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Some Pandemic Etiquette for Our Walks and Runs

by on October 06, 2020 4:45 AM

When it comes to grief, probably the most well-known information on the topic is “The Five Stages of Grief” that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross pioneered back in 1969. Those five stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

As this tragic pandemic continues in our midst I find myself considering where on that grief chart we in Happy Valley currently fall. Understanding of course, that we may all be at different places individually, but as I get around town I’m looking to see if there is a communal stage that seems most indicative of our collective psyche at the moment.

I find events such as The Berkey Creamery’s Fantasy Flavor League 2020 to be a possible indication regarding the virus’s presence in our lives. Fall is made for football and although we finally have local high school football, we are still a few weeks away from any local college football. But even then it will be without tailgating or fans in the stands.

So in the meantime let’s all engage in a fantasy league that pits Creamery ice cream flavors against one another every week. It’s a given that Death By Chocolate will win, but I’m waiting for the Creamery to create what would be my favorite ice cream flavor of all time. That would be made by mixing Death by Chocolate with the ingredients from Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk®, Hershey’s special dark syrup, and pieces of Selma’s Chocolate Chip Supreme Cookies. Now that’s what I call an award-winning ice cream!

In any case, I haven’t decided if this shared community Creamery activity – and others like it – is the result of denial (avoiding the topic at hand), bargaining (No Penn State football? How about a Penn State fantasy ice cream league instead?), or acceptance (Let’s bring some humor to the masses and have fun). After six months of the pandemic my money is on acceptance.

Except… on my jogs around town right now I’m not so sure if that’s where we are as a group. Back in April when we were clearly in the denial stage I wrote, naively as I look back, that I was uplifted by the masses of people out walking, running and biking by themselves or with their families. I noted it was good to see folks getting fresh air, exercise, using the great little network of asphalt biking trails in the borough and townships, and doing what they could to stay healthy in this time of crisis.

As I jog or walk around town these days I’m reminded of the holiday television special “Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town” and how the residents of Sombertown acted after the Burgermeister Meisterburger outlawed all toys. Yes, I still see folks getting fresh air and exercise, but their demeanor is drastically changed. Somber would be a kind way to describe the body language I see these days.

Back in April we weren’t wearing masks outside, and although we were social distancing while on the sidewalks and bike-paths, the effort wasn’t the all-out physical and social avoidance dance it is now. On a 3-mile jog on Monday I passed dozens of people and only one even acknowledged my wave or greeting. And who can tell if anyone is smiling. 

Meaning right now I’m convinced we are in the depression stage. Or, as the four moonshine-jug-holding hillbillies sang on “Hee Haw,” "Gloom, despair and agony on me. Deep dark depression, excessive misery!”

As my wife will often remind me with emotional responses, it’s not my job to fix them; you just have to experience them. So it looks like we’re just going to have to collectively experience this depression to move through it. 

However, in an effort to make it easier for all of us to make it through this depression, I want to propose some etiquette rules for those of us getting exercise on the sidewalks and bike paths. So we can all feel more comfortable about maintaining proper social distance as well as the pressing questions on everyone’s minds: Who should be stepping into the grass? Who should be walking out on the street? What if it’s more than one person? What about pets? Just call me Mr. Exercise Manners of the Pandemic.

The first thing to be aware of is that the standard width of a local residential sidewalk is 5 feet. And the normal width of the many asphalt paths winding through our area is 10 feet. If we are using the World Health Organization’s recommendation of maintaining at least 1 meter (3 feet) between ourselves, then we can all stay on the sidewalks and asphalt paths together if we stay on the edges and are in single file. But since we have somehow adopted 6 feet as a standard social distance, it means passing on asphalt paths is easily done by everyone staying on opposite sides of the path, but sidewalks require some maneuvering, yielding and moving off the sidewalk.

The first general rule to follow on both sidewalks and paths is to use standard driving procedure – stay to the right. This will eliminate any confusion about which side you should be on. If you are in a group, stay as right as possible given the size of your group, and when passing or being passed get in a single file and all stay to the right.

The next rule regards yielding and applies to sidewalks where we need to leave the path to maintain 6 feet of distance. The faster you are moving, the more priority you have to stay on the sidewalk because moving into the grass, dirt or gravel next to the sidewalk presents greater risks the faster you are going. Conversely, the slower you are moving, the easier it is for you to yield and safely step off the path. So bikers take precedence over runners, and runners take precedence over walkers.

When everyone involved is moving the same speed, then those who are on the right and closest to the street will move off the sidewalk towards the street. If you are in a residential neighborhood with slower speed limits and wish to move all the way into the street, it is acceptable to wait until you come to a driveway to access the street so you are not walking across grass. That means if you are approaching people who should yield and move off the sidewalk but have not done so yet and you’re getting nervous, it may be because they are waiting for the next driveway.

As far as pets are concerned – and it certainly seems as if the quantity of our furry friends has increased during the pandemic – the rules are very simple. They follow whatever guidelines apply to the human they are associated with.

The two exceptions to the above yielding guidelines are with small children in strollers and carriages, or when people with reduced motor skills are involved. In the first instance, it may be difficult for the stroller or carriage to yield and get off the sidewalk as it is not designed for that type of uneven surface. In the second instance the human being might not be capable of handling that type of surface. In both cases you should yield and let them pass using the hard surface. 

Lastly, when passing others who are displaying good etiquette, acknowledge their effort with a “thank you,” or similar verbal response so we spread our appreciation of the rules during these trying times. Because although the five stages of grief are not linear and don’t require we utilize every one of them, I hope that whatever stage Happy Valley is in and whatever experiences come with that, at least we can all be kind to one another on this trip through the unknown.


 



John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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