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Saturday, November 16, 2019

THIS IS MY LIFE

Last Wednesday, Susie and I went to a potluck dinner organized for the folks in her morning exercise class.  When I was chatting with our hostess, I mentioned my experiences on my early morning walks and she suggested that I write a post for the retirement community's blog, which I did.  Since I have so often mentioned those walks, I thought I would take a break from my obsessive impeachment watching and post it.  Really serious people may wish to navigate to another blog for a day.  Here it is:


Carolina Meadows in the Morning

When I retired in 2008, after a half century of university teaching, Susie and I moved from Massachusetts to a condominium in Meadowmont Village.  Susie signed up with an exercise class at the Meadowmont Wellness Center and I began a regimen of year round early morning walks that took me first to the top of the hill at Country Club Road and later past the Findlay Golf Course to the Botanical Gardens.  In July 2017, we moved into Building 5 here at Carolina Meadows.  Susie transferred her allegiance to James’ 8:15 exercise class, and I cast about for a new walking route.  I tried walking past Farrington Mill Road to the very end of Whippoorwill Lane, but the early morning traffic got the better of me, and eventually I settled on a walk completely within Carolina Meadows.  Rather grandly, I claim it is three miles long, but honesty compels me to admit that it is actually 2.85 miles, as measured by the trip odometer in my car.  I start at the front door of Building 5, cross Appletree Lane and continue on Peartree Crescent.  Left on Magnolia, right on Hawthorne, and then the long slog past the South Entrance all the way to the circle at the end of Hawthorne.  Around the circle and back to Peartree, where I turn left, pass the tennis courts, walk along Maple Lane past the Club Center and Buildings 1, 2, and 3, then onto Oak Lane past the old 100 villas to the Fairways and the pond, left onto Appletree and the 200 villas, swinging around to the right on Appletree, past Elmwood, Mimosa, and the golf course, right around Building 6, and home again.

Since I walk early, always before seven, sometimes before six, and on a few occasions before five, I assumed my walk would be solitary, but very quickly I discovered a rather lively early morning world here at Carolina Meadows.  My purpose in writing this blog post is to let the slugabeds know what they are missing.  In order to introduce some order into these ramblings, I have organized my experiences into three categories:  Cars, Dogs, and People.

Cars

On my very first walk, I encountered those little white cars with the Carolina Meadows logos driven by security personnel.  They cruise slowly up and down our streets, available should there be an emergency.  I wave and they wave back.  The night shift seems to end at seven a.m., and if I happen to be on Hawthorne as that hour nears, several cars will pass heading for the little road that branches off from Hawthorne Circle and loops around to the gated Operations and Maintenance parking area.  One of the duties of the night shift is to unlock and open the gate that closes off the South Entrance at night.  The gate is opened at 5 a.m. and on the rare occasions when I have walked so early that I actually see the gate still closed, I feel a little secret pride that I am out so early.  Somewhat later, the white CM pickup truck will drive by, stopping in front of villas to collect the bags of garbage left at the curb.  On Hawthorne, the stops are so frequent that I can actually keep pace with the truck.

My favorite early morning car is the black Nissan sedan delivering the Raleigh News & Observer and the NY TIMES.  In the buildings, our papers are delivered grandly to our front doors, but the poor villa residents must walk out to their driveways to retrieve them.  There seem to be two paper deliverers – a woman named Tiffany, and a man whom I have seen but do not know.  As the Nissan cruises slowly along a street, a paper, sometimes two, will fly out the window onto the driveway.  When the man is delivering, he opens the sunroof of the car and papers soar out of the top of the car, landing expertly on just the right driveway.  It is all rather theatric.  My walk usually occurs during the deliveries, and quite often our TIMES has not yet arrived when I leave for my walk but is lying on the doormat when I return.

I cannot end my remarks about early morning cars without saying a word about the long flatbed trucks with the green Ruppert logos that rumble out of the Operations and Maintenance parking area and deliver power mowers or large rolls of sod wherever they are needed on the Carolina Meadows campus.  CM obviously has a regular contract with Ruppert, and it must be a whopper, because those trucks are a regular fixture on the campus.  I tend to take for granted the enormous effort that is required simply to maintain our little community, my mind typically occupied with more elevated things, such as [to take an old example from my youth] whether to let Red China into the UN.  I am glad someone is taking care of things.

