Zulma and the Weatherman: Some of My Favorite Interactions During COVID-19 Social Distancing

In my very walkable neighborhood in the Virginia Square and Ballston areas, I have the opportunity to see “regulars” — people who, in the course of going about their own routines, cross my path (or I cross theirs). I also get to interact with other unique individuals and am given a glimpse into their personalities and lives.

Here are some of my favorites from the past few weeks.

Una Familia Feliz (The Happy Family)

Today, as I walked to the other side of the neighborhood, I passed a middle-aged, Hispanic man who was flanked closely on either side by his son and daughter, both teenagers. As they approached me from the opposite direction on the side walk, I glanced at his face. “Por favor, Papa! Por favor!” both of his children begged playfully. The corners of his eyes crinkled from a smile that turned up the corners of his mouth. He looked gleeful in the pleasantries of parenthood. “This man,” I thought, must love being a father; and he must be adored by his family.”

Their smiles and warmth made me glow for the rest of my walk. I wondered if people thought, “What is she smiling at?” when they passed me. But it didn’t matter. I hoped that at some point in the day something made them smile and feel the way I did just then.

The Cigar Guy

When my husband and I first moved to the area, one of the items on our wish list was to find a local cigar shop to frequent. A few weeks after we were settled, we walked down Fairfax Drive and found Cigar Unlimited– a well-stocked, specialty store with popular and house blends! Score!

We stumbled across the store, though, on one of the first days of COVID-19-related social distancing. The owner of the store was outside, smoking a cigar, sitting next to a mop and bucket that was half-full with water.

“Are you open?” I asked the owner.
“Yes, please, come on in!” he gestured to the glass door. “I’m sorry, I was just taking a break. I’ve been cleaning all day. Every time a customer leaves, I clean. So, please, it is clean just for you!” he declared as he welcomed us into the store.

With each question my husband or I asked, the owner answered knowledgeably and followed with “But please, take your time.” in a Spanish accent, and it made me smile.

It was a pleasant interaction, and the owner invited us to stay and smoke the cigars we had picked out. We opted to take them home and enjoy them on our balcony with some drinks, instead.

When my husband went back to Cigar Unlimited the next week, the owner lamented that he had barely had any business, and that he would probably only be able to afford to keep the store open for another couple of weeks. Frustrated at the situation, and saddened at the impending failure of his business venture, the man seemed listless and disconnected.

I was glad that I had not been there to see it. It is difficult to see naturally warm and jovial people after they have been disappointed by life. It makes me wonder how many other small business owners are in a similar situation, and my heart goes out to them.

Unicorn Baby

As my husband and I walked home from that first visit to Unlimited Cigars, we walked along the side walk side-by-side, Andrew’s arm hanging around my neck, and chatted happily about finding our cigar shop.

We came to a restaurant called Rus Uz, a Russian-Uzbek restaurant and market, and I thought to myself, “I don’t think I have ever eaten Russian cuisine. But I don’t know that I would ever want to either.”

Just then, I looked at an elderly woman sitting on the wooden bench outside of the restaurant. She had salt-and-pepper hair and a dark violet, wool coat. In front of her stood a stroller which contained a female toddler wearing a cozy pink jacket with a hood that had a gold unicorn horn attached to it. The toddler had large, dark brown eyes, and she watched Andrew and me approach her and (from what I could tell) her grandmother.

As we walked, still chatting happily, the toddler furrowed brow, tilted her head in a skeptical manner, turned up one side of her mouth, and harrumphed a “Hm” sound.

This made me giggle. And in return, I smiled at her grandmother, then furrowed my own brow, tilted my head to the side acceptingly, and nodded my own “Hm!” at the little girl as we passed by.

Her grandmother laughed, and we smiled at each other. I liked that little girl’s moxie.

Zulma at FedEx

I’ve had to go to FedEx a few of times over the past few weeks. I’ve had to print documents for work and mail packages. Most importantly, this morning I had to procure a new notebook for work purposes because my usual Steno book has run out of pages!

So, with that being my #1 To-Do priority today, I made my way to the trusty, neighborhood FedEx where I anticipated seeing Zulma, the friendly and helpful customer service representative. She is just the best, and always seems so happy, ending each interaction with a, “OK, perfect!” or “OK, great!”

Today, Zulma was not immediately visible when I walked into the store, but she quickly appeared from a desk in the employee work area when she heard me. I told her what I needed, and she pointed me in the right direction. Then, when I approached the counter, she cheerfully asked, “So, did you find what you needed?”

