Driveway gatherings are my concrete way of beating the pandemic blues

“This is my pandemic view,” says a friend who’s lying face-up on a yoga mat in my driveway. “Whenever I remember the pandemic, I’ll think of looking up at the sky through your trees.”

She’s one of four people who’ve come to do yoga with me on a Saturday morning in October, our third class this way. But she’s also referring to the view she had from a camp chair she’d set up in a nearby spot a few weeks earlier on a Friday night. That was for what we call “drinks in the driveway” — an impromptu mini-block party of sorts. My husband first had the idea several years ago as part of his socialist plot to get people out of their homes and mingling in the street. The idea was, anybody could just grab a six pack or bottle of wine, a folding chair, and come meet the neighbors, minus the pressure and expense of a formal party. The vast concrete slab in front of our house (the previous owners must’ve had a lot of cars), shaded by huge mulberry trees, provided the perfect venue.

Like everything, drinks in the driveway has taken on new significance. For one thing, it’s the only way most people in my close circle feel safe getting together: outside, with their stuff (it’s bring-your-own everything now), six feet apart. The first time we did it, there was a lot of talk about how weird and wonderful it was to see each other this way — in person, but with no hugging. As we parted, people said, “Thank you so much for being here.”

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That’s the other thing that’s different about drinks in the driveway now. It feels critical, at least to me, like an element of my health regimen that I dare not skip lest I get in some trouble that’s exponentially riskier than it used to be: floss teeth, get mammogram, find some way to be with friends.

Though research indicates meaningful interactions with other people are a necessary component of everyone’s good mental health, I sense that it’s even truer for me. I’m an extrovert, whose emotional batteries rely on those interactions for recharging. Isolation tends to nudge me toward depression, an escape cocoon made even more enticing by 2020’s relentless drama. Without my friends and family, I might have sunk into that deathly warm pod for good.

Which is why, less than two weeks after the pandemic lockdown started, I moved to Skype the small-group, private yoga classes that I had previously been holding in my home studio. For 15 years, teaching yoga has been a way for me to stay grounded and in shape, but this year it became something else, too: guaranteed twice-weekly communication with my yoga friends. When one of them — the same one who noted the view through my trees, actually — suggested we try practicing together in person on my back porch or driveway, I jumped at the chance. The back porch was out because of the likelihood of dog and chicken harassment, but as soon as both the weather and COVID-19 infection rate had cooled off enough, we started “down-dog in the driveway.” For the first time in six months, I could see my students’ goddess poses and Warrior Twos firsthand. I was delighted by the seamless flow between my words and their movements, an exchange that can’t really be re-created online, no matter how good the technology is.

As my friends assume Corpse Pose, the supine rest that often concludes a yoga class, I lower my voice and invite them to take in the sounds of the morning — birds chirping above us, neighbors chatting down the street, a lawn mower on the next block. These sounds connect us to the world and, through our common perception of them, each other. We share the sunlight on our skin, the warmth of tired muscles, the gift of time for all this. 

Soon, we’ll rustle ourselves out of meditation, finish class, and loiter in the driveway, talking. How’s the job going, or job hunt, who’s sick, and who’s well? But for an hour and a half, we’ve set aside fear and loneliness together, communing in the middle of an unsettled city. I, for one, am grateful for the big concrete slab beneath us.

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