By Ken Lass
I have a family that I never spend time with, barely talk to, and know nothing about. I call them my greenway family.
Ever since the onset of the Covid scare, I have been a bit gun shy about going to the gym. Nothing against gyms but, you know, close contact, sweaty bodies, sharing common equipment and all that. So, as a replacement for the exercise, my dachshund Oscar and I embark on a daily walk down Trussville’s greenway. It’s a beautiful stroll along the Cahaba.
I rarely miss a day. Sometimes, my wife, Sharon will go along, but most often it’s just me and Oscar. Funny thing is, it’s turned out to be much more than exercise. You see, if you want to meet Trussville, I mean really catch a cross-section of the people who live in and frequent our city, take a walk on the greenway. You will encounter young and old, black and white, male and female, tall and short, some who are badly out of shape, huffing and puffing, others ripped like Hercules, jogging past as though they are ready for the Olympic trials.
Most will unfailingly greet you with a smile and a hello. Young tots always want to stop and pet Oscar. He loves the attention. Some are deeply absorbed in whatever is playing on their earbuds and will be too distracted to make eye contact, but they are in the minority.
Then there are the regulars. You won’t know who the regulars are unless you are one, like Oscar and me. For example, there are the two sweet ladies pushing a small child in a stroller. They might be sisters. They kind of look alike. They always greet me warmly and make a point of saying hi to Oscar. There is the young couple that walks at a terrific pace, grinning and sharing a greeting as they blow past you. They will lap you several times before you finish. Here comes that older gentleman on a bicycle. He rings his little bell as he comes up from behind to let you know he’s there.
Another couple approaches riding bikes. The man is towing a little enclosed wagon with a dog inside of it. It’s also a dachshund. In fact, he will almost always call out “Dachshunds rule!” as he rides past. One young man passes me saying “Go Pack Go.” I yell back “How ’bout them Cowboys”. That’s all we’ve ever said to each other. We know each other’s favorite teams only because of the fan shirts we have worn during our walks. There is the Park & Rec employee who always takes a break from cutting grass when I go by to tell me about the latest disc golf competition he is entering. The lady with the large, beautiful dog (not sure of the breed) who has trained it to step off the sidewalk and sit quietly when another dog walks by. (Oscar would never do that.) The older fellow who is labored and a bit stooped over. He never speaks, but always flashes you a big smile and a point of the finger.
Of course, Oscar has his own set of familiar, furry faces. At one time or another, he has buddied up with breeds and mutts of every size, shape, and disposition. He knows who his friends are, and who just wants to be left alone.
I see these random folks almost every day. Don’t know their names, don’t know anything about them, other than what I observe as they come by. Yet, somehow, they have become a kind of family. My greenway family. I can’t explain it, but they give me a sort of irrational stability, continuity. All is okay in the world. I miss them when I don’t see them. I’d like to think they miss me too on the rare occasions I’m not out.
Maybe some of them will read this and recognize that I am writing about them. Then maybe next time we pass on the path they might stop and chat a bit. I might even learn their name. But I wonder….would that ruin it? Is the charm of just passing and greeting and smiling, without having to put any effort into a conversation, precisely what makes the experience so appealing? Uh. This is getting way too deep. Overthinking is not allowed.
Suffice it to say, someday the Covid threat will be over. It will be time for me to go back to the gym. But I’m pretty sure I will find the time to continue my walks. I will need to know my family is still there.
And Oscar has made it clear he requires the extra attention.
(Ken Lass is a former Birmingham TV news and sports anchor, and Trussville resident since 1989.)