Dogs

The first dog I met on my early morning walks was Phoebe, a large, aging, shaggy, caramel colored rescue dog who lives in one of the 300 villas on the old section of Hawthorne.  Phoebe’s mistress, Anne, walks her at roughly the same time that I am out, and I frequently meet them either on Hawthorne itself or on Magnolia or Peartree.  Phoebe is terribly afraid of strangers and still, after all this time, will not let me touch her.  But she knows who I am, and if she sees me coming up behind her and Anne, she will set her feet and not move until I have caught up with her and said hello.  Anne takes Phoebe on a long walk every morning, and on occasion I have seen them in front of The Fairways or on the golf course next to Appletree.  Anne is the wife of a retired UNC professor, and expresses interest in my weekly trips each fall to New York City to teach a course at Columbia University.  I like to think that Anne and I have become friends, even though I am not sure she knows my name.

Pearl is as eager to be petted as Phoebe is shy.  Pearl is long, low, shaggy, and all black save for a white head.  She is walked each morning by Dedra Stockton, the pet sitter who looks after our cat when we go to Paris.  Pearl will all but roll over when I see her, waiting to be petted and scratched.  Dedra also walks a pair of matched dachshunds named, I believe, Hansel and Gretel.

The dog with whom I have most intimately bonded is Bandit, an energetic little pug-nosed fellow who lives in a 100 villa at the base of the hill that leads to the Fairways.  His master, Willie Thompson, first caught my attention because he walks each morning carrying a cup of coffee in one hand while he leads Bandit with the other.  Bandit loves to be scratched behind his ears, and tugs on his leash to get to me as soon as he spots me.  Willie graciously allows to be pulled over and, summer or winter, I give Bandit a scratch before we go our separate ways.

But the most concentrated assemblage of dogs is to be found on Appletree on the down slope leading to the sharp turn that takes you past the croquet court to the pond.  Four or five dogs live in that stretch of 200 villas, and their mistresses meet each morning to greet one another while the dogs sniff one another curiously.  I am sure many CM residents have noticed the striking white Standard Poodle, elegantly clipped, who has only three legs.  Susie and I first met this dog in front of the Club Center shortly after it was adopted.  Poodles, of course, have an elevated opinion of themselves, and this one does not socialize with the common run of Appletree dogs.

I have recently made the acquaintance of Luke, a middle sized shorthaired dog who lives on Appletree, but even though I have said hello to him several times, he has not yet acknowledged my existence.

People

There is a small but hardy band of regulars who walk early in the morning, and as the days pass, we get to recognize and acknowledge one another.  Since my walk takes me virtually to every part of Carolina Meadows, sooner or later I meet them all.  Many are, like me, old guys who walk slowly, some on Hawthorne or Magnolia, fewer on Appletree or Maple or Oak.  Since I wear a bright yellow reflector vest, a holdover from my walks on Findley Golf Course Road, I am easily recognizable [and I hope equally easily visible to drivers coming and going in Carolina Meadows.]

One of my favorite early morning people is a slender, always elegantly dressed woman who, when it is cold, wears a form fitting brilliantly red coat and a natty fedora.  She walks faster than I do, but she is slowed down by a fascinating practice she has adopted.  She knows a number of people in the villas, and when she comes to the villa of an acquaintance, she stops to pick up the paper tossed at the end of the driveway from the black Nissan and walk it up to the front door.  Judging from where I have seen her, she must know people all over CM.  We say hello to one another whenever we pass, but, I am sad to say, she disapproves of me.  The reason is simple.  I sometimes walk on the same side of the road as the traffic, which thus comes up behind me.  The first time she saw me doing this, on Appletree as I neared the end of my walk, she chastised me gently, but unrepentant I continued my dangerous ways, and I think by now she has written me off as destined for a bad end.  She seems to know a number of the Appletree dog walkers and quite often as I make the turn and begin up the hill, I see her deep in conversation with two or three of them.

