Behold the Distance Noodle

An open letter to unmasked runners and bikers who won’t stay six feet away

3 minute read
Roz Warren is ready to follow the rules—and make sure you do, too. (Photo courtesy of the author.)
Roz Warren is ready to follow the rules—and make sure you do, too. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

I’m 65. There’s a lot of COVID in my community, so when I go for my daily walk, I wear a mask. For my own safety. And for yours.

When I’m not walking, I’m isolated in my house. So my chances of getting this thing are pretty small. Unless, that is, you give it to me.

Twenty-five percent (and maybe more) of the people who catch this virus have no idea that they have it. You could be one of them. So what can you do?

When you go out, keep your distance. And wear a mask.

I’m happy that most of the folks in my neighborhood now practice social distancing and wear masks when they’re out and about.

And yet? The runners and cyclists who zip by as I stroll the suburban streets seem to think they’re immune from these requirements. Almost none of them bothers to wear a mask.

And far too many of them ignore the basic rules of social distancing. They seem to feel that because they’re moving by me quickly, it’s okay to come within six feet.

Not only that, but to some of them, it seems I’m completely invisible.

To the bare-chested dudes, the teenagers wearing earbuds, and all the other clueless runners who barrel down the sidewalk directly at me, assuming that I’ll skedaddle out of your way—did you see that senior citizen who just had to leap aside in order to remain six feet away from your oblivious, self-absorbed, un-masked self?

That sweet little old lady really wanted to trip you.

But as much as I’d like to, I can’t trip passing runners. Not only am I too darn nice, but getting close enough to trip you would violate the social-distancing rules that are the best tool we have to stay healthy.

So just let me tell you something about those rules. Nobody is saying you shouldn’t exercise. It’s good for us, especially now. But the fact that you are running or cycling doesn’t mean that the rules of life with coronavirus don’t apply to you.

“But when I run with a mask on, I can’t get the oxygen I need!” protested one runner on the online community group where my neighbors are fighting this one out.

Right. You want enough oxygen to comfortably run. And I want to avoid getting COVID from you as you run by me without a mask, so I don’t wind up on a ventilator because I can’t get the oxygen I need.

If you can’t run with a mask on? Slow down a little. It won’t kill you. (But getting COVID could kill me.)

There are communities where folks have begun to post photos of runners and cyclists who come too close and fail to wear masks. And I’m tempted to take photos of everyone who zips by me mask-free and post them on social media, but I’m out for a stroll to relax, not to administer vigilante justice via social-media shaming.

So I’ve developed my own solution. From now on, when I go out for my daily walk, I will be carrying a Social Distancing Noodle.

What’s a Social Distancing Noodle? It’s just a repurposed pool noodle. One of those light-weight foam toys you use in the pool to help keep you afloat.

Anyone who gets too close to me will get whacked.

Which is entirely reasonable, because my noodle isn’t even six feet long. It’s barely four feet long. So if I can reach you with it, you’re fair game.

I can see this starting a trend.

Soon the sidewalks will be alive with Distance Noodle-schlepping seniors, creating an impromptu obstacle course for those of you who are too selfish to keep your distance and wear a mask.

As you zip by, unmasked and way too close for comfort, it’ll be a constant Whack! Pow! Bam! from all the irate seniors you pass.

Want us to stop smacking you with our noodles and let you run or cycle in peace? Just keep your distance and wear a mask.

Which is what you should have been doing all along.

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