Observations From Walks Around the Block

In early morning hours, when the sun first rises, the powerful scent of cinnamon rolls baking floats through the air, down the block, through the streets downtown and hovers for a couple of hours. People walking to work, running errands, or driving by with their windows down drool over the lingering, sweet aroma. The woman who bakes at her shop just 10 steps outside of my back door, with the “BUY A PIE” license plate, makes the best vanilla almond cake.

When I take Toby, my 15-year-old Westie, outside in the morning, I am often greeted by a man, who I assume is walking to work. Sometimes he will switch up his route, but often he passes by the open lot where Toby is doing his business. We’ve never spoken, just exchanged smiles and waves. Later in the morning, not so much now in the winter, but sometimes, there is another man. This one is always on a pre-work run—Again, another assumption. He typically gives me the peace sign or an exhausted, yet enthusiastic “hi!” We’ve even talked about Toby, the usual topic of conversation between myself and pedestrians.

It can be especially quiet around the courthouse in the evening, especially now since COVID-19 has plagued the world. In the early morning, it can be serene, too. But between 7 and 8 a.m., it can be busy—especially on a weekday morning. Lawyers and courthouse personnel heading into their respective workplaces, people quietly walking their dogs, and down the block, some even drop their mail before heading to drop their kids at school or to their own jobs.

On mornings between 7:30 and 8 a.m., this man in a large, black truck will stop at the corner of Livingston and State Streets to throw bread (sometimes pizza) to squirrels, birds, or both. It’s interesting to learn the routines of others. Things are the same, yet different, you know? Slight changes can make a difference. For example, I saw the bread man in the black truck arrive to the corner a little bit later than usual. It makes you wonder what caused the delay. Did he cook breakfast to enjoy that morning? Maybe he decided to take his own dog on a quick walk before heading to feed the animals.

There’s an old barbershop on Washington Street—One room, very old school. There is even the spinning red, white, and blue cylinder, a barber’s pole, outside of the shop. When it spins, he is open for business. The lone barber, whose shop is named after him, has to have been practicing his craft for decades. That’s one guy I’d like to chat with to hear his stories and just talk about running a business for half a century. His clientele has likely been the same for decades, too. Cutting the same man’s hair for 30 years or so must make them some sort of friends, right?

Around the block is where two brothers have a barber shop—A shop for the younger crowd, it would seem. Modern and vibrant. They too have a barber’s pole, but with colors to fit their brand—yellow, white, and black. It has a more modern feel than the old man’s barbershop down the street. It looks like it’s pleasant, all the same, attracting men who are younger than the amount of time Mr. Old School Barber has been using clippers and cutting townspeople’s hair.

A man resembling John Lennon, long hair, circular glasses and all, walks around the town in his camel colored coat, with a fur collar—It is definitely something Urban Outfitters would rip off and sell for $250. I’ve never spoken to him, but he’s always around, with a small coffee from McDonald’s or sitting on the steps of Casey’s. We’ve seen him dozens and dozens of times over the past nearly-year of living here. Nary a word has been spoken between us.

Walking Toby is pricey, and the currency is social interaction. I have people drive past me who stop and ask about him. Some passersby stop to pet him, ask what his breed is, or just simply tell me how adorable he is. Typically, when I tell people he’s 15, there’s a sense of shock. “Wow, no kidding!” or “I thought he was so much younger,” are both classic responses.

There is one couple, the Bakers, whom I’ve come to befriend, and they drive the same route each evening at the same time with their own little pup, Abby. I can’t recall the breed, but she’s black and white, sort of like a schnauzer but also maybe a spaniel? She’s cute, that’s all I know. I chat with the Bakers almost every time they drive past and I am outside with Toby. They’re in their 80s, but don’t look it at all. They have given me recommendations on vets to go to, chat about a former dog they had also named Toby, and they are just pleasant people. The Bakers. If we have gone a week or so without seeing each other, the woman says she’s worried that something happened. They’re funny.

It’s nice to make these small, but detailed observations around you. To be present and aware of the simple joys brings meaning to life and where you live—from the sweet smell of cinnamon rolls baking, to good conversation with friends like the Bakers. You may not notice all of these things, but for some reason I do. I soak them in and savor them… All from my walks around the block.

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