Spring Awakening

After two months of our pandemic lifestyle, I still find that most conversations – whether with work colleagues or friends – include some commentary on our “new normal.” I suppose this reflects the depth of our surprise, and perhaps that the answers are still unclear. The most consistent observation I’ve heard is that we’re living more slowly. And this moderated pace means we’re more observant. For example, I’d say this is the first year I’ve fully appreciated spring.

Over the past month, Boston’s cityscape has been magically transformed by blossoming trees. Some neighborhoods have symmetrical awnings of magnolias, while others are dotted  with various flowering species. In prior seasons, I considered spring meant renewing visits to Fenway Park, running outdoors with fewer layers and the start of the grilling season. Walking around to look at blossoming trees was not on my “to-do” list. These days, however, I’ve been grateful for this gift of nature that I suspect you’ve also enjoyed in recent weeks.

So let’s heed the benefits of living slowly and taking in all that’s around us. Those ballparks will be waiting for us next spring!

Magnolias

Patriots Day Patience

This past Monday, New England observed Patriots Day, which commemorates the start of the Revolutionary War but today, is best known for its signature sporting event — the Boston Marathon. First hosted in 1897 for a field of just 15 runners, it’s the world’s oldest, continuously run marathon — until COVID-19. Organizers postponed the marathon until the fall, but on Monday, it was top of mind locally, with our sentiments artfully expressed through a Boston Globe video (check it out on YouTube).

Instead of complaining about the marathon’s cancellation, people respected the decision and heeded advice to stay off the course on race day. To me it perhaps symbolizes where we are with this pandemic, which has greatly constrained our lives over the past six weeks. I firmly believe that we are optimists by nature and that we enjoy traditions because of the cumulative memories they represent. Maybe we’re moving past the fear and anxiety phase of COVID-19 and starting to gain confidence in getting to the other side. So understanding that our hometown tradition wasn’t really broken – just taking a twisted path – meant we could still smile when we saw pictures of the faded start and finish lines, and the Make Way for Ducklings and other iconic area statues dressed both for the race and for beating COVID.

Marathons have long been a metaphor for patience and resilience, and I think that works again here. Having run Boston in my younger, fitter days, I can still recall the training and race day experience pretty clearly. We probably haven’t made it to Heartbreak Hill yet, but it’s on the horizon. Keep your training shoes laced and be well!

 

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Walk and be rewarded

Hard to believe, but today begins week five of sheltering in place. I am settled into my home office although my desk feels cramped and it’s awfully quiet. We live in the city, so I normally walk to work and have made it a point to reminiscently take a walk once I wrap-up my WFH workday. There are few pedestrians, which has provided an opportunity to actually look at Boston’s architecture with an unobstructed perspective. And of course, this time of year, those early evening walks are rewarded with gorgeous lighting so the views have been stunning.

I share this just to say remember to take a look around and see what’s always been in front of you, but perhaps with a clearer view. There is a lot to be grateful for and appreciate during these daunting times — and your mobile phone make it easy to memorialize. I look forward to my walk tomorrow evening, and hope you enjoy yours as well. (Boston’s Public Library is pictured below taken from Copley Square.)

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Waiting in line to pass the time

If someone had told me a month ago, that I’d need to wait 20 minutes just to enter my neighborhood cheese shop, I would never have believed it. Yet that’s exactly what I did yesterday, and frankly, I was happy to do it!  In this era of social distancing and nonessential business closures, “running errands” has taken on an entirely new meaning. Like many of you, we’re trying to support those local businesses that are bravely staying open, such our local cheese shop – Formaggio Kitchen.

Their distanced shopping rules are simple: only two customers can shop at a time, although you can call ahead for curbside pickup. Upon entry, disposable gloves and a container of sanitizing wipes are positioned just inside the door, and then it’s on to business as usual. The staff still made time for small talk and their usual helpful service, which was appreciated even more during these uncertain times.

So the takeaways are simple – try to support local businesses, appreciate good customer service and follow your community’s COVID containment mandates. Oh, and remember to enjoy life’s pleasures, like your favorite cheese!

Formaggio

There’s always another view

Years ago, I had the opportunity to hear a National Geographic photographer speak at a conference. Besides admiring his beautiful work, his core message has always stayed with me. When you’re looking for the perfect image, remember not to shoot the obvious view. Take a look around; the better shot may be behind you or off to the side. In other words, consider every angle and always be on the lookout for the more interesting capture.

Yes, it sounds obvious and simple, but if you reflect on what we typically see shared online, the same images cascade our daily feeds. Undoubtedly, there’s a reason for that consistency; there are simply some venues that are so visually pleasing that we succumb to the opportunity. It’s a challenge to step back and think about what else you can frame to provide another point of view.

