, to make plans.

The town may be a little sleepier than neighboring Chapel Hill, home to the usually bustling University of North Carolina, but Carrboro has noise in its bones. The venerable Cats Cradle, a regular tour stop for indie bands and bigger acts, is here. And Merge, the influential indie rock label founded by the Superchunk bandmates Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance, once had its office in town, before relocating down the road to Durham.

If you drive away from downtown, toward Route 54, and turn off the main road down a busy side street, youll find a smaller road called Glosson Circle. Its hidden away, lined with ranch houses shaded by just-bloomed trees. A street sign says it is a dead end.

The neighbors there are close, and many keep in touch on a group text named Awesome Glosson. When it turned out several on the street had upcoming birthdays, the neighborhood decided to find a way to celebrate.

Seemingly before anything had been fully decided, on a particularly beautiful afternoon, the Awesome Glosson Block Party began. Im not sure whose idea it was, said John Harrison, a 47-year-old musician who lives on the street. But like most things with us it just sort of happened.

People dragged tables and chairs out to the edge of the street on both sides. In each yard, the seats spread out the way seating spreads out now: as near as can be while still safe. Grills were lit.

Music played from speakers, but then people couldnt hear each other talking across the road, so they shut it off. People ate and drank and caught up. Neighbors filtered in and out. Dogs ran in front yards. Everyone stayed close to the road so that if others happened onto their block party, they could join in.

As night came on, people set up fire pits. The party continued. The road that connected these neighbors kept them safely apart. There was talk of doing it again, Mr. Harrison said. We are all pretty close, but also not very organized or predictable, so who knows?

Matthew Fiander

Several weeks back, an argument broke out by the halibut at Dirks Fish, a Chicago seafood store.

Chris Bray, the manager, recalled that it began when a longtime customer openly flouted the protocols of social distancing. And he didnt wear a mask.

An elderly woman, another longtime regular, let the man have it. Listen, were trying to stay six feet apart! Mr. Bray remembered the woman saying, rather brusquely.

The man dismissed it: Were all going to get the virus anyway!

Said the woman: Well, I dont want to get it from you!

Mr. Bray rang out both customers as quickly as he could.

Luckily, that situation was an anomaly for the shop, which has operated in the Lincoln Park neighborhood since 2003. Back on March 21, the state of Illinois shut down all nonessential businesses. (Seafood shops were deemed essential.) In the nearly six weeks since, Dirks Fish has done more business than in any previous six-week period.

Dirk Fucik, the owner, is a gregarious presence who could pass for the Empire Carpet man. He said there have been two stages of customer behavior. During the early days of the pandemic, it was the Hoarding Phase, in which 20-pound orders of salmon werent uncommon.

Frozen tubs of lobster bisque and tuna chili were snatched up as if they were toilet paper. Customers would ask: How long can I keep fish? (Fresh salmon and halibut could stay in the fridge for up to four days; skate lasts 24 hours before it becomes ammoniated, Mr. Fucik said.)

Then the Hoarding Phase gave way to the Indulgence Stage. Customers whod order the same fish each time branched out to more exotic species. There arent any restaurants open, and customers must think, Lifes too short, lets eat well, Mr. Fucik, 63, said.

On a recent morning, a steady stream of customers in masks flowed through. No fisticuffs were witnessed.

Many regulars who frequented the shop said they now visited more regularly. All said supporting mom-and-pop businesses was a big reason, but theres also the routine and pre-pandemic normalcy in coming here. Here was a place to see familiar faces, chitchat about the calamitous end-times and pick up cod fillets.

People like to say, Lets travel to this exotic place, lets try this new restaurant, said Michelle de Vlam, 60. In the end, you want something familiar. Something that makes you feel safe and secure during this whole horribleness.

Another customer, Kristyn Caliendo, 51, originally planned to have her grouper and Atlantic salmon delivered. At the last minute, she decided to take her 7-year-old, Jack, and their shepherd mix, Uma, to pick up their fish curbside.

Ive not been to a place of business since March 17, Ms. Caliendo said. I felt we needed to get out and see human faces.

Kevin Pang

Charleston, West Virginia

When we say were going to meet for a drop-off at a gas station, people just suddenly appear. Its like a flash mob, Joe Solomon said. We havent seen these kind of numbers in a while.

Mr. Solomon, 37, was talking about his work with Solutions Oriented Addiction Response (SOAR), which he described as a ragtag community group that uses harm reduction primarily getting Narcan into the hands of those who need it to combat the opioid epidemic in and around Charleston, W.Va. (A native of Long Island, Mr. Solomon went to West Virginia first to fight mountaintop removal and stayed to work with addicts.)

Stacy Kay, 49, a harm reduction specialist with the group, said that when she drives up to the drop-off with supplies masks, hand sanitizer, generic Narcan, and occasionally food people see her and theyre ready for a hug. We cant do that right now, she said. Were doing a lot of waving. Joe has a piece of chalk. He makes clear what six feet is.

In addition to their regular work, SOAR has been distributing masks donated by the West Virginia Mask Army, a group that sews masks primarily for health care workers. We asked for masks to give to people living outside or hurting otherwise, Mr. Solomon said. We even found an herbalist to make hand sanitizer, crucial for those without running water.

Many people who suffer from addiction experience homelessness. And those who are homeless, Mr. Solomon pointed out, may have underlying health conditions, like diabetes and heart disease, that make them particularly susceptible to Covid-19. Not to mention that the shelters, which can be packed, were not designed with social distancing in mind.

Ms. Kay said she and the other outreach workers are also providing information to a population who may be unaware of the latest public health directives. Weeks after the stay-at-home order was issued, she said, I talked to people who didnt know.

Both she and Mr. Solomon noted how West Virginia is often called resilient. And were called strong, he said. But those are just code words for nobody has our back. So we have to have our own.

Michael Parker

Most mornings, Carrie McCaleb, a kindergarten teacher in Port Angeles, Wash., still gets dressed for school, but her classroom, for now, is her home: a fifth-wheel trailer parked in one of the more beautiful parts of the country, just outside of Olympic National Park.

It makes for an interesting work space, Ms. McCaleb said. Weather permitting, she sets up a table on a level patch of grass and spreads out her work materials. Using her phone as a hotspot, she may attend a staff video call on her laptop. Then shell log onto ClassDojo, an educational platform, to begin checking in with her students and their parents.

She attended Dry Creek, the elementary school where she works, and lives eight minutes away by car, on a horse farm owned by her mother, who is also a teacher.

Before the pandemic, she liked to be in her classroom by 6 a.m. to square away her teaching prep and lesson planning. After school, she might have gone to the gym for a long weight lifting session, or taken a hike; on weekends shed explore more of the outdoors. On an average weekday, minus time sleeping, she guessed she spent an hour at home.

Now, Ms. McCaleb, 36, is lucky to spend an hour away from it. Its the weirdest draining workday, she said. Shes been able to check in with all of her students, though many of them, like her, dont have the sort of fast, unlimited internet access needed for videoconferencing.

Originally posted here:

How to Be a Good Neighbor Now - The New York Times

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