We are almost a year and a half out of our home, the place where we started our lives together, raised our children, and buried our dogs. Our new digs give me a new route to the office every day. Whereas before I drove through bucolic countrysides, I now slog through some heavily trafficked but residential areas, and then the dreaded, please-don’t-make-a-left-turn, non-timed-stoplights Western Avenue.
Before hitting Western Avenue and the requisite stop at Starbucks, I travel on Schoolhouse Road. I tend to head in to the office more or less at the same time of the morning, so I have become accustomed to the familiar residents on the sidewalks. As I pass them day in and day out, I have started creating stories in my mind about them.
There is the man in his early 70s, who I have decided had a medical scare in the past year, and now is up and walking each and every morning. He has a bit of a jaunt in his pace – he looks like he is challenging life, telling it he is not ready to leave, but will do whatever it takes to stay. He is clearly dressed for a workout. I imagine he walks several miles every morning. He has gotten thinner since I first noticed him. His affront with the grim reaper seems to be working. I have added details more recently: he has grandchildren just getting to the middle school age, and he is determined to be able to see them, play with them, make them giggle. Maybe he is also awaiting that moment when his own children will come to him asking advice on how to handle teen-aged children, when he will laugh and remind them what they put him through when they were teens.
Mr. Reluctant-Dog-Walker is a common sight as I head to work. Yes, I lost a beloved dog two years ago. Yes, I remember the day she died. Yes, I have her ashes. Yes, she is still my screen saver. But this man walks ahead of his tiny dog, distracted and almost absent from the walk altogether. The dog is a Yorkshire Terrier, and if I am not mistaken (as I drive by at 35 mph), she even has a bow in her hair. Someone takes good care of her. Mr. Reluctant forges ahead in his walks, at a rate that keep her little legs struggling to keep up. I remember walks with my dogs being joyous moments, where they got to sniff and smell and love life around them. This poor little girl would have more fun on a treadmill. Mr. Reluctant, in my mind, does not know how to enjoy life around him. He has never adjusted to retirement, but instead feels the need to be busy at all times. He is not present for anyone, not even his yorkie. I have yet to add the details of the person at home who puts the bow in the yorkie’s hair. That will come.
We-Are-Newly-In-Love Couple have recently joined households, each one bringing their own dog to the relationship. They walk a beagle and a golden retriever, and have lively discussions as they let their dogs take care of business. The newness of love and shared space is obvious in their faces. They go to work happy, after their invigorating, love-filled morning walk. Life lies ahead of them with great promise. They get along, their dogs get along, birds seem to start chirping as they walk by. Where is Norman Rockwell when you need him?
On Western Avenue I recently came across a very different couple. The first day that I saw them, it seemed they were waiting at the bus stop near McKown Road. I was moving too fast to take a quick photo. I told my husband about them when I got home that night. I think he would have preferred to roll his eyes as I spoke, but since we have evolved from We-Are-Newly-In-Love to We-Know-When-To-Be-Honest-About-Our-Feelings, instead he just said, “Really?”
I ran across the same couple a few days later, this time closer to SUNY. Was it Dunkin Donuts that attracted them? The couple was making its way across four lanes of traffic on Western Avenue, and not at any crosswalk. The guy was all about preening for his woman, but she seemed focused on things much more mundane.
Did I mention I am quite enjoying my new commute to work?