“Yes,” I replied, “but it shouldn’t have been such a difficult decision. I guess I am just used to particular tools to do my work, and getting out of routine is frustrating.”

“I know!” she exclaimed. “I was just having that same conversation with my co-worker about pens. I mean, for some tasks I like to use a gel pen, and other tasks I don’t. So I always need to carry two or three kinds of pens with me.”

I laughed and agreed with her, and then she told me the best story:

“But I’m kind of glad that we are getting out of our usual ways of doing things. Like, normally, I would have been sitting in the back just scrolling on my phone. But today I’m reading a book that a customer wrote!
“Long story short,” she went on, “one day, this customer came in and said, ‘I am trying to print my new book cover to send to my publisher. Can you help me?’ So, I did, and he got his book published! Then he came back to the store and handed me a copy that he signed and thanked me again for my help.
“I’m not much of a reader or writer,” she confessed, “but the cover of this book got me, so I started reading it. And now, whereas my phone would usually be at 30% by now, it’s still at 95%!”

“What a wonderful story! And I bet he’s going to love hearing how much you are enjoying his book. So, next time I stop in, I’ll be sure to ask you what you thought of it when you finished.”

She smiled, “OK, ma’am, I hope you have a great day!”

Zulma reminds me of so many of my former students, and I’m really glad that I get to see her from time to time.

The Weatherman

“Well, it looks like we’re in for some blue skies! The clouds are clearing up, and warmer temperatures are coming.”

There is an elderly man in the neighborhood who happens to be homeless (from the looks of things). He hangs out around Quincy Street which is near to where I encountered him the first time. Before most of the restaurants in the VA Square/Ballston area closed their dining areas due to COVID-19, Andrew and I were on our way to get dinner, and we were approached by this man. “Well, it looks like we’re in for some warmer weather,” he exclaimed.

“It sure does!” I replied as we continued to cross the street headed to our destination.

His long, white hair and long, white beard were well-kept; his blue windbreaker jacket matched his eyes; and his eyes matched his bright smile. He wasn’t carrying anything with him, nor was anything else lying nearby. So, it wasn’t until we were sitting in the restaurant eating that I realized he must be panhandling. Like a video montage, I watched him through the windows as he walked in this direction, then that direction, next to one pedestrian and then another, no doubt giving them each a meteorological report.

A couple of weeks later, I walked down Quincy Street on a stroll. My eyes were on the sidewalk in front of me when I heard, “Well, it looks like we’re in for some blue skies!”

I smiled and looked up. There he was, standing next to a public bench that was piled high with two duffle bags-worth of belongings. “How are you doing today, Weatherman?” I asked.

His eyes met mine, “I’m doing just fine, Miss!” he said as his eyes met mine. Although I didn’t have any change on me that afternoon, it seemed that kind acknowledgement and a friendly gesture was enough in that moment.

That said, I have become familiar with at least a dozen regular neighborhood people who happen to be homeless, and I would like to get involved with helping them in a consistent way. You know, once “Rona” lets me out of the house.

Be well, all. And get out for some walks! πŸ™‚

9 thoughts on “Zulma and the Weatherman: Some of My Favorite Interactions During COVID-19 Social Distancing”

    1. Hi Ray! That was my thought: I don’t know that I had eaten anything that was specifically Russian, but I imagined it would be feed that would be “more bang for your buck” calorie-wise since it’s a colder climate, and I typically don’t like super heavy and starchy foods. Now that you mention those examples, I have had latkes and pierogi. My former MIL is of Polish decent, and she made my first pierogi (potato filled). Delicious! My personal preference wouldn’t send me out to a restaurant to eat them, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi. Depends on what you eat. Russians eat a lot of potatoes. So do Poles. I am of Belorussian and Polish heritage so I ate all sorts food from those countries. These days, I make it for Easter and Christmas Eve. In New Orleans, there is only one Russian restaurant-bar-music-venue. We haven’t been there yet.

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  1. Hi Ray! That was my thought: I don’t know that I had eaten anything that was specifically Russian, but I imagined it would be feed that would be “more bang for your buck” calorie-wise since it’s a colder climate, and I typically don’t like super heavy and starchy foods. Now that you mention those examples, I have had latkes and pierogi. My former MIL is of Polish decent, and she made my first pierogi (potato filled). Delicious! My personal preference wouldn’t send me out to a restaurant to eat them, though.

    Like

      1. @pennypostcard, it looks so much like Jordanian food! LOL I’m sure the spices are different, but it sounds very similar. The world just gets smaller all the time. πŸ™‚ Thanks for sending the link!

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