Walking through the virus in Chicago

We may not be able to visit each other in person, but we can break through the loneliness of all this home time.

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6200 block of North Paulina Street in Edgewater, Chicago.

Patrick T. Reardon’s walks often take him down Paulina Street in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood.

Photo by Patrick T. Reardon

In recent days, I’ve been doing a lot of walking.

I know that this may soon come to a halt if the efforts to combat coronavirus in the United States lead to a mandatory quarantine, keeping me at home, away from everyone else.

For now, though, I’m dealing with mild cabin fever by walking as I did the other day, to drop off our taxes at our accountant and to pick up a copy of the bestseller “The Family Upstairs” by Lisa Jewell from our neighborhood branch library for my wife.

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Each American is going to have to come up with strategies for coping with this new normal that already is keeping us away from restaurants, theaters, schools, even churches. For you, it might be bingeing some hit series, or knitting, or strolling hither and yon on the Internet, or lifting weights in the basement, or finally reading Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”

For me, it’s been walking. I feel the need for the exercise because I’ve sworn off basketball for the duration of this outbreak — talk about being up close and personal! My two book clubs have also dropped in-person meetings. The guys in those clubs and on the basketball court are generally as old as 70-year-old me or even older, so it’s a kindness to each other to stay away and not risk infecting each other.

I’ve also sworn off public transportation, especially the CTA elevated system, and walking is a good way to get from here to there — as long as “there” isn’t too far.

Walking has always been fun for me because I live in Edgewater, an ever-interesting Chicago North Side community near Lake Michigan. As a nerd about all things Chicago — I’ve been writing about urban affairs in Chicago for nearly half a century — I find each streetscape invitingly engaging, ranging from pastel-painted, gingerbread-like homes to massive U-shaped yellow-brick apartment buildings, from the rare vacant lot, alitter with paper and plastic water bottles, to the blocks that have one red-brick school after another after another.

One odd thing about walking now: When I see someone walking near me, I wonder whether he or she is a carrier of the virus. That’s a terrible thing to think, but I imagine the other person has the same thought about me. This suspicion of each other, while understandable and even necessary, is something to be aware of and not take too far.

Most of the people I saw the other day, I didn’t know. But, as I passed Hayt Elementary School, Eduardo, a neighbor on our block, was coming out. He was going one way and I was going the other. But we shouted hello to each other. I suspect we would have bumped elbows if we’d crossed paths.

As I walked, I wondered about the delivery guys I saw while I was out. And the people working inside McDonald’s dealing with the drive-up customers. And the librarians. And all the people who aren’t able to self-quarantine. I hoped that they will be able to keep themselves safe and healthy.

I also thought about who I need to call, just to stay in touch. At this moment, we may not be able to visit each other in person, but we can still break through the loneliness of all this home time by reaching out through the phone or email or texting or whatever.

That’s what happens when I walk. My mind wanders. And, in between thinking about the people who are still having to interact with others and about the list of people I should keep in contact with, I began thinking of writing an essay. I even came up with an opening line:

“In recent days, I’ve been doing a lot of walking.”

Patrick T. Reardon is the author of nine books, including “The Loop: The “L” Tracks That Shaped and Saved Chicago,” to be published in early 2021 by Southern Illinois University Press.

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