With V back to school after a month off I go for a rare walk without racing after him or slowing down for Ruby, for once going at my own pace. Relatively balmy weather for December and January thus far means we still have our walking routine: 1-3 walks everyday to the park and back, 30-40 minutes and 1 ½ miles each. With an average of 14 walks a week, we’ve walked over 600 miles since life in the time of Covid.
We didn’t need a pandemic to be all- weather walkers. Except for bitter cold days or heavy precipitation we are outside; we walk in drizzle and through flurries and because V refuses to zip his jacket, an extra layer of a down sweater on top. There’s no bad weather just bad clothes, as the saying goes and so I invest in new boots and jacket for V and me (T already has super warm gear) to help get through the winter.
I’ve always been a walker but there’s such a difference between city walking – usually involving going somewhere – and suburban walking, which for us is simply a way to get outside, exercise and break up long days at home. I remember discovering the word “walkability” during my fantasy searches of houses in warmer climates, where walking in the winter would not involve so many layers and planning, where we could just throw on some clothes and walk out the door. While I love my neighborhood, a diverse, friendly mix of big and modest houses, almost all old, there are few places to walk to, save a small strip of stores and restaurants and a bodega a block away.
We go on the same walk every day because of that bodega, which used to be part of our old walking routine, involving stopping in with two quarters and buying a small bag of chips on our way to the other nearby park. V has been going there since he was a little boy and the nice people behind the counter all called him papi. There’s new management now, who are begrudgingly tolerant, either because they are less friendly or the fact that as V has gotten older the expectations are different for how he should be able to act.
That V won’t keep on a mask has changed everything: no more trips to Costco or Shoprite or even the little bodega, where if he would just keep the mask on for a few minutes he could have his snack. He does not understand the safety concerns, it is a sensory issue he shares with many other kids with special needs who cannot tolerate anything on their face. There is no political defiance, simply a resistance to anything restrictive.
I love walking yet grow weary of the same route and so I try to channel Ruby, who has the same walks everyday and finds them endlessly fascinating because she is a hound dog ruled by scent and there is always something new to smell, some other animal that has passed and can be noticed with her always poised snout. My nose is not as talented so I rely more on my vision, both visual and mental. I humanize the houses, which like old people fall into a few general categories: those with recent face lifts or upgrades: neatly paved drives and insulated windows and solar panels; those in disrepair that could use some work; the rest showing their age but holding up fairly well. The houses take on lives of their own as I observe all the differences, the change that is a constant: the neighbors who move out of state and the recent arrivals who paint the house a new color to claim it as their own; the empty nesters who downsize, replaced by young families who move in and install swing sets and trampolines.
I rarely see any of them this time of year although they may see us: those with dogs or who go for runs or who look out their windows while they are stuck home all day. Whether they know V has autism or not they must figure there is some reason the lanky teenage boy is always walking with an older person, if they notice us at all. We are your neighbors, I would tell them, the constant walkers, tracing the same steps again and again, day after day, week after week. Sunshine or clouds, hot and humid or frigid cold, you will see us going by, to the park and back, again and again. Over 600 miles and counting, we walk and take in the world, one step at a time.