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Palo Altans build community in a time of social distancing

From 'Social Distancing Get-togethers' to 'daily waves,' residents are finding methods to stay close while keeping their distance

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Tom Culbertson, left, and his son Owen Longstreth, 16, make some noise by playing the vuvuzela to alert neighbors its time for a "daily wave," in which they step out to wave to each other at 6 p.m. in Palo Alto. Photo taken on March 17 by Sammy Dallal.

A spike in COVID-19 cases. Six deaths in Santa Clara County. And a moratorium on all nonessential gatherings and businesses that started Tuesday for most of the Bay Area. For Farish Haydel, facing the domino-like effects of the new coronavirus pandemic brought her to a brief, emotional halt.

"I cried a little," Haydel said this week. "The announcement and the overwhelmingness of it all."

On Monday, public health officials of six Bay Area counties, including Santa Clara, issued a sweeping order that urged residents to stay at home, shut down all nonessential businesses and limit any outside traveling to necessities such as grocery shopping or picking up medication — all the while keeping 6 feet apart from each other. It's the latest and most aggressive push so far by local government officials in the U.S. to enforce "social distancing," a recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

Despite the dramatic announcement — or maybe because of it — Haydel and other Palo Alto residents are taking a moment to turn to their neighbors and connect with each other. As Marin County's public health officer Dr. Matt Willis emphasized at a Monday press conference: "We are not expecting empty streets. Social distancing does not mean disconnection from each other."

Haydel and her neighbors in Midtown are building community through a "daily wave" at 6 p.m. Each night, the blares of a vuvuzela will signal Haydel's neighbors to come out and say hi in an effort to maintain some semblance of a connection during the shelter-in-place mandate.

"It's just to have that in-person contact with other people," Haydel said. "I dropped off some supplies to my dad in Berkeley ... and I'm a little worried about him so I stayed my 6 feet away, but it was still nice to see him in person. It's different than talking over the phone."

Daniel Lilienstein of Barron Park is still socializing with his neighbors. But it's a bit different from his usual organized gatherings.

A resident of the neighborhood for 28 years, Lilienstein hosted all kinds of block parties and informal dinners for his neighborhood, describing himself as the "jungle drummer" of Barron Park — someone who spreads the word around and keeps his community connected.

"We just love our neighborhood," he said. "And the part of what we love about it is that we have great neighbors."

Those parties that once attracted anywhere from 20 to 75 people, replete with singing, chatting and shaking hands, now have to be put on hold. Instead, Liliensten invited a few neighbors to his porch last Thursday with a few simple instructions: Bring your own chairs, food and drinks, stay a safe distance apart and arrive before dusk — "the beautiful time of day," he said.

Then, after they situated themselves in a circle, they talked.

"We were just sharing experiences," Lilienstein, 64, said. "Chatting and having a good time instead of focusing on fear, isolation and loneliness."

There's nothing ingenious to Lilienstein's idea. What his neighbor, Eric Spector, called a "Social Distancing Get-together" is nothing more than a few friends sitting in a circle and enjoying each other's company. However, in the time of the new pandemic — setting off social distancing, panic-shopping and fears of an impending financial market collapse — a conversation uninterrupted by the five-syllable word respiratory illness will be increasingly rare, most likely impossible and in some cases desperately welcomed.

"We've got to be able to see around this isolation business and not just hunker in the bunker," Lilienstein said. "We've gotta get out and still be the people we are."

Haydel of Midtown has also joined her neighbors in arranging grocery runs for those who are most vulnerable to the symptoms of the virus or choosing to remain inside. It's another way she's trying to maintain the continuity of neighborhood life.

Haydel also said there are future plans at the daily wave for a cello serenade, reminiscent of the trending videos of Italians currently on lockdown and singing in front of their balconies.

For Lilieinstein, if the weather is right, he'll continue to keep in touch with his neighbors through his small social functions. But at a reasonable distance.

"Share nothing," he laughed. "Share nothing except your presence and good humor."

