In this segment of Stories from the Couch, our employees share their stories about how they are maintaining and even developing, in-person (or IRL) relationships during the pandemic.
Even while living with COVID-19, we all need in real life (IRL) relationships to keep going. Obviously, those with family members at home can maintain those relationships, but everyone needs the different perspectives that other people can provide.
Read on to see how some of us are finding creative ways to stay in touch, either by safely meeting people (and a rabbit!) outside of the home — on purpose or by accident — or by creating hybrid virtual/in-person opportunities to keep friendships alive. Either way, they are finding ways to use humor, hope, and vulnerability to make the best of a challenging situation.
SHORT STORIES ON HOW WE ARE MAINTAINING IRL RELATIONSHIPS
Does the Bunny Want to Go for a Walk?
I’ve done everything I can during quarantine (and out of quarantine) to maintain my relationships in person. I’ve made 3-hour road trips to small towns, eaten dinner outside in sweltering 90-degree heat, watched movies from my car and even attempted a spa day (with so much precaution it’s not even funny). I’m sure hundreds of people have attempted most of these things, but there’s one I’m positive no one has tried.
Have you ever taken your pet rabbit for walks in the park? Using a car seat and a stroller? Yes, I’m aware it sounds like I’m talking about a baby, not a 5-pound, 11-year-old English Spot mix pet rabbit. His name is Pachi, and, for some reason, the idea of leaving him at home when I’m going for a walk in the neighborhood sounds more and more ludicrous.
After all, why did I impulsively buy that pet stroller if not for taking my pet rabbit on a walk? But since I live downtown, do I really want my child surrounded by the concrete jungle, when he could just as easily stroll around a park, since I also impulsively bought that car seat? I guess when we talk about maintaining real-life relationships during this time of virtual relationships, I’m more dedicated to my relationship with Pachi than just about anyone else. Though I guess my wife comes on those walks with us, too.
–Seanna Tucker, National Marketing, St. Louis, MO
Knocking It Out of the Park for Family Time
“Ok, who has an autograph?” I asked on the Zoom call.
“I do, I’ve got Jim Thome right here!” said Jay, my middle child, from his dining room in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.
This scenario played out when we hosted a virtual scavenger hunt during the pandemic with our kids, scattered between St. Paul, South Bend and Cincinnati. We’ve been separated for several years, but we always found time to get together, at our place or one of theirs — until the pandemic, of course.
Fortunately, we do see our daughter and her family from Cincinnati in-person occasionally. In fact, we met for a picnic in Columbus recently for my wife’s birthday. But because we want to be safe and connected, we are grateful for the technology that allows all of us to be together virtually, too. The two-to-three Saturday nights we spend with them each month makes the IRL times even more special.
We’re also grateful that our kids are cool with hanging out with us on a Saturday night. (Yeah, we know, it’s not like they can go out partying right now, anyway!)
And if you’re wondering, Jim Thome is a former Cleveland Indian and first-ballot Hall of Famer who played for the Indians from 1991-2002. We got his autograph in 2003 when Jay and I ran into him at a local batting cage. Was Thome inside taking cuts? Nope, he was outside shoveling the walk, just being a helpful, courteous person.
—Brad Nellis, Market Development Executive, Twinsburg, OH
I have started going to a coffee shop to work on its large outdoor patio after I drop my daughter off at school. The conversations I overhear range from idle gossip to budding business plans to political strategy.
One day I overheard a small group talking about secret hideouts in Forest Park, St. Louis’ huge (bigger than Central Park) urban park. I couldn’t resist. I masked up and introduce myself, saying that I was a guest blogger for Forest Park Forever, the nonprofit conservancy that maintains the park. I had written a blog about hidden trails in the park. Could I send them a link?
One gentleman said of course, and he gave me his email. We chatted some more about the park, the city, my work, and their organization, a nonprofit social group called St. Louis Village for people over 50.
“Hey, I’m over 50!” I said.
“Well, you should join us!” the man replied.
I said I’d look into it, thanked them, and went back to work. A short time later, he came to my table and asked if he could get a picture of us for St. Louis Village’s newsletter. I said sure, and here is the result.
After that, he started emailing me more photos and information about the group, and I do plan to join and start attending their events, such as bocce ball on The Hill, St. Louis’ legendary Italian-American neighborhood. I hate COVID, but I’m glad it made this new IRL friendship possible.
–Tim Fox, National Marketing, St. Louis, MO
Variety Is the Spice of Virtual Life
Everyone’s had to change how they handle relationships since the pandemic started, but in many ways, our family had been practicing for this for a while.
For example, when we drove my teenager to college in August, we already knew we would be connecting long distance. But COVID did change the experience, as we couldn’t count on using the washrooms in gas stations or fast-food restaurants during the journey! To maintain our relationship now, we do Sunday evening video calls to make sure we stay connected, including a lot of Instagramming of cute dog pictures.
I also have a bunch of old friends from college that I’m still in touch with, and we’ve been scattered around the country for years. We’ve stayed connected by playing Dungeons and Dragons one night a week using a mixture of technologies (Discord and Roll20, for all the gaming geeks out there) — we’ve been doing that for five years now. It’s not quite the same as being in the same place, but you know, if we were all still in the same city, I bet we wouldn’t get together as much!
I think one of the most interesting relationships to sustain has been with my wife. When is it okay for us to watch different TV shows? Lately, though, we’ve found the perfect compromise: we’re digging up every old travel documentary we can find, especially the Michael Palin BBC ones, and watching those since we can’t take a vacation anymore!
–John Kackley, Senior Manager, Evanston, IL
Running for Life
Prior to the pandemic, I had a pretty consistent workout routine: run a couple of times per week, sign up for a local 5K monthly, ride with my local mountain bike club a few times per month, maybe hike with my local chapter of the Florida Trail Association, and — most fun of all — surf, whenever the waves graced my local beaches.
But it all came to a halt around March, when everything in South Florida shut down.
One activity I clung to was running. My mileage ramped up significantly in the months following the lockdown, but my time with other runners went down. I quickly began missing the camaraderie of race day, rubbing elbows with my fellow runners, and enjoying our racing rituals.
To re-create that racing atmosphere, I turned to my Nike Run Club app and a feature called Challenges. With Challenges, I can sign up for virtual running events with people I’ve tagged as friends. I found other Centric runners in the app and tagged them, too. Before I knew it, we were pushing ourselves to do 50K (about 30 miles) a month.
I’ve since added another running app, Strava. It’s great to see people encouraging each other, recommending different places to run, and sharing pictures of their local trails or stories about their runs.
I know that the “real” races will eventually resume, but I’ll keep doing these virtual events after things get back to “normal,” as they have broadened my community of racing friends.
—Chris Martinez, Principal Architect, National Technology Services, Lake Worth, FL