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Is It OK to Walk with Friends?

by on April 15, 2020 5:00 AM


Coming out of quarantine isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, at least not while a stay-at-home order is in effect.

My beloved and I emerged last week, 14 days after our hasty departure from Greece. How hasty was it? Until a few days ago, all the bills in my wallet were euros, not dollars. 

Despite being coughed on and breathed on in airports in Thessaloniki, Istanbul and New York, not to mention on two packed planes, we seem to have caught nothing worse than a stubborn case of discombobulation, knock wood.

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, the weird thing about racing back to Pennsylvania to avoid getting stranded in Europe is that we’re not back in our own house, which is occupied by the family we rented it to through June.

A couple of tough cookies whom I’ve told about this peculiar situation asked, “Can’t you get rid of them?” 

Probably not, is the short legalistic answer. 

I suppose we could entice our renters to leave by offering to pay all or part of their rent on another place, but COVID-19 demands that we be our best selves, not our worst. In this case, that means taking into account that Scott and Cate have two little kids, whose lives were already disrupted by the move to State College last summer and who are going to have to adjust to a new house in a new state again this summer. They need yet another relo – on short notice -- like a hole in the head (as my dad would have put it). 

Whereas we’re just two grownups with the luggage we brought from Europe, which meant we wouldn’t have to pack to move.

Of course, it helps that Scott and Cate are the perfect tenants, and that we really like them. 

So that is why we are living in a cabin on a creek about a half-hour from town, why there’s a moose head on our wall and our closest companions are a pair of Canada geese we’ve named Franklin and Eleanor, and why, for our first grocery run at the end of our quarantine, we felt like countryfolk getting dressed to go to town on market day in a corny old movie.

When we got to the market, it turned into a different kind of movie. We donned black latex gloves and locally sourced cloth masks, as if we were about to rob the joint rather than purchase tofu and broccoli. 

Shopping done, we drove to our house, the one we own in town, to pick up a couple of items that Scott would bring out to us. This was our Moses-and-the-Promised-Land moment: We stood in our own driveway, not able to enter our own house, which we haven’t set foot in since last summer. 

We chatted amiably with Scott and Cate for a while – across 10 feet of pavement, of course – then did the same with Mary across the street and Rhonda down the street. We didn’t see the harm at the time, and neither do some of our friends, who are proposing socially distant walks and a socially distant in-the-flesh party.

Why not, I thought at first, but now I think we will decline such invitations and that we were wrong to schmooze with our neighbors that day. 

Pennsylvania’s stay-at-home order recognizes that we all need to eat, see doctors and pharmacists if we’re ailing, and go where we need to go if we’re providing essential services. So those forays are exempt. For the sake of our mental and physical health (and our dogs, if we have them) we also need to get outside and move, so that is considered permissible also – provided we maintain social distance. 

You want to meet your friend at the trailhead and take a walk? As long as you spread out, you’re good to go. 

But will you stay spread out?

We tend to want to vouch for ourselves: My friends and I are responsible people. We will be conscious at all times of our position relative to our walking companion’s position.

OK, but what about the other guys on the trail? 

What about the fact that, to the other guys, you’re the other guys?

Can we trust each other? Can we trust ourselves?

Like a lot of people, I consider myself a good driver. Some of us are delusional: We’re actually terrible drivers. All of us, I suspect, occasionally cut another driver off, not out of malice, but as a result of a lapse in attention or a lapse in judgment. 

We’re trying to slow the spread of a highly contagious disease. The experts tell us we can’t afford any lapses. 

So yes we’re allowed to take walks with friends if we maintain social distance, but maybe we shouldn’t because maybe we won’t.

My beloved and I are out of quarantine but we may as well not be. It’s still just us, hanging loose with moose, goose and goose. 






A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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