In Providence: Checking In

“I have a lot of folks I check on. I just go by and knock on their door, and because now, we gotta think about not causing trouble for each other, I just let them yell from the other side of the door that they’re good, and then I go on to the next house.”

He’s always dropped by people’s homes over the course of a weekend. His house is a place on the Pawtucket line that he’s lived in for about 15 years, but he has friends all over town. He tells me his rather large social circle is the result of being a man who loves a good long walk and enjoys popping into places — for a bite, a drink, or just to meet someone new.

“My brother and I always used to go walking when we were kids, and I never stopped. He became a wire guy — an electrician. He’s good too — if you need somebody. But I kept walking and I liked seeing new places and being a — being a guy of the neighborhood, except I didn’t have a neighborhood, because I kept moving around. Everywhere became a neighborhood. The whole city’s a neighborhood now, because I got people everywhere. Back before you had cell phones, you’d call people up, but you could stop in and visit them too. You could stop by to talk if they were home. I bet some people were sick of me coming by, but I never knew it, because everybody would welcome me right in and I spent a lot of weekends sitting at kitchen tables and in living rooms just checking in on people.”

With the new recommendations asking people to stay home, he decided he wanted to check in with as many people as he could — many of whom live alone or only get person-to-person contact with their co-workers, who they might not be seeing for a while.

“They’re scared. A lot of people are scared. I’m not taking any chances, but I don’t think it’s good for you to be cooped up in your house. I go for walks and I’m not going in anywhere now, but I’m waving at people. I’m smiling at people. I’m calling out to people I see that I know. I remember after 9/11 when everybody was being nice to each other and checking in on each other, and that’s what we gotta do now.”

This weekend, he walked from his house through downtown, around the west side, and back again. He told me this week he’ll walk all over now that he can’t go into work. Per his request, I won’t tell you what his job is. It looks like he’ll be unemployed for the indefinite future, but he’s not thinking about it right now.

“People are the most important thing. You can have all the money in the world, but when you lose a person you love, or a friend you love? That’s a hurt that hurts more than — I’ve been broke. You don’t even want to know how broke I’ve been, but it never hurt as bad as when I lost somebody — and I’ve lost somebody to everything you can think of. Trust me. Trust me I have. I’m not worried about money. I can worry about money after I’m done worrying about people. But I got a lot of people to worry about.”

Because the weather was nice over the past few days, he’s seen people sitting out on their porches or on their front steps, and when they see him, he says most of them look relieved.

“Because here’s this idiot still walking around like everything’s like it always is. But that’s what I want. I want them to see me doing what I always do so they don’t feel like everything is going bad now, because something is still the same even if that thing is me.”

I went for a walk with him on Saturday and he’s right — most of the people he encounters laugh and quickly catch him up on how they’re doing. He offers to get them groceries, run errands, whatever they need — but nobody took him up on it. They just thanked him for coming by and the two of us kept walking.

And it’s true, he does err on the side of caution. A lot of places have already set up a routine with him where he knocks on the door — especially if it’s an older person — and he’ll call out to them to see if they need anything, and they’ll say they’re good, and we’ll move on. He tells me with those people, he still plans on leaving some food or other items on their front step regardless of what they say, because it can’t hurt.

“As long as it can’t hurt, why not, right?”

Hard to argue with that.