SLALOM WALKING

Pre-COVID-19, I took three walks a day to reach a minimum of four total miles. I still do. I’ve noticed some things.

Home-sheltered, more people walk, run and bicycle weekdays. On the first day of shelter-in-place, sidewalks and streets were relatively crowded. The second day, walkers, runners and cyclists tapered off. People are still out but not as many. Is pollen season to blame?

Maybe it’s Zoom. I never heard of Zoom before the pandemic. Now, my family Zoom-gathers Thursday nights. I Zoom Friday-night Shabbat services and Saturday-morning Torah Study. Congregation Sherith Israel has more worshippers and students online. Congregants and guests can stay home. Older folks don’t face a shlep.

After Torah Study, friends and I, who have coffee together, meet digitally. Our jibes, as always, are often juvenile. Correction. My jibes. You grow up in Queens, you retain a measure of adolescence but eventually become a mature, empathetic adult. Well, most Queensites.

As to getting out of the house, I walk in slalom mode. Simply put, I maintain at least a six-foot distance between myself and anyone else (except Carolyn) and so do a lot of zigging and zagging. Maintaining a straight line is impossible due greatly to, what we referred to in the army as that ten percent.

Some folks—the ten percent can be any age—don’t comprehend the safety of six-foot distances. Or maybe how six feet measures out. Often, they’re cell-phone distracted. Chatting or music makes them oblivious to the fact that other people live in San Francisco. Note: The City has grown to almost 900,000. Decades earlier, a stumbling economy pushed us down to near 700,000. Will we see a repeat?

Runners can be exceptionally out to lunch—even after breakfast or before dinner. I ran for decades, so I get that runners hate to break stride or veer, taking themselves out of the zone they’ve entered or fearing a sudden stop or turn will lead to injury. The latter poses no problem. City streets and trails in the Presidio National Park a block north of my house offer great sightlines. People don’t jump out from behind trees to surprise you. Not yet.

Some people—ignorant or self-consumed—exhibit a predilection for walking or running down the middle of a sidewalk or path and not budging even when they see you. Maybe they feel that a two-foot detour will lead them to drop off a thousand-foot precipice. Which might not be all that bad. They leave me two choices. Expose myself to a deep exhale or cough loaded with coronavirus-filled droplets or move over.

I move.

The Mishnah—Judaism’s ancient Oral Law—includes a section called Pirke Avot, often known as Wisdom of the Fathers. The Sages recommend building “a fence around the Torah.” To avoid violating a commandment, stay far from temptation. This can be carried to absurd lengths to avoid going down the slippery slope, but the concept also can be positive.

I say, if six feet is good, eight feet is better. Granted, that’s not always possible. What ispossible is for people to show common courtesy by keeping to the right and moving away, envisioning a world existing beyond themselves. That’s a good guideline in ordinary times. It’s a great one now.

Six feet apart beats six feet under.

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14 Comments


  1. Jerry
    Apr 03, 2020

    I also notice that many people do not even make eye contact or say hello when I greet them as I walk by. Even making eye contact or saying hello from 6″ will infect them. ???


    • David
      Apr 03, 2020

      Jerry, we’ve found that many people do make eye contact and answer back with a “Hello.” I imagine some people are lost in their thoughts. Others are just lost. I think a lot of people are used to being isolated, even in a crowd. Hopefully, that will change. But fear may be affecting, if not infecting, many people.


  2. Michele
    Apr 03, 2020

    I just got back from a 3 mile walk and experienced the same! But that certainly added steps as I slalom into the bushes and ground cover in my park! Hope you and Carolyn stay well. Regards!


    • David
      Apr 03, 2020

      You’re right, Michele. The added steps are all to the good. We’re find and trust your family is the same.


  3. Jayne Wezelman
    Apr 03, 2020

    Our “new normal” sure does take some getting used to. My hopes and prayers are for people to be at their best in times when things are at their worst. I truly believe that connection, kindness, and support will help us “thrive to survive”. Shabbat Shalom!


    • David
      Apr 03, 2020

      Jayne, tough times often bring out the best in people. I share your hope that this is the case, and that sensitivity to others grows. Shabbat Shalom!


  4. David Newman
    Apr 03, 2020

    We’ve been walking along the promenade at the beach. It’s a paved path about ten feet wide — plenty of room for two people to pass with six-plus feet between them, unless one of them insists on walking in the middle of the path. Our only issue has been pairs of people who insist on walking side-by-side instead of single file. Most have been good at moving when I gesture politely, but some still haven’t figured out that six feet is six feet. If you need a visual cue, imagine that you are walking with your arms outspread, passing someone who is doing the same. If your fingers could touch, you’re too close. (Or imagine yourself passing out and collapsing sideways. If your head lands on the other person’s feet, you’re too close.) If you’re really short, make the appropriate adjustments.

    Stay safe and remember, the life you save may be your own — or someone else’s.


    • David
      Apr 03, 2020

      David, your visual cue is terrific. And how many people are capable of absorbing that? Ninety percent? Sure. But there again we have that ten percent.


  5. RONALD EATON
    Apr 03, 2020

    I also find that people are responsive and smiling when I greet them. I also think that public manners have improved, perhaps just because there are fewer people to jostle against but also perhaps people are feeling more vulnerable and more dependent on others—a kind of wartime solidarity. I read somewhere that some people who survived the London Blitz described it as being the best time of their lives because of the heightened feeling of purpose and community. Since I live alone, I know that I am grateful for the in-presence human contact, fleeting as it may be. Since more of us are now wearing masks even on the streets, it will be interesting to see how our not being able to see each other’s smiles and faces will affect our behavior. Keep calm and carry on. RWE


    • David
      Apr 03, 2020

      You’re right, Ron. The Brits during World War Two set a prime example of resiliency and civility. It’s constantly said that Americans are too diverse to do the same. I disagree. There’s a lot that binds us, and in times like these, most people will see the basic humanity in others. Or at least, I’d like to think so.


      • RONALD EATON
        Apr 03, 2020

        “Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
        Man never Is, but always To be blest.”

        Alexander Pope


        • David
          Apr 03, 2020

          Ron, let’s see how close we can get. But then, you’re more pessimistic than I am. Or, a realist.


  6. Claudia Long
    Apr 04, 2020

    Another enjoyable column with Torah insight. Thanks, David.
    May I add regarding greeting and smiling? It would be great if all were in the same mental space, but some compassion may be in order. Someone walking may have finally gotten out after several sleepless nights with small children in a smaller space, sick kids crying, an angry or frustrated or abusive partner, an absent partner, an ill parent they can’t go to, a distant friend who’s ill or dying, a downstairs neighbor boiling broccoli. They may be taking in the silence, worrying about the rent, missing their lover, or just relishing the sunshine. They aren’t there for our amusement, or even to greet us, and certainly not required to “smile.” (I had the miserable experience decades ago, returning in deep grief from mourning my brother, of being refused my sandwich at a deli until I ‘smiled’, and I’ve never forgotten it.)
    So while we’re out walking, I’ll smile, as I’ll be thinking of stretching out my arms to not meet your outstretched arms (and yes, I’ll have to add a foot, small me!) but it’s okay if folks don’t smile back.


    • David
      Apr 04, 2020

      Claudia, you make a great point. We cannot know what other people are going through and emotionally must also give them at least six feet. My favorite 11th Commandment is: You shall cut each other some slack.

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