Park Person

I’ve lived directly across the street from a park for the past eight years or so. Initially, it felt like more of a con than anything. All the foot and car traffic, all the noise. There is no chance to exist on your property without eyeballs on you. I wasn’t thrilled, but Delaware has a bit of a housing inventory issue, and it was the best option near school. So we went with it.

Here we are, all these years later, and there’s still a lot to dislike about it. I thought that at least one of the benefits would have been that there was no chance for new development, but that hasn’t proven true. Instead of the original view overlooking a wide-open green field, we now look at an enormous, industrial-style tennis center with three outdoor courts and a pickleball one being noisily built as I type this.

The building has made everything louder as the sound of each souped-up car, and there are many, bounces back at us. The park is more popular so there’s always someone staring. They dug up our yard and driveway to run utilities to the tennis center, and neither has been the same since. They blast Jock Jams style music each day at 2PM that I can not only hear but feel.

And yet, I’ve learned to embrace this park life, and when I envision where we could end up after this house, I’m not sure I feel good about the prospect of not being able to access a park without driving. It’s all come to mean so much to me that a life without it would feel like a loss.

People stare, but now I know these people’s names. I know that that’s actually Jen, and she’s probably wondering where I am. I know what time the crows expect their breakfast and where they will hang out at any given hour. I know when park staff will be mowing and what section to plan around the pollen bombing. I know exactly what routes to take based on the distance I’m aiming for that day. I know which people have dogs that are best to avoid and which people will stop and ask about my day. I know which people insist on saying Good Morning!!” and which prefer to keep to themselves.

I’ve watched puppies become dogs, and I’ve watched people lose hundreds of pounds. I’ve come to be drawn to this park, its characters, and all the life happening there each day. I’ve moved my desk around the house a few times, and the only requirement has been that I overlook the park. It’s become a source of comfort. I look forward to seeing the same people at the same times. I look forward to watching kids sled on a tiny mound in 1 inch of snow. I like looking at the park while I think–it’s bright and inspiring. I like confirming that various running groups are keeping to a schedule while I drink my morning coffee and settle into emails.

While people, in general, stand out among the positives now, park people are not the exceptions to humans in general. I’ve, of course, both gained and lost friendships here. My previous walking crew consisted of some much older folks. Little by little, as we got more comfortable with each other, some concerning themes were developing. Insight into political beliefs that I not only find I strongly disagree with but cause active harm to countless lives daily. I pushed back on things one day, which was not well received.

That was not a relationship worth maintaining, and I haven’t spoken to that group since. I feel no sense of loss or regret here. I don’t need to have people like this in my life, and I certainly don’t have to entertain their extremist ideologies. So, park people are not perfect. All the rules and concerns of regular life still apply.

The magic is when you get unique access to people that are perfect matches. This is where the park truly shines. Everyone is so busy when going about a day out in the world–it’s all so endlessly frantic. Adults have countless places to be at once. We have errands and things to do that we simply don’t want to do. From my experience, this makes for a lot of grumpy and rushed interactions.

The park isolates people that can have so much in common with you. Not only are these people my age able to be at the park at 10AM on a weekday as well, but they also cherish these walks to the point where I see their faces every single day. It’s also an important fixture in their lives that they make time for against everything we have working against us. While it can take years to foster, I’ve made a couple of solid friendships at this park with people I want to have in my life long after one of us moves.

These are the people worth putting up with how awkward some of these other interactions can be. These are the people worth planning a walking schedule around and worth making sourdough for. These are the people that perk up a day I had lost hope for. I’m so glad I didn’t shut down after the first dozen weird things that have happened to me at this park.

I would have never thought it possible eight years ago, but I’ve fully become a Park Person. And speaking of, it’s time to suit up and head across the street.

See you tomorrow over breakfast.

February 9, 2024

A tiny project byJoni Trythall inspired by friends at Wiggle Work.