Long Walks On Leafy Streets

1/3/2021 Miramar, San Juan, Puerto Rico    
Dawn of a New Year

It is a cloudy day here in Washington, DC. I just came back from a 10 mile run, from my home to Dupont Circle and back. Even though it remained cloudy throughout, there was only a gentle drizzle and that too at the very end of the run. The temperature was around 40 with a bit of a breeze. Fortunately, traffic was very light and I could run more or less free without looking over my shoulder all the time. I have always run on the road, and not on the sidewalk, even before the pandemic. I try to run where there are very few cars. Now that the virus is everywhere, it has become even more important to avoid getting close to pedestrians by not running on sidewalks. I do not wear a mask while running. It is hard enough for me to wear it while shopping. So I try to stay as far away from people as possible.
Today there were fewer pedestrians, even near the busy Dupont Circle area. There were a few people eating inside the makeshift tents that have been put on some of the roads to provide extra seating for restaurants. Luckily no one was sitting by the tables without tents that had been put on 11th street in Columbia Heights and 19th street in Dupont. Nicole was saying that the fact that people were eating outside in this cold weather shows how much they wanted to get out. Maybe the combination of rain and the cold weather kept them away from those tables this morning. In previous weeks I have had to dodge them by running pretty much in the middle of the road.

It has been over four months since I last posted on these pages, and another year has dawned, hopefully better than the previous one. I had been completely preoccupied by teaching during the fall semester. It was the first time that I had taught completely online. Last spring when the lockdown started we had already finished teaching in person for about three months. This time I had no in person meetings with the students at all. It was a bit strange and made me realize how much I miss the face to face interaction. I spent a lot of time preparing the slide presentations, making polls to test understanding during lectures, and conducting problem sessions. Finally, in lieu of tests I gave individual oral quizzes on FaceTime to all the students every week. The quizzes were the most time consuming of all but also the most rewarding because that is where I really got to get to know the students and understand how well they were learning the material. I probably might need to find a less time-consuming way to administer them during the spring semester.

All of this plus taking care of Prashant at home made it a very tight schedule during the week. Both Nicole and I were working from home while Prashant was attending school from home. In addition, we had my parents staying with us for three months during the fall. I would start the day with a bit of yoga and meditation or running, cook lunch for everyone, and have a bit of time preparing for classes before it was recess for Prashant. Nicole would use that time to get herself ready for the day while I took Prashant out for a little walk around the block or played with him. The highlights of the walk for him were seeing birds, especially raptors, and the cats and dogs of the neighborhood. He really enjoyed seeing the two big dogs (rottweilers? Bulldogs?) that live in the house around the corner. Every time we passed by they would get excited and run around barking. I am pretty sure they know him by now and enjoy seeing him.

After that Prashant would go back to his classes and I would do my first class of the day. Including the problem session it took me about two hours. His classes would end about the same time as my first one ended and sometimes he would make a little cameo in my problem session. My students got used to seeing or hearing him at that time and even looked forward to it. After that I had about two hours to eat, feed Prashant and get ready for the next class.He has gotten to the point where he can mute and unmute himself, so Nicole did not need to watch him the whole time and could get a little bit of work done. After his classes ended she had some time to eat lunch and attend to her work, before my next class started. We were mostly able to manage but on the rare occasion Nicole had an unavoidable call or video conference I would have to teach or talk to my students while also watching Prashant. By the time I really got finished with my teaching related work it was usually around six or seven and then all I had time to do was to help with getting Prashant ready for bed and other chores. If there was any bit of time left it was usually spent preparing for the classes for next day.

So between teaching and taking care of Prashant and my parents, I had very little time for other things. The only thing I made sure to do regularly was running thrice a week, and sometimes even that had to be squeezed tight between other activities. Running really helped me to stay mentally and physically fit during this difficult time. It was also the only time when I could get out, enjoy the fresh air, and have some time for myself. During the week my runs were short, about an hour or less, and close to our home. On Sundays I did my 10 to 16 mile runs and every week I would run in a different direction. Sometimes I ran through Silver Spring and Takoma Park, other times I would run downtown like I did today. I stopped running on the trails because there were too many people and I did not want to run with a mask.

One week after the election was over I was in the mall and there were many fans of the current President walking around the mall. The election and the months leading to it were a stressful affair. I was really upset by all the things that had been going on, especially with regard to the environment, social justice, and economic inequality. I had been doing door to door canvassing in pretty much every election since 2004. In 2018 and 2016 for example, I would go door to door canvassing on a Saturday and then do my long runs on Sunday. I was even more determined to volunteer this year, even though time was at a premium. This time (2020) the marathon was canceled. As a result, I was not running as many miles as previous years, but door to door canvassing was also canceled. So I did some phone banking and a lot of donating. The actions helped me to feel a bit better.

The day of the election I did not even read news or watch TV because I knew it would be a few days before the results came out and I wanted to focus on my work. I think it was Thursday afternoon when my nephew Pranav texted me asking what I thought of Democratic chances were, in the Georgia senate runoff elections. It was a big shock because I was sure the Democrats would win at least one of Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina. Then I started looking at the various results. Although I was expecting a large turnout for the President I was hoping that Democrats would at least win control of the senate because otherwise nothing might get done. Nevertheless I was happy when Biden was finally announced the winner. Since then I have done a bit of phone banking for Georgia. For the sake of all humanity, I am hoping Democrats would win both seats there.

This particular Sunday the weather was perfect. I had finished the run and was enjoying some drinks and snacks from a nearby Starbucks to refuel myself. Even though it was November the temperature was in the low sixties, bright and sunny. There were people walking, running, playing and picnicking on the wide expanse of the mall, keeping a good distance from each other. There was a big stage in the middle with a banner saying "Moms for America" on which preachers seemed to be talking about winning the election for the President. There must have been not more than fifty people in the audience, vastly outnumbered by the joggers and picnickers and the rest. There was a big bus with the name of the President emblazoned prominently on one side honking loudly as it made its way down Constitution avenue. The small groups of supporters walking around looked like they were enjoying themselves. It made me feel a little bit better knowing that people everywhere want the same things, and most of them are just following along with what the leaders in their community are doing. I had the urge to talk to them for a moment but on second thoughts just kept walking. I am glad I did. I think arguing about politics doesn't do any good, especially when people are deeply entrenched in their beliefs. If ever I do get the chance, I would probably just talk to them about family or sports.

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