There is a small but hardy band of regulars here at Carolina Meadows who walk early in the morning, and as the days pass, we get to recognize and acknowledge one another. Since my walk takes me virtually to every part of this campus, sooner or later I meet them all. Many are, like me, old guys who walk slowly, some on Hawthorne or Magnolia, fewer on Appletree or Maple or Oak. Since I wear a bright yellow reflector vest, a holdover from my walks on Findley Golf Course Road, I am easily recognizable [and I hope equally easily visible to drivers coming and going in Carolina Meadows.]
One of my favorite early morning people is a slender, always elegantly dressed woman who, when it is cold, wears a form fitting brilliantly red coat and a natty fedora. She walks faster than I do, but she is slowed down by a fascinating practice she has adopted. She knows a number of people in the villas, and when she comes to the villa of an acquaintance, she stops to pick up the paper tossed at the end of the driveway from the black Nissan by our newspaper deliverer and walks it up to the front door. Judging from where I have seen her, she must know people all over CM. We say hello to one another whenever we pass, but, I am sad to say, she disapproves of me. The reason is simple. I sometimes walk on the same side of the road as the traffic, which thus comes up behind me. The first time she saw me doing this, on Appletree as I neared the end of my walk, she chastised me gently, but unrepentant I continued my dangerous ways, and I think by now she has written me off as destined for a bad end. She seems to know a number of the Appletree dog walkers and quite often as I make the turn and begin up the hill, I see her deep in conversation with two or three of them.
But quite the strangest of the early walkers, or so it seemed to me at first, is a tall gentleman who lives on Peartree just about where it is met by Magnolia. A little back story is called for here by way of clarification. In 1964, shortly after I joined the Columbia University Philosophy Department as a senior professor, I was walking up Broadway from 115th to 116th street with my new colleague, the unforgettable Sidney Morgenbesser. As we approached 116th, I saw a man in a phone booth talking agitatedly into the handset, which was totally unconnected to the rest of the phone! When I pointed this out rather worriedly to Sidney, he said casually, as though it was no big deal, “Oh, that’s a shouter.” Apparently in Manhattan there were well-delimited subcategories of nutcases.
Well, I saw this Peartree resident repeatedly, at six a.m. or so, seemingly talking to himself. Was this a CM shouter? Of course not. In the intervening fifty-five years, there had been several revolutions in technology. This man had those ear buds with dangling wires that indicated he was talking on a cellphone. But at six a.m.? Was he a still active stock trader talking to a broker in Europe, where the market was already open? Was he dictating instructions to some poor secretary who had dragged himself out of a warm bed to take a letter from the boss?
After a while, I began to conjure touching just so stories. His wife had passed away and he was talking to nobody at all, lonely and forlorn. His wife was in the health center (the Pines) and he spent a little time with her each morning during his walk. By now we were on an early morning nodding relationship. He certainly did not seem forlorn. And he certainly was not nuts. What was up?
And then I actually met him and discovered that the real story was better than my unfettered imaginings. It seems he and his wife are both retired physicians. When he was a young man, he and his closest friend were running buddies. They live now in different states, and although he no longer runs, his friend does. Each morning, as his friend runs, they talk, thanks to the miracle of IPhones! Indeed, one day, on Appletree, I actually met the friend, who was in town for a visit.
We are a hardy band of men, women, and dogs, we early morning walkers. I count them all as friends, even Phoebe who still will not let me pet her, and the Lady in Red, who disapproves of me.
This is my version of Carolina Meadows in the Morning.