I have my morning routine. It hasn’t varied much through the years. As soon as I rise, I get dressed for a brisk walk around my neighborhood. Out the door, I decide on the route, except on Sundays (when my walk takes me to the local 7-Eleven where they carry the Sunday New York Times) and Wednesdays (when I go to the gym to keep tabs on my walking speed and endurance).
The Sunday walk is my favorite though, crossing a golf course, over to Route 1, and then north to the 7-Eleven. It is a good match: the store opens early and I am normally underway as the sun is rising. The town golf course had been redesigned by Jack Nicklaus (a local resident) since I’ve been doing this hike. Naturally it was dramatically changed by him, but in this case an improvement over what there was before. The greens, small lakes, and undulations make it a special municipal course. Just a few weeks ago, however, the multilevel diving board adjacent to an Olympic size pool was suddenly removed. Insurance costs forced the town to do away with the iconic high diving platform.
I’m observant during my walks and notice things out of place. As I cross the parking lot in front of the golf driving range an older Lexus RX 350 is usually parked there, someone out practicing early. It wasn’t there this past Sunday as I went on to get the newspaper. I didn’t think much of it, other than maybe he’s gone for the summer. I had never met him, only having noticed the car.
I’ve been reading the Sunday New York Times since college. I can’t imagine getting through a Sunday without it, and I like the walk to get it. When we first moved here, I had it delivered. But there were frequent delivery and temporary hold problems. But as I prefer to read the physical paper, not the online edition, I was relieved to find a store in walking distance from our home that carried it.
I entered 7-Eleven last Sunday and immediately saw some things askance. Sale bins were where the newspapers normally resided. They never had sales. The lady who has so graciously handled my “Sunday business” (we’ve had a pleasant, chitchat relationship) behind the counter was joined by two other employees, ones who normally are not there at that time in the morning. The newspaper rack – now in the back -- was depleted but thankfully there was one copy of the Sunday NYT left.
She detected my consternation and said “you got the last newspaper we will ever have delivered here – the store is closing in a couple of days.” I was stunned. “I’ve been coming here for about ten years, every Sunday, there’s no other store in walking distance, are you relocating?” No, but fortunately she was being transferred to another store, some ten miles away. So at least she was not losing her job. For me though I have lost my Sunday routine, one I valued. I wished her the best, knowing I will never see her again.
I began my walk home, searching my iPhone for the next closest 7-Eleven, one I knew I’d have to drive to, but as I would be in the car anyway, I could consider going to the beach for my walk. Perhaps make some lemonade from lemons? I found one a few miles away. They answered the phone after a few rings. “Do you carry the Sunday New York Times?” “No,” click. I’d have to search more when home.
Crossing the parking lot in front of the golf driving range on the return, I saw that RX 350 pull in and an elderly gent got out. “Good morning,” I said to the man whose car I had noticed for so many years. He returned the good morning so I said “you’re late today, I usually see your car and you are already on the range.” “Got a late start today,” unexpectedly adding, “Where are you from originally?” (He sized me up as not being a native Floridian; perhaps the Times under my arm was a clue.) I looked at him more carefully, a little taller than I, thin, in fairly good shape, and I thought maybe ten years older. “New York City, you?” “Yeah, I lived there for several years after WW II working for WR Grace.” “Funny,” I said, “I used to deal with one of their divisions, Baker and Taylor, a book distributor, during their conglomerate days.”
He said he was in shipping logistics after the War. He didn’t look old enough to be in WW II, so I asked. “I’m 92,” which shocked me. I told him my father was a Signal Corps photographer in Europe during the War and he replied “I was first in the European theater and then shipped to the Pacific” (which my father had feared would be his fate after Germany surrendered). He then said “I’m eligible to be buried in Arlington Cemetery.” “Such an honor,” I replied “but I think you have at least another ten good years before having to think of that. You’re in great shape, still teeing off every Sunday!” He chuckled. Briefly we looked at one another in silence. The sun had finally risen above the trees.
I said, “Memorial Day is next week and my father will be very much on my mind, and I, for one, am grateful for your service. Just want you to know that.” “Thanks,” he said, “it’s a sad day for me, remembering my buddies, some who died during the war and then the others who I’ve simply outlived.” As he gathered his clubs from the back of the car he cheerfully said, “well, hope to see you around another Sunday.”
No sense telling him that this was probably my last Sunday walk by the golf course, but it put my inconsequential change issue in perspective. “Yes, see you around,” I said as I walked across the golf course, with the last paper delivered to a store that is vanishing and Memorial Day on my mind.