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Updated: Aug 21, 2020

June 30, 2020

It looks like the only thing that will be mobile this summer is our neighborhood pizza van.

Tonight our lovely neighbor, Liz, invited everyone on our street to a mobile pizza event. Inspired idea! She booked the pizza van, and sent around a text instructing everyone to place our orders in advance. Stephanie and I didn’t quite understand what it was all about, but we knew it was something new to do, and involved pizza, and people. That was enough.

Probably 25 neighbors turned out, all in masks (except when we were eating). Some pulled dogs on leashes or pushed strollers. Everyone waved to everyone else. I waved to people I’d never met. Some I recognized, but hadn’t seen since we stood bundled up along the street for the funeral of our elderly neighbor in the first week of April.

Tonight we all wore shorts, tank tops, flip flops: passage of time, marked.

The Little Pizza Heaven Mobile Pizzeria launched in March, just as we were all locking down. Its business model is ideal for the times: pizzas are prepared right in the cheery red-and-white van, which parks in front of your house mid-afternoon, by no more than two people. Ordering is done ahead of time, online or by phone. Cash or Venmo payments only. The mask-wearing young server, Eli, efficiently handed out hot pies on schedule, starting at 5 p.m.

That was the cue for neighbors to gather around and eat standing up, like kids around a Good Humor truck. A few set up little dining circles on front lawns, with the chairs spaced well apart.

Eli, our server

Steph and I were enthusiastic attendees. We joined our next-door neighbors, Emily and Christian, on our driveway and had a chance to catch up while we ate. Christian recently recovered from what we all thought had to be corona (confirmed now, following an antibody test). He told us what being sick was like (three days of a racing heartbeat, and shortness of breath that didn’t feel like the asthma he’s had all his life, “more like my lungs were shrinking”).

We’ve all heard such descriptions these past few months, online and on TV, but it’s different hearing them from the person who lives next door.

Of course, we live in the second hardest-hit state. It was everywhere this spring … But to think it was right next door.

Emily, his wife, used to update us during the two weeks she was caring for him. I was always keeping an eye out for her when I went outside. We’d talk over the fence separating our back yards. This was during the raw part of spring — I remember having to run in for a coat after just a few minutes’ conversation.

I kept thinking of things I wanted to do for them, which was hard. I couldn’t even go to their door and ask how things were. I wished I could make soup for them, run errands, anything. I prayed that Christian would get well, and that Emily didn’t catch it. (She didn’t — or if she did, was one of the fortunate asymptomatics.)

Last night those conversations, and the ones we had in our house, worrying about Christian and Emily, about the COVID patients in the hospital a few blocks away, seemed like they’d taken place in another life. The arrival of summer felt like the spin of a bingo wheel — a new number! Another chance to win!

Today is already the last day of June. This is my favorite time of year, the days so long, the whole sky shining with sun. It was easier to believe in the pandemic in the cold rain of early spring, when the tree branches were bare and night came so much earlier.

Tonight’s exotic pizza special, figs with buffalo chicken and provolone, is delightful. Emily and Christian ordered the mushroom marinara and pronounced it great. We sat eating, drinking beer and soda, and laughing. The long, bright rays of sun made us squint.

In the back of my mind was a phrase my father used to use, when I was young and restless and always traveling. I’d say, I don’t know if I’d like that place, or if I’d like that other place better. Back then my goal was to keep moving, see everything, try everything. He’d say, “Grow where you’re planted.” While gardening this spring, I kept thinking, we’re bulbs now, jammed in the earth. I’d meant to be a seed, cast out, seeking the spot in the best sun.

By now I’ve been everywhere I dreamed of going when I was younger. I love where I live, which is a blessing. Especially now.

But of course there are the days I feel like if I can’t go somewhere — anywhere, really — I will burst apart.

Tonight was easy, thanks to nice neighbors and pizza. After we’d eaten, a breeze kicked up and the sky rolled with dark clouds, even as the sun hung around, golden and lazy. Our talk was of mostly commonplace things (gardening, kids’ nap schedules). Nobody wanted to talk about corona.

But it’s so much with us.

“I felt like if my heart had been even a year or two older, I probably wouldn’t have made it,” Christian confided. Because there’s no getting away from the virus; it’s why we were eating dinner in our driveway, wasn’t it?

Not with our numbers.

Right now the U.S., with about 4% of the world’s population, is reporting a full 25% of the corona cases across the globe. And most experts think that’s probably a low estimate. Our numbers are based on the cases we know we have. They don’t include the many people who are infected but have mild or no symptoms, or those who don’t get tested, or those who infect others without ever realizing they’re part of the contagion cycle.

Although virtually every scientific authority in the world agrees the U.S. still hasn’t reached the kind of testing capacity we need, we have a President who believes the opposite, that we’re testing too much. It seems he understands that testing doesn’t actually result in new cases, but he also seems to regard the having and the knowing as equally bad. Recently he tweeted, “With smaller testing we would show fewer cases!

With all of that happening, we also have a virus that keeps showing us new facets, and which is also now reported to be mutating.

We aren’t even close to understanding this virus, much less “getting ahead of it,” as the White House keeps boasting.

So we’ll spend our summer as we spent the late winter and all of the spring: in our houses, working online, seeing only the people in our own households or our “quarantine pods.”

The lucky among us will figure out how to take a summer road trip that doesn’t involve a ludicrous level of risk, one that manages to be fun even though so many places are closed and the mood of the country is so low.

Even if there’s no road trip this summer, those lucky people will get to enjoy the sun on a deck or porch or balcony where they live.

Some people will be able to choose when to go back to work, assuming they still have a job, and their employers will be reasonable and compassionate, giving their staffers time to acclimate to the “new normal” and helping them stay safe on the job.

But a lot of us won’t be that lucky. Many will have to spend most of our days inside stuffy apartments, or maybe we’ll be among those forced back to work. We’ll sweat behind our masks all day, eat lunch in our cars, or walk long distances in the heat rather than risk public transit.

There’s no denying that, hard as life was in March, April and May, it may soon get harder. It may already be harder now. Many of us who enjoyed peaceful family interactions four months ago are now raw from round-the-clock, week-after-week contact. Money is a nagging worry, at best, a nighttime terror at worst. The political situation in Washington is still antagonistic, opportunistic, chaotic. We have no idea what may happen in the coming fight for the White House, only that campaign season is here and it may well be more ruthless than any in recent memory — or ever.

So yes there’s all that, while the fear of getting sick, of suffering, of dying, is still very much with us — even here in our area, where the numbers have been steadily falling.

Tonight Steph and I gamely lift our pizza slices to salute Liz, the party organizer, and our other neighbors. Coming soon, a front-lawn party on one side of our street, giving each other enough room to socially distance but not so much we can’t get to know each other better.

This street is what we’ll have this summer, and probably into the fall and beyond. It’s not that other places and people are totally off limits, but what’s here is, well, right here. Where we still mostly are. All the time.

We’ll just have to grow where we’re planted.

A house in my neighborhood.

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