Sunday, April 26, 2020

Immersed in Suburbia (Birthday Drive By Edition)

It still surprises me how quickly behavior catches on. Birthday parties come to a halt because of Coronavirus, but birthday celebrations get reinvented. I'm seeing a lot of caravans through neighborhoods with honking, signs, balloons, and hollering. It's a creative way to say Happy Birthday. I've participated in two of these so far. It's both nice and sad to me. Nice because you want a kid to have some feeling of a happy birthday, and sad because you know the kid would rather have a party and that a regular party with friends and family would be a thousand times more fun. But at least the kid gets to see friends and loved ones drive past their house with a show of love and support.

This birthday drive through phenomenon strikes me as hard to accomplish in a city. It's been years since I've lived in a city, but I imagine it's hard to pull off in a place with a lot of traffic, and without subdivisions. Here in suburbia it's easy to execute where car culture is king and big parking lots rule. You all gather in a parking lot until someone leads the way past the person's house to beep and yell out the window. It's been interesting to observe social interaction during the time that cars gather and wait for the procession to begin. A lot of people stay in their cars, windows up. Others are out in front of their cars chatting with other people. Sometimes it's with 6 feet distance, other times it appears to be fake social distancing where people aren't super close to each other but are clearly less than 6 feet apart. It sort of acknowledges the new norm of social distancing, yet skirts around the edges of it. It's a workaround.

Understandably, people are impatient and aren't enthusiastic about hunkering down. People want to talk and schmooze and laugh and be together. And if you've got a kid with a birthday you might like to get rowdy with your people for 30 minutes. When I'm driving around running errands, it's common now to see these caravans in progress. It's pretty easy to tell who the hosts are and you can see them wearing masks, being somewhat careful. On the other hand you can see people in close proximity to each other. In a way, it reminds me of a cheat day for someone who's dieting. "I've been watching what I eat most of the time, but on Sunday I'm going to have a sundae. That's my cheat day!" But there's a major difference. What you choose to eat can be a private issue, but when you take a day off from social distancing it becomes a public health matter.

People are craving social interaction. It's why a lot of people are practicing selective social distancing. It's hard to be away from each other, and I'm afraid it's not going to get easier. 

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