Sidewalk dining is making it hard to be a pedestrian
“Yours, Mine and Ours” is a movie (1968) staring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda and a movie (2005) starring Rene Russo and Dennis Quaid. And it’s a snapshot (2020) of Germantown Avenue starring McNally’s, Cosimo’s, Chestnut Hill Coffee, Campbell’s, Iron Hill and the Chestnut Hill Hotel (along with a cast of walkers)…all a blended family by marriage or circumstance. Minus the movie reference, this letter is about simply how we share common, public space under our current circumstance.
Current circumstance: COVID 19, wear a mask or not, understanding that the rule is we must wear inside or when distance does not allow outside. The sidewalks in Chestnut Hill vary in width. This causes an interesting and generally entertaining dance. You move to the left; I move to the right. O,ften the dance moves to the street, which was cool until traffic came back. It’s an interesting way to interact with folks, especially after the first meeting.
I find that the majority of walkers, runners and strollers (w/children) do not wear masks outside. The issue can be there if there is not sufficient room to socially distance. In most cases, there is sufficient room. When it’s not, we always have the street, right? Unfortunately, not now as street parking is back.
In many areas of Chestnut Hill, we happily encounter sidewalk dining — a reminder of our previous life. Those businesses that previously have had outdoor seating generally have simply resumed their previous service. Others new to the sidewalk scene can accommodate walkers due to the width of their sidewalk. Those in more restricted areas (due to sidewalk width) have traditionally placed small tables against their storefront. In most cases, we at least have the illusion of 6′ social distancing.
However, when I look down the street and see a gathering of people with no clear path, what am I and fellow pedestrians to do? I’d walk in the street, but now there is traffic. The gathering is simply due to a double row of tables (one against the storefront, one along the street) along with A-frame signs, servers, hosts and drop ins in an area maybe 10′ wide. I did not intend to be a part of your business. Where should I walk?
To be clear, I didn’t measure…I couldn’t as there was no room. And again, I just want the illusion of safety. All I am asking is for you to lose the second row of tables where (at best) there is only room for one.
Looting: like a pressure cooker
Today I have been thinking about something I wrote in my book, “The Paulk Perspective.” It is a chapter about the Kerner Report from the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder. It was given to President Lyndon B. Johnson, as an explanation for the riots and rage of the 1960s.
There are obvious similarities to those riots and the ones we’ve recently experienced. Angry people took to the streets. Some looted, burned, destroyed, vandalized and terrorized the very neighborhoods in which they lived. People were hurt. People were scared. People were furious. And with good reason.
When I was little, my mom used a pressure cooker. It was made so the lid would clamp on tightly, keeping the boiling water inside. The hot steam would rise, but the hot water remained inside, where it belonged, until dinner was ready to eat. I sometimes think about what happens when the lid is not secure. The steam gets too intense, and the lid blows off.
Anyone standing anywhere near that pot is going to get splattered with hot boiling water. It will not stop to assess if you are good or bad, friend or foe, family or stranger. If you are in the area, you will get scorched. That’s what happens when a riot breaks out. It happened in the 1960s, and it happened in 2020.
The Kerner report stated this: “Certain fundamental matters are clear. Of these, the most fundamental is the racial attitude and behavior of white Americans toward black Americans. Race prejudice has shaped our history decisively; it now threatens to affect our future. White racism is essentially responsible for the explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of WWII.”
Would to God we had listened and responded accordingly because the future of the 1960s is now. Would to God we would listen now to the words of Robin D’Angelo, author of “White Fragility”:
“In my workshops, I often ask people of color, ‘How often have you given white people feedback on our unaware yet inevitable racism? How often has that gone well for you?’ Eye rolling, head shaking, and outright laughter follow, along with the consensus of ‘rarely, if ever.’ I then ask, ‘What would it be like if you could simply give us feedback, have us graciously receive it, reflect and work to change the behavior?’ Recently, a man of color sighed and said, ‘It would be revolutionary.’ I ask my fellow whites to consider the profundity of that response. It would be revolutionary if we could receive reflect, and work to change the behavior.”
Maybe if we had received, reflected and worked to change our behavior in the 1960s after we read the Kerner Report, today would be a much brighter day.