From Monday to Friday, unless there’s a blizzard, ice storm or hurricane, I’m on my bike.
The 20-minute ride to and from Alewife is my daily cleansing, the shower for my brain that prepares me for a day at the office.
My dark green, single-speed Fuji Classic has no gears to shift and the flat, straight stretches of repurposed railroad track that are now a paved bike path are mine alone during the pre-dawn commute. Music pumps into my earbuds, my legs do their work automatically from nine years of identical routine, my mind wanders, then finally focuses, on the day ahead.
Alas, on March 12, I took that ride for the last time for an indefinite stretch of time. Like everyone else, I’m practicing social distancing. And pretty much like everyone else with a job and kids, my office is closed; my kids are home from elementary and nursery school. The house is full, noisy, kind of a mess and getting smaller, it seems.
My routine is completely upended. A dedicated gym rat (though, honestly, you might not know by looking), I’m at a weight stack or treadmill at least five days a week. While my gym and many others remain open as of today, it just feels wrong to expose the household to potential points of contagion.
So, I’m back on the bike. My new 30-minute ride has an updated destination but the same purpose: to clear my head before another day in isolation begins, before the constant barrage of requests from my daughters, work emails, calls from my parents and other things that now make up the new normal.
On my new daily ride, I’m heading in the opposite direction from Alewife—so far—as if to subconsciously remind myself that everything seems to be similarly headed for a u-turn from normal. At 6 a.m., I have Massachusetts Avenue, the Minuteman Bikeway, Lexington Center and pretty much everything in between completely to myself. The bagel store is open. Should I go in there? Probably not. I wonder if they’re going to make it as the first car of the morning finally zooms by, taking a left without a signal. It’s probably a habit as we are still Massholes at heart, but, honestly, there’s no one to alert of an impending turn.
Through my headphones, my rather eclectic music library—thrash/speed/stoner metal, rap, pop, Disney songs for the kids—is shuffling through an eerily appropriate soundtrack considering it’s randomized. Every song takes on a new, COVID-19 meaning. This morning, I hear Megadeth’s “The Threat Is Real” (accurate!) followed by 2Chainz “NCAA” (canceled!), then “In Summer” from the “Frozen” soundtrack (Olaf, will it be gone by then?), Gesaffelstein’s “Humanity Gone” (too soon!) and Lamb of God’s “Culling” (yikes!).
I get to my destination and Lexington Center is empty (you called it, Gesaffelstein!). I pedal past the iconic Minuteman statue (I have renamed him “Master of None), the nearly finished visitor’s center that will likely have no visitors for a long time, the coffee shops I used to frequent and the library, which I love. A sign in front says, basically, everything is canceled.
Back home in time for breakfast, everyone is awake. My wife and I dive into our new routine—the morning meeting: coming up with the closest approximation of a plan that will combine some kind of educational content, outdoor time, rest, cultural enrichment and communication with friends via Skype, Facebook chat and other methods. And, of course, making sure we stay away from people. I’ll call my parents, now desperate for ideas about what show to watch next on Netflix, hop on my email and figure out what T-shirt to wear with my sweatpants.
This new normal seems awfully weird today. Looking out my “office” window in mid-morning, I see a half-dozen neighborhood kids running around a dead-end street. My children have already been told they can’t have playdates for a while, so they just glance over and turn away. They know it’s not worth asking.
On Friday night, we participated in a Shabbat candle-lighting via Zoom. I was surprised how moving it was, seeing dozens of my colleagues and others gathered at home during such strange times. Amid the craziness, it gave me quite a bit of hope that life will go on, this will pass and we might even be stronger for it. I’m looking forward to next Friday’s virtual gathering. Not only will it mark the quiet of Shabbat, but also that we will have completed our first week of God-knows-how-many before we can reconnect in person with friends, neighbors, co-workers and even our families.
For now, I’ll keep myself grounded with the one anchor to normalcy—taking the early morning bike ride. Until someone tells me I can’t, anyway.
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