Around 8:00 AM Sunday, I got on my bike. Normally, I ride for exercise, but today was a slow bike ride. I said hello to Paul, my next-door neighbor who was gearing up for a go-fast ride.
No cars passed me in either direction on Morphy Avenue.
Cruising down Bancroft, I saw a few cars in the Greer’s parking lot and a man walking to the store. A few people were in their cars on cell phones, perhaps connected to the city or library WIFI.
I stopped at Wells Fargo. They have pictures of historic Fairhope in their windows. One I didn’t recognize. It turned out that they cropped an image that I was familiar with from the Brown/Dealy Collection.
The Welcome Center was closed, a product of the “essential” only, I guess. Given our toilet paper hording, I guess Fairhope’s public comfort station is no longer essential.
A woman walking shouted to a family she recognized in a red golf cart at the center of Fairhope, by the clock. They talked through the change of light. There was no one waiting behind the cart. I turned onto Fairhope Ave towards the pier. There were no cars along this stretch, unusual, even for a Sunday. Another Broken Egg is typically open. Not anymore.
Turned right on Church Street where my friend Phyllis told me, during the book launch party for the second edition of The Original Fairhope Guidebook, that there are “no churches on Church Street anymore.”
I heard a conversation. It turns out it was ‘a voice.’
A sermon was on the outdoor speaker at 1480 AM WABF Radio. I wave to Mark, the producer, who was framed in the center of the studio window with a pair of headphones on. I went by quickly, but I don’t think he was giving the sermon.
I rode through the University of South Alabama Campus and stopped at the head of Stack’s Gully, near the community garden. I straddled the bike looking down the gully, enjoying the view, and just watching, and listening. I saw a raptor in a pine tree that bends over the gully. Her routine hasn’t changed. She’s looking for breakfast.
I stay a few moments watching her like a hawk, waiting for her to take flight, when I hear, “Hey Alan.”
I turn around, “Hi Wayne.”
He’s walking his dog, like he does every day. We talked about the latest closings and the Single Tax Newsletter that we are working on, family updates, and what we’ve been doing. He’s a woodworker.
“I’m trying not to go to the store every day,” He said about his typical routine. Spoken like a retiree, I thought.
“Yeah, we keep a list, try to go once a week. We’re shopping for Sue’s parents too.” The whole time we shuffled around, aware of our distance, me straddling the bike, his dog sprawled on the hot top.
I told him about the bird. “See the big pine growing over the gully…It dog legs right. She’s below the top canopy of needles.”
Wayne said, “I see it.” We stopped talking for a minute.
“How’d you see it?” I didn’t answer.
“This is a nice quiet spot,” Wayne said.
“It sure is.”
He gave me a book recommendation, Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank and I jotted down the title.
Wayne and I talked for 20 minutes, I guess. I don’t know because when your talking to a friend time is meaningless. Moments matter.
One of the best places on my ride is Knoll Park. It’s usually quiet up there, very few people. Joe, a man I’d met on a previous ride, was walking up the hill, walker stretched out in front of him as he climbed the hill. If that wasn’t enough, he was leashed to a small white dog. I wish I’d noticed if the leash was attached to the walker or to Joe’s hand. Either way, when I approached only the dog heard me. They were several yards away and headed in the same direction, so I stopped to guzzle some water. On the way down the hill, he said hello to another man walking his dog. I’ve seen them both in the park many times.
I thought our book club could meet up here at Knoll Park. Drinkers with a Reading Problem meets once a month. It’s a great name, and it’s an interesting bunch I’ve been a part of since 2009. Our April book, American Nations by Colin Woodard talks about American regionalism.
The meeting’s a week away and is likely to be yet another lost liberty.
I waved and yelled “hello” to Chris, a fellow Eastern Shore Slow Biker who was sitting in his side yard.
A family was on bikes heading south and we exchanged hellos. Mom and dad had bikes and Dad was towing his two young sons, possibly twins, but too small for their own bikes or trikes.
I stopped along Bayview to get a photo.
The bench and the swing on the bluff are usually empty on my bike rides. Nothing different today. I suspect they’re full for most sunsets.
After I took the photo a mockingbird landed just over my left shoulder on a “No Parking in Park” sign. For several beats of stillness between us, we did not have the required social distancing. When his eyes met mine, he’d seen enough, and flew south.
On Saturday, Sue and I saw two other book clubbers during our walk around town. Sometimes I forget that this time of year people can spot me and the exposed prosthesis from a few blocks away. We met them separately but in between a visit to Dr. Music. Wade said I was too late. He’d sold out of the new Pearl Jam album. Book Clubber Irene pedaled by in the other direction with a friend. The doctor in our club told us about Mr. Gaston’s death. There is no more prominent name in Fairhope. It’s the same as our Founding Father, though I cannot say if the two men separated by generations are even related.
On my ride home I saw Paul again and his wife Stephanie. On Friday, we had a socially responsible gathering, with adult beverages, in their driveway. It was fun! We talked about what everyone on the planet was taking about. Then we talked about everything else. It was mostly small talk. We know each other well, but not that well.
Later Sunday, one of our neighbors texted that next week’s gathering was off.
Nothing has changed, but everything has changed. “Closed until further notice” is on every non-essential business door. Outside, nature continues and this should comfort us. In our distant world without human touch we’re all grieving, but words still matter, and voices carry.
Alan, thank you for this beautiful narrative! I actually read it smiling as if I was biking with you!!
Thank you, Alan, that warmed my heart.