Sometimes it simply means being ready to capture an unplanned shot. I try to follow this principle — and occasionally succeed. A few weeks ago, I rode the train to Providence, RI to attend a party. My husband was meeting me in front of the train station, which happens to face the Rhode Island state capitol building. When I exited the station, my full focus was on finding him. As I dashed over to jump in the car, I happened to look up and noticed that the evening sky was just emerging and the statehouse’s white stone profile was majestic in contrast. I pointed to the building and took out my iPhone for a quick capture, which I would have otherwise missed.

So take a look around, whether photographing the obvious or focused on another task. There’s always another view — and sometimes those are the most valued.

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Mobile or Not, Here I Come

I admit it; I’m a one-a-day Starbucks coffee addict. It’s a mandatory stop before getting to work. On days that I work out from our office gym, I stop and order at the Starbucks down the block, given the early hour. And on days that I get up and run in my neighborhood, I place a mobile order on my way to work on the Starbucks app. While mobile ordering is exceptionally easy, pickups are chaotic. The allocated store space is overcrowded and the staff is rushed, so can’t spare any interest in engaging with the mobile mob scene. You have no choice but to manhandle the many cups and pastry bags on the counter to find yours. Still, it sure beats waiting in the even more crowded in-store queue.

Last Wednesday was a home workout—or mobile ordering day. But when I tried placing my Starbucks order, my usual store was not appearing. Fully convinced it was user error, I kept closing the app and retrying, but kept getting the same result. Being totally confused—and in desperate need of my grande dark roast—I decided I’d just deal with waiting in line, so walked on to my usual Starbucks. But once I arrived, the mystery was solved—the store was closed, with a sign in the window stating it was undergoing repairs.

Undergoing repairs? What kind of repairs and why didn’t they tell us the prior day, while fulfilling our orders? Well it must have been an emergency closing (e.g., a burst water pipe) and the signage was just unclear. Fortunately, there is another Starbucks just two blocks away (isn’t there always?), so I successfully placed my mobile order and headed over. When I arrived, I was pleasantly greeted by a mobile order concierge (is this the same brand?!), who asked my name and was able to immediately tell me how soon my order would be ready.

I wondered if this was temporary, to help manage the overflow from the store closed around the corner. Just to be sure, I decided to visit this location the next day, and the mobile concierge is a fixture! Are they testing the concept in select stores? How come I didn’t know the experience was much more civilized just two blocks away? Is this really the same brand?

Looking back, what failed me that morning was Starbucks’ communication. As a loyal customer, I should have experienced the following:

  • The mobile app should have told me the location I was trying to order from was closed, and suggested that I visit another store, maybe even offering an alternative address.
  • The store sign should have read “We’re sorry; emergency air conditioning repairs today. Please visit our neighboring locations.” Then I would have felt bad for the staff and anticipated a reopening the next day.
  • And the mobile concierge? As much as I loved the service, he should have said something about this being a pilot (or whatever they’re doing) so I could determine if I want this store to be my new mobile ordering pickup location.

Regardless, I will be back again and again, as the product still trumps the other local coffee options, at least in my view. And I guess they know that. Still, I can’t help but wonder what would Howard Schulz think?

 

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The Perils of Pedals

As a city dweller, I count myself fortunate to rely on walking for my daily commute. A half-hour stroll is the perfect amount of time to organize one’s day or unwind before getting home, while enjoying a podcast or favorite playlist. It’s a relaxing and introspective experience except for one unpredictable matter—navigating the crosswalks increasingly popular with daredevil cyclists.

Now don’t get me wrong; I think it’s great that people are biking instead of driving or riding already crowded public transit. It’s environmentally aligned and promotes good health among those commuting via two-wheelers. But for whatever reason, most cyclists simply don’t obey the rules of the road. They ride through red lights, weave in and out of pedestrian traffic and zip through walkways in parks and other areas. And yet this same population demands dedicated bike lanes and free storage racks, not to mention office buildings with showers to enable transforming from the peloton to the cubicle.

I’ve wondered if it’s the impatience factor that makes cyclists feel above the traffic laws, or having to assimilate the behavior of the car they’ve just left in their driveway. Whatever the cause it’s actually rather dangerous for pedestrians simply trying to cross the street.  When rogue riders consistently run red lights, we walkers must run or freeze in place to let them swish by. Maybe it’s the helmets favored by American cyclists that offer that feeling of invincibility? (If you’ve traveled internationally, you’ve likely noted that city cycling is common, but helmets and fancy gear are unusual, with cruisers the bicycle of choice.)

On a few occasions, I’ve shouted “Hey—it’s a red light!” when a cyclist interrupts my attempt to cross the street. And once I actually got a sheepish “Sorry!” in response. That was nice but it certainly doesn’t solve the problem.

I guess it takes a lot of nerve to ride through a city relatively unprotected and competing with couriers, Uber and taxi drivers, not to mention buses and trucks. However, if you’re on wheels, you’re on wheels, so those traffic signals apply to you regardless. And if you cycle around me on your ride to work, please be extra careful if I’m carrying my coffee.

 

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