How are you building community amid the shelter-in-place order? Tell us by sending an email to editor@paweekly.com.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and Almanac here.

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Comments

28 people like this
Posted by DebbieMytels
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2020 at 11:17 am

Bravo to Daniel Lilienstein, Farisé Handel, Tom Culbertson (and his son) -- and others who are finding creative ways to create connections with their neighbors, while still maintaining a "social distance." We can't let this virus alarm shred our sense of connection to each other -- and it's great to see that people are creating new ways of doing it!

I walked up to Safeway yesterday to buy some milk -- and it was wonderful to see that a fair number of people were out, walking their dogs, going to the store, chatting with their kids as they walked. The pace had really slowed down. And if more of us would walk, we'd get some exercise -- and maybe the panic buying at the stores would stop, too, as people can only carry so much when we walk!


30 people like this
Posted by Maria
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2020 at 1:07 pm

This is not ok at all! Nobody is keeping social distancing on the streets. It means nobody cares. People are still gathering and it means they don’t care. By doing this we will never win and we will continue to stay in the same situation much longer than other countries.


21 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2020 at 2:31 pm

Such creative ways to stay connected while keeping a safe distance. Our neighborhood is going to have an art stroll. Kids and adults can draw a picture on their sidewalk on the same day and then everyone can stroll by at their leisure to see the artwork.


17 people like this
Posted by Nope
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 18, 2020 at 4:01 pm

Stay inside, singing might be welcome, but stupid noise just isn’t the answer to “making connections.”


22 people like this
Posted by I am enjoying the QUIET...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2020 at 4:06 pm

I am enjoying the QUIET. Is everyone noticing how wonderfully quiet it is without the din of traffic? Right now I am enjoying the peaceful patter of rain on my roof. Take a deep breath. Do some yoga.

My friend and I are doing an e-walk--walking apart, but talking on our phones. I have been enjoying gardening, cleaning closets, getting to chores that I ordinarily ignore because there are so many distractions, working from home as best I can, and having my nuclear family home with me. I will try to learn something new while I have this time to dust off my guitar.

A little quiet time is a good thing. I wish we were doing it for a happier reason.

Be well, everyone. We are all in this together.


21 people like this
Posted by Amanda
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2020 at 4:44 pm

Maria - no one is closer than 6 feet unless part of the same family unit. We wave at each other from across or down the street. It's a few minutes a day that brings us closer as a community.


7 people like this
Posted by horn boi
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2020 at 4:49 pm

[Post removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by Palo Verde
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 18, 2020 at 6:10 pm

Love this idea.

Let's go out tomorrow at 6 and join in to make it a citywide wave!


19 people like this
Posted by Nope
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 18, 2020 at 10:40 pm

Not a boomer, and not an ageist who is going to make fun of boomers anymore than I’m going to make fun of someone because of the color of their skin.


8 people like this
Posted by Forester
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 19, 2020 at 3:43 am

I remember one of their block parties back in '99. They are good people. I remember seeing one the neighbors grilling only veggies and I thought, where's the meat?! Lol


12 people like this
Posted by Derek
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 19, 2020 at 8:32 am

Thanks to Tom, Sarah, and Owen for creatively connecting people. They are some of my favorite people.


12 people like this
Posted by College terraces 1
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 19, 2020 at 10:19 am

What is worng with people who need gathering so bad?
We are nolonger teenagers. Do we know how to talk to each other on internet or FaceTime? Read lots of books? Do things in garden? Paint one's room? Clean the mess in garage? Rearrange the living room ? please Do something good to life. I am sure to spill your heart out on people's face is not one of them . you can just write it down.
I always thought if I went to jail , what will I accomplish in there?

The world just give us a life time chance , a few weeks to think , to reflect , to enjoy everything that were interrupted by social interfering


15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2020 at 10:30 am

I think it is disappointing to see so many negative comments here. I think we are one community and for too long we have been hiding in our homes, not seeing our neighbors, not smiling or waving at faces we recognize even that we recognize them at all.

