A few weeks ago on a Saturday morning, I sat in a small donut shop sipping on coffee with a friend. We chitchatted of mundane daily life as we occasionally did on the weekend.
An old man with long white hair walked in from one of the glass doors. Rather than join the line of people selecting donuts, the man came, took a step towards the table we sat at and said, “Excuse me. Where is the line?”
My friend and I were confused and too surprised to respond for a moment as it was very noticeable to us that the line was at the counter. I proclaimed, “There are markings on the floor.”
During this pause in our conversation, the old man explained, “I can’t see.” It was then that I realized that the old man was blind and because lines these days are “socially distanced” with everyone 6 feet apart, the man could not tell where the line began nor ended. I stood up from my table and walked over to the next empty marker on the floor. “It’s over here- A couple steps in front of you.”
The man moved towards the sound of my voice onto the marked place on the floor. He reached his hand in forward feeling around for a rope or a sign but felt none. “You’re good. There are only a few people before you,” I informed him. Then I returned the table where my friend still sat.
Neither my friend nor I had realized the old man was blind. He could not see any of the social distance markers on the floor that now line the floors of every business since pandemic.
Our current cues for social distancing are not universally designed. Our world is not universally designed nor inclusive. Pandemic has proven this time and again through its impact on our social structures, whether it be through access or lack thereof to medical care, access to work, to an education during shelter-in-place and quarantine… The list could go on…
A few weeks after this incident in the donut shop, I flew from Northern California to LAX to visit family. At the airport, I boarded an Uber.
Riding an Uber/ Lfyt is very different from riding the public transportation system. On public transport, no one ever looks at each other. Riders usually sit on public transportation mired in their own internal thoughts, scrolling on cell phones, or dozing in and out. On a Lfyt/ Uber, I find it much more intimate. I always more often than not, hear some detail(s) about the driver’s life in the enclosed one-one-one setting of their personal vehicle. This particular occasion was no different.
On this occasion, this driver shared that he had moved from Silicon Valley, from where I had flown. During shelter-in-place early in the pandemic, he had zero clients. I suppose this was a result of living in an area populated chiefly by software engineers, data scientists, other techies privileged enough to work from home. He suddenly could not pay his rent to support his family. He took a risk and moved to Los Ángeles and suddenly was making at least $4,000 per month. He misses Northern California but must follow the money because he has a wife and daughter in the US and another daughter in Georgia 🇬🇪 he hoped could also one day immigrate to the US.
I have heard of former soviet citizens sometimes missing the economic stability of being part of a larger system like the USSR and was curious. I asked him how he felt about Russia 🇷🇺 invading Ukraine 🇺🇦 since his native country was also once part of the former USSR. He expressed sadness about the war, the loss of youths and life, and he recalled other wars that devastated the region due to what he called “super aggressive” leaders like Putin.
It’s interesting how conversations with strangers are often so memorable, especially now when I continue to refrain from much socializing for the duration of this pandemic. Pandemics and wars have been around since man… Perhaps since before man, if we look at the kingdoms of our fellow terrestrial dwellers… I suppose “social distancing” also has been around too, but then, so too have been brief moments of connection between strangers wishing/ hoping for peace or looking for the next place in line.