03:54:19 pm on
Thursday 13 Aug 2020

Sidewalk Prophet
AJ Robinson

We took a walk the other night. Well, to be precise, I and our dog, Gandalf, walked; Jo Ann took her scooter and Damian rode his bike. After a short distance, we had to move Gandalf to sit with Jo.


A stroll is one of few outdoor activities allowed these days.

Gandalf is old and can’t walk too far before getting tired. These days, what with Social Distancing, walking is one of the few things we can do as a family outside. Our community pool and play area are closed, as are the movie theatres and restaurants. How much time can you spend inside before you get cabin fever?

I saw a meme online that suggested it wasn’t hunger that drove the Donner Party to cannibalism and I’m beginning to agree. For me, I can still go to work. As an engineer, we don’t get much foot traffic.

At work, it’s me and my co-workers, which means relative safety. Jo, Damian and Gandalf are trapped all day with each other. That’s where some sort of outing is needed, even if it’s just a little walk.

In that respect, we kind of lucked out. Our townhome is in a development called Country Creek, in Altamonte Springs, Florida. It’s an old community, at least by Florida standards. Back in Massachusetts, where I grew up, anyplace less than one hundred years old was considered downright modern.

Our Florida home dates to the 1970s, which was a time when land values were more reasonable in Central Florida and the developers set aside much more land for amenities. We don’t merely have a pool, playground and rec center; no, we also have a wide main boulevard that winds and meanders through the community, with tall trees on either side that provide nice shade on a warm evening; an old fashioned covered bridge over a stream and a wide sidewalk that allows us to safely stroll through the area.


Trees on our wide streets are native to Florida.

Most of those trees are not plantings. No, they’re the original trees, native to Florida. This means they’re tall and stately, with full thick canopies.

We do many outings, lately; our neighbours are doing the same. There have been families riding bikes, walking, jogging, taking the dog for a long walk and helping the kids burn off some of their pent-up energy. Yet, true to the conventions of the day, they all keep their distance from us and others.

It makes for a bit of a lonely walk. Yet, it’s still pleasant to be out in the natural world. No television or computers, smart phones in their holders and us not staring at the screens.

It’s spring in Florida, which really isn’t all that different from winter, just a bit warmer, with the seasonal trees and flowers starting to blossom; our noses are a bit runny, too. In addition, just the other night, there was a small ray of hope that shone through the clouds of despair.

A young sidewalk artist, we can’t yet identify her or him, has lifted our spirits. We assume it’s a little girl as the colour pink is used quite ab it in her efforts. As we walked along, we noticed these simple little messages scrawled on the sidewalk at various intervals,

“Smile,” above a happy face.

“Dr & Nurses Rock,” with some hearts.

“There is Hope.”

Those are just a few of her artistic endeavours. Jo Ann and I couldn’t help but smile. Here we were, walking along as a family, forced to avoid close contact with our neighbours, as they too walked, yet someone in our community was putting forth the effort to boost our spirits.

These days, what with the news full of either bad news or Trump lying or, most often, both, it is easy to get down in the dumps and depressed. We now look forward to our evening walks as we know what’s awaiting us on our sojourn. We come home more optimistic because of the messages left, on the sidewalks, by an anonymous artist.


Together we make it happen.

Granted, each day, little by little, the messages fade, as strollers stroll, but we take solace in knowing that it is only in the physical sense that they’re slowly vanishing. In our hearts and in our minds, they will reside forever, and those little rays of hope will help us to get through the pandemic, together. Such is the message of a sidewalk prophet.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Working, again, as an engineeer, after years out of the field due to 2009 recession and slow recovery, Robinson finds time to write. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true. His teen vampire adventure novel, "Vampire Vendetta," will publish in 2020. Robinson continues to write books, screenplays and teleplays and keeps hoping for that big break.

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