6 feet apart but always together

It’s a different scene on Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon’s Main Street, these days.

How different? Walking toward the corner of Academy Avenue of Washington Road, I see Tom, an old acquaintance, relaxing on a bench and drinking a beer. Another couple of bottles sit nearby.

“It’s Friday, the end of the week,” he says. “I’m getting stir-crazy, sitting in my place.”

We have a nice chat and I move on, walking past Rep. Dan Miller’s office. It’s closed, with a flyer listing virus safety tips taped to the window. Aladdin’s, Lebo Subs, and Badamo’s Pizza are all busy filling takeout orders. (Call first and pay over the phone.) Aladdin’s offers curbside pickup by request. Most of the other Washington Road restaurants are doing takeout as well.

In fact, the only people on the sidewalks are walkers (with dogs and without), runners and takeout customers, balancing pizza boxes and big brown bags from Totopo.

“Some lady from one of the stores has a table set up with giveaway stuff on it,” Tom told me, and a little further down the street I find it: canned goods, cereal, rice mix (and hockey sticks) laid out in front of Cornell’s General Store. The signs in the window say “Take what you need. Leave what you have” and “Together we can do so much more. #lebostrong.”

As I walk towards the library, it’s hard not to ask to pet the usual darling Lebo dogs, but it’s still good to see them out and about. The owners walk alone or in pairs. We allow each other ample room to pass.

The library is closed, of course, “at least until April 14,” according to the sign, but most likely longer (at least until April 30, in compliance with the extended stay-at-home order). And they don’t want your books back either; no fines for now.

Time feels dislocated: Commonwealth Press still displays bright green St. Patrick’s Day T-shirts, while a mask-clad Easter Bunny cutout stands in the window of You’re Invited. (Speaking of masks, The Fabric Place has an array of colorful face masks in its window, along with a sign listing DIY websites.)

I stop to look at the ads for upcoming concerts in the window of Empire Music. Jonathan Richman on March 25? Didn’t happen. Los Lobos, April 18? Canceled. Vampire Weekend, June 3? Who knows.

Stepping into Mineo’s Pizza is kind of a jolt: folks are siting in booths (though suitably distanced), waiting for takeout. Six guys are behind the counter, jostling each other to answer the constantly-ringing phone or slide pizzas into ovens. Too busy to talk, one employee says: “Call later, maybe. We’re open til 1 a.m.”

There’s a beautiful poem, written out and hung on a pole by St. Paul’s. (“…We will stop it all. To protect our weaker ones … Nothing in the history of humankind ever felt more like love than this.”)

And then there are the signs. They’re all over the place, taped to the outside of store windows, created by kids: spring flowers, big painted suns, hearts drawn in crayon. Joe Lewis says he misses Uptown Coffee and its “yumy (sic) hot cocoa.”  Eden, Dana, Camille and Anthony contribute cheerful thoughts, and preach the value of handwashing. Most of them add a hashtag, because it is, after all, 2020: #everythingwillbeOK.

Trees are blossoming but the playground is roped off with caution tape. I feel like we tell our kids everything will be OK, but it’s not until they tell us that we start to believe it.

And as I get in my car and make a U-turn on Washington Road, at 6 p.m. on a Friday evening, I try to believe it too.


Editor’s note: The Historical Society of Mount Lebanon is calling on past and present Mt. Lebanon residents of all ages to send their personal stories of how the pandemic is impacting their lives. Whether you are staying at home in self-quarantine or working through the crisis, your story is unique and important.  Email submissions to info@lebohistory.org.  Please put PANDEMIC 2020 in the “Subject” field of your email. If you prefer to use paper and pen, the mailing address is: The Historical Society of Mount Lebanon, 794 Washington Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15228.  The Historical Society will keep these documents in our archives and depending upon the response, may use them in an exhibit or share them on its Facebook page in the future.

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