Traffic Patterns

Traffic Patterns

Sunday, I am out for a walk with a friend and her dog (keeping appropriate social distance on the sidewalk). Nature here is all brown — bare tree branches, last year’s grass dull and matted in every yard, autumn’s leaves plastered wetly along curbs and in flowerbeds. The world sits in that monochrome state between winter and spring, when everything has melted but nothing is quickening. Limbo. As if seasons have been put on pause. And then, it starts to snow. Big, fat, wet, lovely. The air suddenly feels slightly cleaner. Flakes catch in my hair, collect in crooks of tree trunks, prettify the long view down the street. Even the trotting dog seems to perk up.

Tuesday, I look out over the backyard, beyond the fence line, and see stillness. No one is out. No cars pass, although our house perches on the corner of a north-south street that is usually well-trafficked. Even the sixteen-year-old in the foreground is motionless, lying on his back on the trampoline, one knee crooked, pointing upwards at the branches of the hundred-year-old silver maple, which trace thin black lines against a glorious blue sky.

Wednesday, in the blue early-morning light, the school bus pulls up to the lamp post in front of my house and stops. It waits. I watch it, lingering there for a minute. Two. Three. No children are waiting on the corner. No children are walking towards it. I stand at my front door, watching out the window to make sure no one who needs the bus is coming, and then I walk out to the driver and the social worker who are the only people onboard. The district is using this method of delivering food and a support system: any family can approach any bus. “Thank you for all you are doing,” I say, when the driver opens the door for me. Gratitude is, of course, not enough, but it’s what I have.

Wednesday, taking a pre-dinner walk along the wide beautiful boulevard that serves as a main artery between the Mississippi River and downtown, I realize with a start that the commuter rush is missing. The level of traffic looks like a lazy Saturday afternoon. The cars themselves seem to be practicing social distancing, as they pass me sporadically. More than the usual allotment of joggers seems to be out, probably the same number of dog-walkers. But there is a noticeable difference in foot traffic — as if, for every car that is not on the road, a household has gone for a walk. Elderly married couples, parents with children in strollers, a father and two tweens, a pair of grandparents with a parent and a teen, our threesome plus dog. All these small units of humanity, out taking the air. So many families out on walks on an overcast weekday Wednesday in March around dinner time.

Thursday morning when I wake up, I am still thinking about this enormous shift in traffic patterns.

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