The Schilling family, before the days of social distancing. Image credit: Colleen Schilling
By Jason Zweig | Apr. 14, 2020
It isn’t often I see a story worth telling just by looking outside the window, but that’s exactly what happened to me this Sunday, on Easter afternoon. Across the street from me, a family was celebrating the holiday — wearing masks and gloves, half sitting in their car, half on the sidewalk, all at least six feet part and yet all fully present with each other.
This story has nothing to do with investing — at least not for those who believe that investing involves only financial assets.
It was, however, a perfect example of why the social psychologist Jamil Zaki says we should be practicing not “social distancing,” but “distant socializing.”
Read on to see what I saw.
Mary and Arthur Schilling never expected to spend Easter with their family doing what they called “coronagating.”
On Easter Sunday, Mary, a 65-year-old corporate recruiter, and Arthur, 59, a contract manager for a construction company, drove their Ford Escape into Manhattan from their home in Fair Lawn, N.J. to spend the holiday with their daughter Colleen, 30. They brought lawn chairs and a three-pound slab of prime rib for Colleen and her boyfriend, Cory Minckler, a bartender, to eat later.
Arthur parked the car on a street off York Avenue in the 80s, a short distance east of the building Colleen lives in. Mary and Arthur and their other daughter, Allee, an insurance agent, stayed in the car.
Mary, Arthur, Allee and her boyfriend, Sean Santiago, 26, who works in pest control, ordered takeout hamburgers for themselves. After the deliveries arrived at their car, they scrubbed down with hand sanitizer and put on food-preparation gloves to eat the burgers.
Sean ventured out, unfolding one of the chairs as far back from the sidewalk as he could get, smack up against the wall of a brownstone. Colleen and Cory, wearing red bandannas for masks, opened chairs on the outside edge of the sidewalk, one each at the front and rear end of the car.
Not having seen Colleen in five weeks, “a couple of times I almost forgot myself and almost went to touch her,” said Mary, “and then I remembered I had to stay in the car.”
“My mom had a moment of, ‘We’d really love to pick you up and have you come home,'” said Colleen. “And I said, ‘But you can’t, Mom!’ And she said, ‘I know, I know.'”
Hard as the holiday social distancing was, the family found a lot to celebrate.
For most of the afternoon, the spring sun was glorious; across the street, a cherry tree was in full bloom.
Everyone but Colleen and Cory had gone on a weeklong cruise to the Bahamas in early March, but they had all returned safely and remained symptom-free.
The trip into the city, normally a 45-minute schlep, took just 16 minutes, Mary said gleefully from behind her surgical mask.
Cory is the only one in the group who has lost his job. But, he said, “I put my training to good use,” providing a beer for Sean, surprising Mary and Allee with his version of an espresso martini and whipping up an old-fashioned for Arthur — the designated driver — to have later after he got home.
Colleen, also a recruiter, planted a big jug of iced tea on the roof of the car.
Before her family arrived, she had sanitized all the disposable cups — “not the usual glassware Cory likes to serve in,” Colleen said. She and Cory handed the drinks through the car windows, each with its own Lysol wipe for scrubbing it down. “It’s very cumbersome, our new norm,” she said.
Mary, Arthur and Allee sat inside the car. With the windows up most of the way and masks and bandannas on, “we had to talk pretty loud to hear each other,” said Colleen.
“We’re grateful we’re all safe,” said Allee. “As long as we can just see and hear each other, it’s still very special.”
Passersby mostly approved. “Oh, you guys are doing this the right way,” said one, noting how far away from each other they sat. “That’s so cute, how you’re finding a way to make this work,” said another.
One pedestrian, having to thread the needle between the lawn chairs, cursed at the family for not taking the lockdown seriously enough. But tempers never really flared.
After about an hour-and-a-half, Colleen’s family called out their farewells, and she and Cory headed back inside their apartment building, lugging the prime rib. Everyone would finish the rest of the holiday meal back home.
“We’ll remember this Easter for many years to come,” said Mary. “It’s the only one we’ve ever celebrated half in the car and half in the street.”