Of course we could all stay inside using our devices to connect to family and friends, complaining how we don't like to stay inside as virtual prisoners. But I think that it is extremely neighborly to have this idea of at least for 1 minute a day to be outside waving to each other from our own driveways to show the world that we are a community.

It is also encouraging to note how many neighbors are offering to help each other with grocery shopping or picking up food from restaurants. Even if we do not see the faces of those inside the house or those leaving the requested items on the porch, it is still good to know that there are people nearby who value community and are watching out for each other.

Thank you to all who are doing what you can to make us feel like we are part of a community. Hopefully one day soon we will be able to say so face to face.


12 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2020 at 10:31 am

Posted by College terraces 1, a resident of College Terrace

>> What is worng with people who need gathering so bad?

Nothing is wrong with them. Psychologically, people vary in their need for close social contact. Some people have a high need for lots of social contact. This is a tough time for people who love to rub shoulders with other people. Please support them -- from beyond six feet -- and help them understand that they need to maintain their distance for the good of others.


6 people like this
Posted by College terraces 1
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 19, 2020 at 11:57 am

I think at this time make sure we put our need aside, we all should understand what might happen if one Mistake is made no matter how big or small, I believe the senior home at Seattle was started with a innocent case.

I saw the wedding was on at new york shut down , almost one hundred guesses were there,the said it is outdoor , one thing lead to the other, do we wonder why the positive tested cases go up so fast in new york? That is also the same kind of the story in South Korea for religious group , they had the need. I told my friends they should should not eat with their teenage son, for he cannot control his need , he need to see his friends ( young can handle it) . It is the duration of the sitting together.

If we all take this overly conservatively, we will have better chance not going into the South Korea or Italy mode. All these no schooling, no working at office. All restaurant worker's suffering will not go in vain. God bless the USA so Senior can be safe, and young can live a normal life.


4 people like this
Posted by College terraces 1
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 19, 2020 at 12:22 pm

Maybe I was watching too many suffering in China, Italy and other part of the world. This is not a small event. It might not kill lots of people at this time but it will destroy a country's well being even one like the American at the end. I am a naturalized citizen. United States of America is very pre
Maybe I was watching too many suffering in China, Italy and other part of the world. This is not a small event. It might not kill lots of people at this time but it will destroy a country's well being even one like the American at the end. I am a naturalized citizen. United States of America is very precious to me.
Please Love those who might lost their life, love ones, savings, health or their business. Do our best to minimize any harm we might cause to zero. to me.
Please Love those who might lost their life, their love ones, their life savings, their health or their business. Do our best to minimize any harm we might cause to zero.


5 people like this
Posted by Homeless guy
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 19, 2020 at 5:44 pm

There are over a hundred homeless here in palo alto mostly living in vehicles. We don't have internet at home and other devices to stay connected socially. We have been forgotten.


2 people like this
Posted by College terraces 1
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 19, 2020 at 6:38 pm

Did I read that Palo Alto will have free wi-fi for two month?


1 person likes this
Posted by horn boi
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 22, 2020 at 12:56 pm

[Post removed.]


10 people like this
Posted by Nope
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 22, 2020 at 1:11 pm

I’m not even close to Baby Boomer age, but I think belittling older folks is as bad as being dismissive of our younger folks. And this story about a few people blowing horns is cringeworthy like other attention-seeking behaviors. It’s hardly the best of Palo Alto.


11 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 22, 2020 at 1:42 pm

Back inside, you desperate extroverts. Or, if you must wave across the street, please do iso quietly. Introverts are trying to read. Have some respect.


5 people like this
Posted by Mel
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 23, 2020 at 1:12 am

Not setting a good example here. 6 feet of distance isn't a magic number. You guys really can't think back in history to people who really had to sacrifice their lives and be stuck someplace... people who had to dig deep into their souls to survive? All because you want to remain social? It's a sacrifice! Make a sacrifice for the good of all. You don't need to do this. And being inside isn't going to destroy community forever. Just pause. What's a pause going to do? You can pick this back up later when people's lives in the medical industry aren't on the line daily.


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