I usually hit the Bellingham boardwalk in the mornings for my walks – it’s quiet and empty then – the water is smooth and the reflections are great – and there are usually lots of birds near the shore before noon. But today I spent the morning doing tax stuff, so I didn’t get up to Bellingham until the afternoon. I noticed right away that the Bellingham boardwalk has a different vibe in the afternoons – busy and bustling and social. I found I enjoy the boardwalk THAT way, too.
The first people I encountered were a pair of women, sitting in folding chairs in a parking space in the lot across from where I parked. They were wearing masks and were at either end of the parking space – practicing safe pandemic restrictions – but they were obviously enjoying getting caught up with each other, and that made me smile. “I like what’s going on there,” I said, grinning behind my mask (I think a “smiley” voice sounds different than a straight-faced voice), “You’re making it work for you!” And they both started laughing and nodding their heads. I gave them a thumbs up, and they returned the gesture.
As I came to the crosswalk I noticed another woman waiting to cross the road there. “I’ll cross with you!” I said – hoping to cross at the same time so the cars wouldn’t have to wait for TWO different pedestrian forays across the road.
The other pedestrian laughed and said, “Let’s do it!” and then we both made an effort to get to the other side of the road in a timely fashion so the cars could go on about their business. We wished each other a good day as we reached the other side of the road and diverged onto our different journeys.
When I got down onto the boardwalk I noticed a family of four – parents and young children – trying to snap a photo of themselves and I volunteered to take a picture for them. The mom was really grateful – she said she’d been afraid to ask anybody to take their photo because of the pandemic – she didn’t want anyone to feel scared or worried – and I said it was no problem for me to take their picture. “One, two, three…” – they all smiled and I snapped.
There was a young man playing a guitar at Boulevard Park. He had an open case in front of him for donations. I looked in my wallet and found I didn’t have any small bills to put in his case, so I decided to get myself a mocha – knowing I’d get some cash back that I could give to the busker. I went up to order my mocha and the barista asked my name – which, until a year or so ago would not be a big deal, but I’m named “Karen” so… yeah. The barista was very nice about my name, though, and when she had to call my name out loud, I appreciated that the other customers were kind, too – they seemed to understand my embarrassment and let me know that they were on my side – complimenting my smiley mask, and laughing with me about the name-thing.
I gave money to the musician – he and his skate-boarding friend thanked me. And then I got back on the boardwalk and headed for my car.
By this time, the boardwalk was packed with people. I decided to take a side trail up to the top of a knoll, hoping I’d be able to get away from the crowd a little. I found a bench and plunked myself down on it and pulled down my mask to make a call to my favorite pizza place in Bellingham: Ovn Pizza. I was happy when Matt picked up the phone – I hadn’t heard his voice for months! Matt is the one who’d brought me such much-needed laughter last summer when I was struggling with the doings of 2020. Now I told Matt how happy I was to hear his voice again! I said, “This is Karen! Do you remember me?” He laughed and said, yes, of course he remembered me. I ordered my vegan pizzas and Matt said they’d be ready in 20 minutes or so.
As I was finishing my call to the pizza place another couple suddenly appeared on the knoll – and I quickly pulled up my mask. They seemed kind of surprised to find me on the knoll, too, and we all laughed a little nervously. I said, “We’re all trying to get away from the crowds down there, right?” And they both nodded their heads, looking relieved that I understood. Then the woman said she had to sit down for a moment because her sock had slipped down her foot and was bunched up at the bottom of her boot. “I hate when that happens,” I said, nodding in understanding. She laughed, took care of her sock, and then she and her partner said, “Have a good day!” and continued down the trail.
I continued on my journey and stopped to pick up the pizza I’d ordered from Matt. He came out – smiling behind his mask – and asked me how I was doing. We chatted for a bit – like old friends – and then he brought out the pizza (WITH habanero salt!) and I brought it back to my car.
By this time my husband had texted me to ask me to pick up some items at the grocery store. When I pulled into the grocery parking lot I saw a man sitting on the corner with a sign asking for help. I asked him if he’d like a piece of pizza and he said yeah, that would be nice – so I pulled off a piece of pizza and handed it to him. He thanked me and I headed into the store.
Some lemons, leafy lettuce, and a loaf of sourdough bread later, and who should I see but my friend Tauna and her husband, Ken, from Burlington! Normally I run into Tauna at the Burlington Fred Meyer store – so she was out of context here at the Bellingham Haggen’s – but it was awfully good to see her and Ken again!
I loaded up my groceries at the check stand into my new “SconeGrown” shopping bag – and let Tauna and Ken and the cashier know that SconeGrown is my son and his girlfriend’s new shop, opening in March – and that I’m going to be a “scone grandma.” The cashier knew right where their shop is going to be, and seemed pretty excited to hear about their new business.
When I got back to my car, the gentleman was still sitting on the corner. I asked him if he’d liked the pizza, and he said yes, he had. He thanked me again, and then – like pretty much everyone else I met today – he wished me a good day.
And as I sit here, processing my afternoon in Bellingham, it occurs to me that we’ve all seemed to find a way to make life work for us during these strange and interesting times: I, for instance, have used my name – “Karen” – to make new friends and have a good laugh; The two ladies I saw chatting in their folding chairs in the parking lot have found a way to have a socially-distanced coze with each other; The busker has found a way to keep singing his songs; The little family whose picture I took has found a way to have time together outside on a Saturday afternoon; And my friend of the pizza-place has found a way to keep handing out pizzas and kindness.
As Malcom said in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.”
And, as further proof, here’s a picture of a brand new spring bud I found on a tree while I was walking on the knoll. After a really long winter, spring is coming!
Life WILL find a way.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell