By Paula Damon
“When strangers start acting like neighbors, communities are reinvigorated.” – Ralph Nader, environmentalist
I’d like you to meet a few of my new friends. Well, actually, they’re really not friend friends. They’re more like walking partners. Actually, they don’t walk with me; but they do pass by on my morning jaunt.
The first one whose path I cross is the old guy on a bike. He rides a two-wheel standard bike with no gears – only a single chain and pedal power to get him to where he’s going. Carefully gliding along, he tenuously keeps his balance. In reality, he’s probably younger than he looks. It’s that weathered skin and those tired eyes fixed on something far, far away that age him.
Most days, he’s puffing on a cigarette, which makes him look like a slow-moving locomotive chug, chug, chugging down the tracks with spent fuel spewing from its smokestack. I’ve tried being neighborly by greeting him, but he drifts on by non-responsively as though I am invisible.
And then there’s the lady with a yippy wired-haired Jack Russell Terrier. She’s a sweetie with kind eyes that are always eager to engage others and a natural smile ever ready to partake in small talk.
“Shush, shush,” she gently reprimands her little female fur-child, who pays no mind. “She’s all bark and not bite,” reassures the woman, whom I imagine was a child of the 1950s. Turning back time on her bent posture, the tamped down waves in her pearl white hair and her pale complexion, I can almost imagine her youthful self, wearing a black and pink felt poodle skirt with a matching three-quarter-length sleeve blouse, Bobbie socks and black and white leather saddle shoes.
I could keep time by the jogger who passes me. She’s the most religious of the bunch. Her lean long-legged stride paces effortlessly. Every morning, we mouth “Hi” to one another, as she can’t hear a thing with those ear buds at full blast.
The one “God” on my route is a fitness nut I’ve nicknamed “Doc,” even though I have no idea if he really is a doctor. A fast-pedaling speed biker, Doc flies by with a chipper “Good morning!” I haven’t gotten a good look at his eyes behind those tinted yellow glasses, but his salt and pepper hair peeking out from under his helmet and matching goatee give him a distinguished look. I can tell he’s serious about his workout with those mirrors extending from both sides of his head gear, that blood-pressure cuff wrapped around his upper right arm, his athletic braces on both knees and a handy water bottle dangling from his handle bars.
Then there’s the guy who lives about a half mile out. He, too, has graying hair, which he used to keep neatly trimmed around his ears and neck. Although of late, he’s wearing it shoulder-length – a new look that goes better with that Harley-Davidson motorcycle and Spitfire convertible tucked away in his garage.
This guy is one of the most social strangers on my daily trek around the neighborhood, second only to the lady with the wire-haired Jack Russell Terrier. Whether he’s futzing around in the garage, mowing or checking on his mega-sized RV that takes up his entire side yard, he usually asks how I’m doing, comments on what a beautiful day it is or how he should be out exercising like me, instead of shuffling around his place.
And, I’d be remiss if I did not introduce you to another friend on my way. If I were to guess, I’d say he’s approaching 80. He cruises around the neighborhood at about 10 miles per hour in his four-door Buick LaSabre. Windows all down and a cigar hanging limp from his mug, he slows nearly to a stop to deliver a cheerful wave to everyone he passes. It’s the same happy-to-see-you and even-happier-I’m-alive-for-one-more-day salute he offers when scooting around the block on his motorized wheelchair.
So there you have it – these are my regular passersby I see most morning on my walk. I can’t tell you their names or their stories. I can say the mere thought of these strangers coaxes me out of bed most morning and the fluency of their presence in my life gives me reason to smile and face each new day.