But quite the strangest of the early walkers, or so it seemed to me at first, is a tall gentleman who lives on Peartree just about where it is met by Magnolia.  A little back story is called for here by way of clarification.  In 1964, shortly after I joined the Columbia University Philosophy Department as a senior professor, I was walking up Broadway from 115th to 116th street with my new colleague, the unforgettable Sidney Morgenbesser.  As we approached 116th, I saw a man in a phone booth taking agitatedly into the handset, which was totally unconnected to the rest of the phone!  When I pointed this out rather worriedly to Sidney, he said casually, as though it was no big deal, “Oh, that’s a shouter.”  Apparently in Manhattan there were well-delimited subcategories of nutcases.

Well, I saw this Peartree resident repeatedly, at six a.m. or so, seemingly talking to himself.  Was this a CM shouter?  Of course not.  In the intervening fifty-five years, there had been several revolutions in technology.  This man had those ear buds with dangling wires that indicated he was talking on a cellphone.  But at six a.m.?  Was he a still active stock trader talking to a broker in Europe, where the market was already open?  Was he dictating instructions to some poor secretary who had dragged himself out of a warm bed to take a letter from the boss?

After a while, I began to conjure touching just so stories.  His wife had passed away and he was talking to nobody at all, lonely and forlorn.  His wife was in The Pines and he spent a little time with her each morning during his walk.  By now we were on an early morning nodding relationship.  He certainly did not seem forlorn.  And he certainly was not nuts.  What was up?

And then I actually met him and discovered that the real story was better than my unfettered imaginings.  It seems he and his wife are both retired physicians.  When he was a young man, he and his closest friend were running buddies.  They live now in different states, and although he no longer runs, his friend does.  Each morning, as his friend runs, they talk, thanks to the miracle of IPhones!  Indeed, one day, on Appletree, I actually met the friend, who was in town for a visit.

We are a hardy band of men, women, and dogs, we early morning walkers.  I count them all as friends, even Phoebe who still will not let me pet her, and the Lady in Red, who disapproves of me.

This is my version of Carolina Meadows in the Morning.


7 comments:

TheDudeDiogenes said...

You are a wonderful storyteller, Prof. Thanks for sharing this!

Dean said...

A lovely depiction of local color!

Peter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

It's a nice story. The use of devices to allow people to speak into their phones w/o holding the phone to their face first started becoming common in the US during the time I lived in Russia. They caught on in Russia only a few years later, so, when I went back to the US, it was a bit of a shock to me at first. When I had left, when you saw someone walking down the street seemingly having a conversation with no one, you could be fairly sure that the person was crazy, and move carefully to avoid them. But now, you could no longer be sure - in fact, it was more likely that the person was just talking on their phone.

I liked the dog bit, too. I walk quite a lot, and when I see dogs, I often want to stop and give them a pet. I do worry that this annoys their humans, though. Some people seem happy to have the dog stop and get a pet, while others are not so eager. So, I try not to impose, even though, left to my own devices, I'd pet every dog I meet. (Fun linguistic fact - in Australia, you don't "pet" animals, but "pat" them. When the people at the cattery, where I'd leave my cat when I went out of town, would tell me that they were giving him many pats, I was a bit worried, as I didn't think he'd like being patted that much. But when I found out this was just Australian for pet, it was fine, as he does like to be petted, and that's what people mean. They are not, in fact, patting the animals in the way that an American would understand the term.)

David Palmeter said...

That's a great piece. I envy your writing skills and your walking ability. I used to be a hiker, then an urban walker. But for the past couple of years, I've been unable to walk more than a couple of blocks without back pain causing me to look for a place to sit down. Now I'm confined to an exercise bike in the basement. It's incredibly boring. Old age, as they say, ain't for sissies.

David Auerbach said...

As an owner of working dogs (but this applies generally): you should NEVER pet a another person's dog with first asking (and getting) permission. AND, if the answer is no, take it in good grace. There are many reasons for refusing permission; there is some discussion in dog training circles as what the shortest effective "go away" message can be: "sorry, my dog has mange"; sorry, my is vicious; sorry, my is shy; "no", etc.

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