A COVID Dispatch from a Lost Suburban Paradise

Photo by Tom Rumble | Unsplash
Photo by Tom Rumble | Unsplash

Finally, it’s a quiet day in my anonymous neighborhood, somewhere two hours far away from NYC. My dogs aren’t howling every 10 minutes at strange creatures walking by my house. The silence is sweet.


Last week was different. Eerie multitudes of displaced New Yorkers were streaming past here like kids obediently forming a line at school, but with masks on. Since the pandemic started, these city-dwellers have escaped the concrete jungle and flooded suburbs across the country. As The New York Times reported, there was a 44 percent increase in home sales for the suburban counties surrounding the Big Apple in July alone. One house listing had 97 viewings and 24 offers.


The realtors in my part of the world are smiling as well. There is presently zero housing stock to sell or rent in assorted posh enclaves  – like Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Bedford, NY, and parts of the Berkshires. Plus, it’s a great time to put your house on the market if you have a few to spare. The market hasn’t been this good in 10 years. But if you only have one place to live, stay put because another home will be hard to find.


Some renters have taken this very much to heart and take advantage of New York State law. There are stories of rental houses being trashed with tenants squatting, refusing to leave or pay their rent. Some owners who rented out for the summer cannot return to homes they counted on for the rest of the year. Their accustomed way of life has been upended because Governor Cuomo has put a longstanding moratorium on eviction proceedings until December 31 – a state mess.


Friends in my town have houses filled with many family members. Lasagna noodles have been sold out for weeks because whole tribes of kids have settled in and are working remotely… and they must eat. Grandkids from the City are going to public schools, which are crowded now that the population has swelled. Babysitters are in high demand. Local high school students are getting those new gigs, lining their pockets with fresh cash, and spending like never before. All of them are helping our modest local economy.


Shopping, in our semi-quarantine world, has become a frenetic pastime. This is a good thing for our businesses, but for people who want to ‘get far away from crowds,’ isolation doesn’t pertain to sale racks. Distancing is not observed – especially if there are bargain sweatpants or paper towels to buy. When six feet is requested, there are frequent snarls, except that is, from very understanding senior citizens.


Here in suburbia, it’s easy to parse out who the City folks are. They won’t say “Hi” as they walk by invisible me. A native New Yorker, I spot this discourteous defense mechanism. They look straight ahead, don’t stare, walk nonchalantly – not too slow or too fast. In Manhattan, this urban tactic is a ‘healthy paranoia that can save your life.’ Here, it’s just plain rude.


Personally, the level of paranoia in my bucolic backyard has been annoying and ridiculous. I begin chirping “Hello” aggressively even though I know they can’t hear me as they power walk past me, phones pressed against their ears. So, why bother trying to message them? “Hey, you,” says my thought balloon, “this germ-free haven is scenic heaven. Look around. Breathe the air…or don’t.”


My twin Mini Dachshunds usually stop traffic because they’re so cute. Not so recently. The alien pedestrians sort of scorn them. Except for one: My tiny wiener dog Olivia (or ‘Livvie’) was saved by a renter. She got out of the house one night when it was pitch dark, went under the fence, and sat herself down in the middle of our road. A young lady from the Big Apple found Livvie – all nine pounds of her – and saved her life from oncoming traffic. God save the visitor! There are some good ones!


I’m glad our hero arrived in her used car before America’s auto inventory dried up. A New York City Toyota dealer told me last month that used cars are now a precious commodity since assembly lines stopped this past winter. Anecdotally, too, people don’t want to take public transportation, so they buy extra cars. In our local equation, that means bumper to bumper traffic all hours of the day and night. Be careful of oncoming traffic when you try to pass bicyclists riding four abreast, slowly.


I am trying to be more empathetic to the city dwellers after my pup was saved. I no longer demand verbal interchange from any biking, driving, shopping, or walking out-of-towners. My cruel provincial neighbors dub them Citidiots. But I disagree, and so will never again freak out each time a New Jersey or Florida plated Bentley, Tesla, or Hummer SUV jumps a stop sign.


Instead, I will slow down differentially as one did for my pup and me.


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