Twenty-five years ago, on a very tight budget, we brought the kids to the Shawangunk Mountains to climb and romp. The bargain motel we stayed in would have been a great setting for a creepy out-in-the-woods-type horror movie, as it came supplied with badly fitted doors which creaked when the wind blew and when it didn’t, mystery stains on the bedspread and non-familial hair in the tub.
On Saturday morning I was up somewhat before nine, before the rest of the family, and went out for a walk in the cute little college town of New Paltz, a few miles east of Shawangunk Ridge. It was a beautiful, clear morning; I could see the soul-stirring cliffs of Minnewaska State Park rising in the distance above the town.
A man on the street waved and called out, “Good morning.”
And so I scurried as fast as I discreetly could, glancing back over my shoulder all the while, back to the safety of Motel 87 and its complimentary “coffee,” though calling it such was pretty insulting to actual coffee. I was terrified.
Because where we had been living for 30 years, when you are addressed by a friendly stranger it is usually wisest to run the other way very fast.
They can seem perfectly normal, even attractive: nicely dressed women who speak to you on the bus to admire your adorable child and then veer off into weird hypotheses. A clearly middle-aged woman claiming ”people think I’m very young because of my” pointing to it “tiny baby nose.”
Or “Don’t you push your baby too hard in school, my nephew did that.” Here, an accompanying friend would nod wisely. “We didn’t know so much then and his little girl came down with a brain tumor.”
Or “The moon and the sun are both out at the same time! That’s never been seen before a Black man became president.”
Thus driving me to get off those buses early though it meant dragging, pushing, ultimately carrying, one or more children one or two crowded sidewalk Brooklyn miles.
And on the other side are the men who cannot stop explaining without being in any way asked to. Men who, unsolicited, stop on the street to offer me directions in my own neighborhood. Men who, after banging into me on the escalator they are galumphing down, pause at the bottom, despite their great hurry, to urge me ”don’t be mad, it’s Monday!” That particular gentleman inspired me to, for the first time in my life out loud and in public, shout the F phrase at someone.
At my age, it’s been quite a while since anyone has tried to pick me up, except one morning I was in such a hurry I went to the grocery store without even brushing my teeth and that suddenly seemed to make me approachable in a slatternly way. Three different guys tried to chat up my disheveled self.
None of that happens here.
It has taken me some time to realize that here, at the edge of the Delaware River, people smile and wave all the time, just to be friendly. It is hard to just pop in and out of any store quickly because you are likely to get into a long and important conversation with a cashier, or another customer, or the Peck’s deli worker who explains the correct ratio of meat to cheese—she was quite right, of course. Which maybe you can’t remember afterwards, except to have a warm feeling about. When someone sees you on the side of the road, they will offer you a ride, just to be nice. People will stop to check that you are all right if they see your car pulled off the road, when you have just stopped to admire the view.
Thank you all for making my heart happy.
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